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, October 14, 2008

Children and Poverty

Children too are sufferers of poverty. The most virulent problem faced by children even before they are born is that of malnutrition. Since most poor women are anaemic and cannot afford to take nutritive food in adequate quantities and also medical supplements during pregnancy the foetus' growth in the womb is affected adversely. Thus most infants born to mothers coming from poor families are underweight. After birth too these infants are ill nourished because the mothers have insufficient milk of their own and are not able to provide supplementary milk and other food. Consequently there exists severe malnutrition among the children of the poor. This in turn makes their immune systems weak and so they tend to be more easily afflicted by diseases like cholera, gastro-enteritis, pneumonia and malaria often leading to death.
There has over the month of September 2008 been a campaign in the newspapers in Madhya Pradesh over the series of deaths of adivasi children in the districts of Sheopur, Satna and Khandwa. Initially the response of the government was to deny that these deaths were due to starvation. However as the pressure mounted on the government and the High Court issued notices to it after a public interest litigation was filed the government sprang into action and sent in teams of doctors to stem the tide of infant deaths. Investigations revealed that the malfunctioning of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Integrated Child Development Scheme had led to this sorry state of affairs. Even if most infants do survive they live in chronic hunger and thus there growth is stunted. So even when they become adults they continue to be mostly underweight and short.
The other major handicap that children from poor families face is in education. Poverty forces parents to put their children to work rather than sending them to school. Even if some poor people would like to send their children to school they do not have access to free education. The government schools in rural areas in Madhya Pradesh are mostly either non-functional or are run by single teachers who are incapable of providing quality education. In urban areas government schools are slowly folding up. At a time when school education is becoming more and more complicated poor children attending government schools are severely handicapped vis a vis the children of the rich who attend expensive private schools. In fact the government schools are only partially free as the students have to bear the other expenses of education apart from the school fees. For quality education these additional expenses are quite substantial. While there is talk of making primary and secondary education free this is restricted to doing away with only the school fees without any provisions for the associated expenses of education in the form of books, exercise books, pencils and the like.
The students of Adharshila School in Sendhwa set up to provide quality education to adivasis have to spend on an average about two hundred rupees a month on their education even after there being a considerable amount of subsidy in the form of teachers' and administrators' fees. Moreover the hostelers are not always able to pay in full the hostel and mess fees and so some subsidy has to be provided for this also. Another school being run for adivasis in Kakrana village in Alirajpur district too faces the same problem.
A boy from this school in Alirajpur secured 82% marks in the secondary school examinations at the class ten level in 2008. He has now been brought to Indore to pursue his studies in a private school and to prepare him for competitive entrance examinations for elite engineering institutes. The cost of schooling and coaching is coming to about rupees 2500 per month. This is apart from the cost of living expenses. This is an exorbitant sum that his parents cannot afford under any circumstances and he is able to get this kind of education only because of grant support. Thus poverty effectively closes the door to quality education for children of the poor.
Thus malnutrition and poor education are the two very serious problems facing the children of the poor and there seems to be no solution in sight. The students of the Adharshila school conducted a survey on the causes of malnutrition by trying to enumerate the extent of the loss of bio diversity in the Sendhwa region over time. They found that there had been a significant reduction in the intake of nutritious food due to the disappearance of various agricultural crops and herbs and fruits. The change in agriculture from a diversified subsistence regime to a mono-cropped commercial regime combined with massive deforestation was to blame for this. These are all manifestations of a profit oriented global economic system that externalises the social and environmental costs of such profit making. The picture below shows the children of Adharshila school working on a plot of vegetables that they have planted in the school campus.


lamp post said...

I read in HT last year that both teachers and students in many MCD schools in national capital, are suffering from anaemia. We are not able to give our children proper drinking water and education, and we are holding coommon-wealth games in national capital.

Rahul Banerjee said...

our nation has skewed priorities. we are spending crores of rupees on sending a space mission to the moon. the small holder agriculturists and the landless are in desperate circumstances in the rural areas and it is they who also constitute the urban poor through migration. There is no coherent policy on the part of the government to address the problems of this vast majority in this country.