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.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Time of Cholera

The first rains bring happiness to the hearts of the Bhil peasants but they also bring disease. Traditionally the Bhils have fallen like nine pins during this season relying as they did only on herbs and spirits to ward off disease. Things have not improved with the coming of modern times either. The basic problem of supply of potable water has not been solved and so the Bhil adivasis continue to drink contaminated water. Even if they draw the water from a tubewell they store it in big earthen vessels that are kept buried in soil on quaint wooden stands as in the picture below.

Since it is not possible to take out these vessels and wash them thoroughly the water in them invariably gets contaminated after some time.
The public health system in India was never anything to write home about. After the onset of globalisation and the rhetoric of withdrawal of the state from welfare activities the system has all but collapsed. Under the circumstances there is no preparedness for tackling epidemics of water borne diseases of which cholera is the most dangerous. The Bhils have consequently to rely on quacks who practise a distorted variant of modern medicine. This consists of administering saline and glucose intravenous drips and the injection of antibiotics that may not be specific to the disease. Its like modern voodoo for the Bhils. They hardly knew anything of the herbs and the chants of the "burwas" or medicine men believing that they were good enough to exorcise the evil spirits. Similarly they view the saline bottles and injections as modern fixes against evil spirits.
Under the circumstances the Bhils still retain their belief in their traditional herbs and chants. That is why the water stand also has a few herbs growing on it. These herbs have never been clinically tested to ascertain whether they do indeed have curative properties but the Bhils do seem to believe they do.
The Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan in Barwani district has tried to make a positive intervention to ensure better health for the Bhils. On the one hand it has conducted an awareness campaign to explain to its members the causes of diseases and the simple precautions that can prevent them and on the other it has mounted pressure on the public health system to deliver proper services to its members. Thus now doctors are available at the primary health centre, medicines are there in good supply and patients are diagnosed and treated properly. Simultaneously paramedics have been trained from among the Bhils to provide immediate treatment for simple diseases and also to recognise the more serious ones like cholera so that the patients can be moved immediately to the hospital for proper treatment.
Some small organisation or other has worked out viable systems for the various problems that the Bhils face including those of health. But the problem is that the government does not want to replicate these solutions on a large scale. Nor does it fancy the empowerment of the Bhils that such solutions invariably involve.

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