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.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Indigenous Liquidity

Goat rearing is a popular pastime for adivasi children. Goats are the hardiest of animals and have the capacity to find something to eat even on barren slopes. In the denuded hills of Alirajpur early in the morning children go out with the goats to graze them on the barren slopes and in the jungles. They come back in the afternoon after having spent the day traipsing around climbing trees to cut down leaves for the goats and generally playing around as in the picture below. In the process they miss going to school.

Given the fact that goats sell very easily for a good price they are very good and liquid assets. So even though goat rearing leads to harm to the environment and lack of education for the children who tend to them it continues to be popular. Partly because the harm to the environment is a long term one which does not appear to pinch in the short term and the quality of education provided to the adivasis is so dismal that its benefits seem doubtful to the parents of the children. Along with the goats the children tend to the cattle and buffaloes also if their family has these bigger animals. These do not always command a good price due to seasonal fluctuations in demand. While goats when liquidated get good value for their meat these bigger animals are useless when liquidated given the far lesser preference for their meet and they are instead valued only for agricultural operations or milk production and so unless they are good at these they don't fetch a good price. Khemla for instance is having a hard time selling his pair of oxen because it appears that with the global financial meltdown the price of oxen too has taken a nosedive. So the global liquidity crisis has hit the Bhils also! Anyway the children, who are oblivious of all this, are making merry bathing with the buffaloes and cows in the tanks and riding them for fun as in the picture below.

Thus it is necessary to understand the political economy of goat rearing. It relies on the free labour of adivasi children and by preventing them from going to school ensures that adivasis continue to remain on the periphery of the national economy due to low awareness and skills. Because it is based on cheap labour the price of goats is also low which in the end means that the price of meat is lower than it would have been if goats had not been reared in such abundance or if adults had reared them. The adivasis eat very little of the meat that they help in producing as the goats are mostly sold off for eating by richer people. Thus the meat eating of the rich and powerful is subsidised by adivasi children with their free labour and loss of education. Simultaneously excessive goat rearing to provide liquidity to the perennially capital short adivasi households leads to longterm harm to the environment whose costs are also not borne by the rich meat eaters.
These days the Bhil youth and especially those who are children of the sarpanches or local government heads prefer to rear and ride a very different species of goats - motorcycles as in the picture below.

The thrust for providing employment to the rural poor through the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has meant that the sarpanches are awash with defalcated funds which they then use to buy motorcycles. There is the example of the sarpanch of one village withdrawing money from the bank for the ostensible purpose of making a payment to the labourers and instead going and buying a motorcycle with it. This too is a reflection of a different kind of political economy promoted by the culture of corrupt politics that has percolated down to the village level from the national level with the universalisation of panchayati raj or village self governance.


bhupinder said...

Good post, especially the part about the political economy of children herding cattle. Also I liked the light, sad humour in this line:
"it appears that with the global financial meltdown the price of oxen too has taken a nosedive."

You may also like this story about Ganesh Devy's attempts in creating dictionaries of oral languages in Gujarat.

Rahul Banerjee said...

like dry land agriculture another mainstay of the household economy of poor adivasi households in India - the breeding of goats has not received the kind of research and other institutional support that it should have got and so it labours on with very low productivity.