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.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Veil that Incarcerates

The Bhils have adopted the regressive Hindu upper caste patriarchal tradition of veiling their women. Married women have to veil themselves in front of their elder male in laws. This means that whenever they go out into public places like a market where an elder male in law might pop up at any time the married women have to remain veiled all the time. Here is a picture of young married women who are out to enjoy the Bhagoria festival but from behind the veil.

During the 1990s my wife Subhadra made many efforts to fight this custom by organising the Bhil women but so deep rooted is it that she failed to make much headway. So much so that even in public meetings of the women's organisation Kansari nu Vadavnu which would discuss issues regarding the liberation of women the participants would sit with their faces veiled as in the picture below.

This was slightly ironical since it had been decided that for the women to be able to discuss these weighty issues it would be necessary for them to be free from the hassles of filling drinking water and cooking. So the men had been convinced that while the women were deliberating they would do the work of filling drinking water for them and also cooking the meals. This was a major blow on the Bhil conception of masculinity which prohibits men from doing domestic work. However, since these men were elder in laws of some of the women participants, their presence as in the picture below, which shows one of them filling drinking water, meant that the women had to keep their faces veiled. Later the men had to be told to remove the drinking water drum to a distance and fill it there so that the women could unveil themselves.

Possibly a greater spread of education and greater economic independence will contribute to this custom of veiling slowly dying away. The Bhil women settled in Indore city in its slums do not veil themselves to this great extent anymore which seems to support this.

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