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, October 6, 2008

Communitarian Poverty

The big problem for human civilisation at the moment is not income poverty but the lack of communitarian cooperation arising from an obsession with earning individual profits. To understand this one must first imbibe the richness of the communitarian Bhil lifestyle. A major program of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath has been the revival of communitarian practices that had fallen into disuse. These are in the spheres of soil, water and forest conservation. Traditionally the Bhil adivasis had labour pooling customs wherein one person from each family in a small hamlet would come together and do communitarian labour by turns on each other's farms and implement various soil and water conservation measures and also carry out agricultural operations like weeding and harvesting. The greatest loss for the Bhils has been the decimation of their forests due to commercial logging by the forest department. The Indian Forest Act made the forest department the owner of the forests negating the customary rights of the adivasis on their forests. The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath changed this and brought control of the forests back in the hands of the adivasis. The adivasis then got together and through community policing succeeded in protecting their forests and regenerating them to their pristine glory as is evident in the picture of Bhimboira village in Alirajpur district below.

The revival of the custom of labour pooling called "dhas" has been a big boon as it has considerably reduced the cost of agricultural operations. Normally operations such as weeding require a lot of labour and so the poor adivasis cannot get their farms weeded properly because they do not have the money to pay the labourers. However, once labour pooling began again weeding on a large scale became possible and so the agricultural productivity has gone up tremendously. A team of such adivasis taking part in a weeding dhas on the farm of one of the members of the team in Sondwa village is shown below.

This communitarian richness of the adivasis has the potential of saving humanity from the doom that it is hurtling to due to the communitarian poverty of the income rich few. The World Bank has been quick to recognise this and has in its typical way coopted this and blunted its radical potential for overturning capitalism and consumerism. It has trumpeted instead the devious and logically circular concept of "social capital" to defuse the radical political challenge that non-party grassroots movements can pose to modern industrial development through such communitarian mobilisation. The concept of social capital had originally been mooted by the French left leaning sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to describe the phenomenon of smaller social groupings like the family and kinship relations which help in forming a social class and he argued that the more articulated this is the more are the chances of its being converted into economic and political capital and vice versa in a virtuous circle that has worked well for the upper classes but not for the lower classes because of their initial lack of economic and political capital. The use of the term social capital by Bourdieu for what are basically social connections was itself a dilution of the sharply politico-economic meaning of capital but it still retained some of its political flavour. The American political scientist Robert Putnam winked away this crucial two way linkage between politico-economic capital on the one hand and social capital on the other and posited the circular argument that social associations make economic cooperation possible which in turn strengthens social associations conveniently ignoring the fundamental problem of politico-economic power inequalities that prevent economic cooperation in the first place. Thus Putnam suggested that cross class social formations like Sports Clubs and Birdwatchers Associations were ideal means of building up economic and political cooperation between people across classes! The World Bank has seized on this theory of depoliticised social action and made it the basis of its thrust for apolitical people's participation in development through self help groups, water user associations, forest management committees and what have you (World Bank, 2000). "To attack poverty watch birds" is the new slogan!
Thus the imperative at the moment in the fight against communitarian poverty is that true communitarian mobilisation through small grassroots organisations like the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath is multiplied to expose the devious designs of the World Bank to continue income richness of the few at the expense of the income poverty of the many. Below is the picture of an adivasi in Bhimboira village standing proudly on his farm with the forest he has saved in tandem with his fellow villagers in the background.

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