Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

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.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Biggest Fools on Earth

Today is all fools day and so I thought of writing about the biggest fools on earth - the Bhil adivasis of Jhabua. I was prompted to do so because a venerable old Bhil, Punia Baba, called me up via Shankar's phone from Alirajpur to ask me whether he should fill in a form demanding legalisation of his agricultural land in the reserve forests under the provisions of the new THE SCHEDULED TRIBES AND OTHER TRADITIONAL FOREST DWELLERS (RECOGNITION OF FOREST RIGHTS) ACT, 2006. I told him that according to this new Act he would not only have to fill up the form along with evidence to show that he had been cultivating the forest land for some time but would also have to submit it to the village forest rights committee and ensure that they recommended him for legalisation and forwarded his application to the Sub divisional level.
However, this conversation set me thinking about the the helpless condition of the Bhils. Punia once served a sentence of ten years for having murdered an exploitative forest contractor in the days immediately after independence when the forests in and around his village were being logged indiscriminately by the forest department. He has been cultivating the land cleared then for more than fifty years now. He used to bribe forest guards to do so earlier but once the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath became active in the 1980s he stopped giving bribes and is in a way de facto owner of the land as are many other Bhils of Alirajpur.
Now ever since the new Act has been passed and the government has expressed its desire to regularise the landholdings of people like Punia on forest land a whole set of middlemen have cropped up who are promising to help the Bhils get their land rights for a fee which according to Shankar has gone upto around Rs 5000. These middlemen say they have direct contact with the forest department staff and so will ensure that everything goes through without a hitch.
The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath on the other hand is saying that the proper procedure has to be followed under which applications will have to be submitted to the village forest rights committee with supporting evidence and there after the whole process has to be followed up. Now this is something that the common Bhils are refusing to understand and they feel that it will be safer to go through the middlemen who have contacts with the forest department staff! Even a veteran like Punia doubted the veracity of what Shankar was saying and so had him call me up so that he could hear from me(the voice of God!)that indeed the procedure for claiming rights was a tortuous one that could not be short circuited by bribing.
Most Bhils even today have little expertise in negotiating the modern governmental system and since the lower level bureaucracy is more interested in making a fast buck than in delivering welfare the Bhils invariably get cheated. So even an Act purportedly enacted for their benefit will in reality not achieve its purpose. Their abhorrence for the intricacies of modern living means that the Bhils remain the biggest fools on earth and are easy prey for the depredations of modernism.

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