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.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Hegemony of the Extractive Mindset

Governments and the dam construction companies will only too happily want to externalise the costs of rehabilitation and resettlement onto the oustees and the environmental treatment costs on to nature as otherwise the rates of return on big dam projects will become negative due to the interest to be paid on the high initial capital cost involved. But what is more of a concern from the activist point of view is that the people who are most affected by this neglect of social and environmental costs are themselves not free from the extractive mindset towards nature and society that is the cause of their misery.
In the course of a research study initiated to find out the status of water utilisation in the Man river basin which is a tributary of the river Narmada I had a long conservation with one Bhil adivasi village leader who is aspiring to be a legislator in the next elections. This person has lost all his fertile lands in the reservoir of the Man dam and got only a fraction of the land as compensation elsewhere. He is still residing in the old village which has not been fully submerged. The study that I am conducting is basically centred on the understanding that it is necessary to harvest rain water and conserve soil as much as is possible in situ and use the increased topsoil moisture to grow the less water demanding traditional crops rather than extract excessive water either from the underground aquifers or by building expensive and harmful large dams to grow high yielding varieties of wheat.
The man listened patiently to what I was saying and then said that there was one large stream, a tributary of the Man river, that did not have any dam on it and if one big dam was built on it then all the lands below it including those in his village that were not yet submerged could be irrigated. When I asked him whether those upstream of the dam he was proposing were ready to give up their lands for this he remained quiet. I tried to hold a public meeting in this village and invited many other oustee families from nearby villages to discuss the whole issue of in situ water and soil conservation and the practising of an agriculture based on the optimum use of conserved soil moisture. I spent two whole weeks going from village to village and talking to people and they all nodded their heads and said that this was indeed the way to go. However, only five people came to the meeting. In the desultory conversation that I had with them in place of the meeting these people said that I should try and get them either drip or sprinkler irrigation systems which were more efficient in the use of water than traditional flood irrigation. Once again the penchant is for modern technological solutions and there is no enthusiasm at all for the traditional communitarian labour intensive agriculture.
In the reservoir of the Man dam the people engage in drawdown agriculture on their submerged lands in summer when their lands become exposed as the flow in the canals of the Man dam starts from October onwards. The people take crops of moong or green gram and wheat. Women can be seen harvesting the moong crop below

The people have not allowed the administration to remove the handpumps that were there prior to submergence and these too become exposed in summer and are working quite well. Women, like those in the picture below, consequently do not have to go far to dugwells constructed at a distance in summer as they have to during the monsoons.

Thus even though they have lost the most fertile of their lands they are still persisting with their subsistence agriculture somehow in the straightened circumstances. However, there is a distinct reluctance to switch to water harvesting and soil conservation as they can easily do now that an opportunity is provided under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
Under the circumstances given this hegemony of the extractive mindset with regard to natural resources and an abhorrence for community labour due to the culture of monetisation spread by the market it is very difficult to mobilise people against modern development. That is why despite its Herculean efforts the Narmada Bachao Andolan has remained peripheral to the politics of the region and has not been able to build up a broadbased movement to challenge modern development. Neither is there any enthusiasm among the people for the sane advice that I am giving!

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