The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.
Monday, March 10, 2008
Bhil Women Doubly oppressed
All the parties involved, two in case it is just a matter of resolving the elopement of a couple and three if it is a case of an extra marital affair or the carrying off of a betrothed or married woman or the desertion of one man by a woman for another or vice versa, get together to sort out the matter and normally sit at a distance from each other, communicating through messengers who are called "vatars". This is a safety device to prevent direct confrontation between the opposing parties, which could become murderous considering that often people come armed with bows and arrows and guns to these panchayats. But this means that the vatars have to bear the brunt of the abuses and taunts when they go from one side to the other with proposals for a solution, which are wild to begin with before they reach more realistic levels through bargaining. That is why there is a saying in Bhilali that the behinds of buffaloes and vatars regularly get taken!
The Bhils also have a system of arranged marriages to keep the youth under control and prevent the onset of unbridled sexual and marital anarchy. So though the custom of a girl running away with a boy to get married is quite common and has social sanction, nevertheless in such a case the boy's family has to pay a premium over the prevailing rate of bride price. The bride prices themselves are negotiable and go on increasing with time. In case of extra and pre-marital affairs the boy or man has to pay a fine, which again is negotiable depending on the seriousness of the offence and the prestige of the offended family. So the whole business of settling romantic disputes is an extremely patriarchal and materialistic affair, what with all the people hearing the colourful evidence, the hyperbolic demands for money and the choice gender biased epithets that are traded back and forth and sometimes may require quite a few sittings.
In the modern era the police have stepped in to add their own gruesome colouring to these disputes. According to the provisions of the IPC a boy running away with a girl can be indicted for abduction and rape in case the girl later lodges a complaint to that effect with the police. The Bhil community leaders or dalals have been won over by the police and they have together used this with vengeance to vitiate the atmosphere. So sometimes the girl's family instead of agreeing to settle the dispute in a panchayat listens to the dalals and lodges a complaint with the police. The police then arrest the boy and terrorise the girl into saying that she has been abducted and raped against her consent. Since in India at large the increasing incidence of rape cases has become a cause for serious concern, the courts are extremely strict in these cases and so the boy does not get bail until the case is disposed of. Eventually of course in most cases the girl's and boy's families come to an understanding so the girl and all the other witnesses become hostile and the boy is acquitted and they get married. But in the process the dalals and the police and lawyers earn hefty packets.
To the extent that women who become pregnant due to pre-marital or extra-marital sex and want to get an abortion have to take the permission of the police and pay them a fine to do so! Like in the case of all other reactionary oppressions patriarchal oppression too is ultimately maintained by the police. On one occasion after such a case had reached the police station the aggrieved party who was from a village that had not yet become part of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath came to Khemla for help as the police were demanding an exorbitant sum. Khemla in typical fashion went to the police station and scolded the police and came away warning them to desist from such extortionate practices. The police instead decided to arrest the girl's father and force him to make the girl give a statement that it was Khemla who had seduced her and made her pregnant. Somehow we got to know of this and in the nick of time before the police could get to them we brought the pregnant girl and her father to the SDM in Alirajpur to get their true statements recorded. Khemla almost drowned himself when he jumped into a stream in spate to swim across and get to the village of the girl by a short cut route to pre-empt the police. The last thing that Khemla poor fellow wanted was to be saddled with a false rape case against him!