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.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Cup that Inebriates

Alcohol is something that the Bhils have treasured greatly. Often when a child is born it is first given alcohol ahead of mother's milk to mark the auspiciousness of the occasion. All major religious activities are initiated by offering alcohol to the Gods as in the picture below where Gayans or traditional bards are praying to the Gods for their blessings just before starting the singing of one of the Bhil epics.

However, over the years there has been a drastic change in the way alcohol is taken by the Bhils. Traditionally they had to ferment the flower of the mahua tree and then distill it to get their alcohol and this being a time consuming process automatically restricted the amount of their drinking. But with the advent of bottled liquor from distilleries this constraint has been removed and so now drinking has increased tremendously. Even though there are administrative restrictions on the sale of bottled liquor these are flouted widely with the connivance of the police and the excise department staff and so in every village liquor is being sold freely.
The Kansari nu Vadavno a mass organisation of Bhil women ran a fairly successful campaign against the sale of illicit alcohol during the late 1990s. Their take was that the men under the influence of alcohol not only did not work but also beat them up and demanded excessive sex from them. They contended that the alcoholism of their men added considerably to the overall patriarchal oppression that they suffered. These women picketed the illegal liquor shops as shown below and got them to close down.

Since the illicit sale of alcohol is a big money spinner for a whole host of powerful people and they would also like the Bhils to stay sozzled rather than rise up in revolt this movement of the women was crushed very soon with some heavy repression. The women went to prison and launched into hunger strikes there. The picture below shows the women gathered to court arrest in front of a police station.

But all this was to no avail as the might of the state prevailed and their campaign was deflated. So now not only bottled liquor but also palm toddy is sold freely and the Bhils are drinking gleefully from the cup that inebriates.
There are some interesting new facets to this drinking. One is that the price of mahua flowers has gone up tremendously and it sells at Rs 25 a kilo and so a litre of mahua alcohol also costs Rs 60 or so. The price of bottled liquor from the distillery also has gone upto as much as Rs 100 a litre. The Bhils have found a way out of this by buying the rotten grapes at a price of Rs 5 a kilo and using various chemicals including the urea used for fertilising their fields to brew hard liquor at a cheaper price. Similarly the toddy tappers these days do not wash clean the utensil that they hang on the palm tree for the toddy to drip into but keep it laced with some of the old fermented toddy. This way the fresh toddy gets fermented immediately and early in the morning itself the Bhils are able to begin tippling. The men after bringing down the toddy begin to drink it and are soon sozzled. So it is the women who then take the rest of the toddy to the markets for selling and they too get sozzled after drinking throughout the day. The children obviously are not to be left behind and so its a free for all with whole Bhil families freaking out on various kinds of liquor and toddy.

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