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, November 18, 2008

Manifesto of Cultural Revival

The Bhil adivasis have a rich oral folklore. There is the creation myth centred on the river Narmada in some cases and in others on the Goddesses and Gods Velubai, Rani Kajal and Indiraja which is sung during the Diwasa festival allowing the Bhils to partake of the products of their lands during the kharif season. Then there is the myth of the Goddess Kansari, who represents the staple cereal sorghum, which is sung at the time of the celebration of Indal which is a festival of thanksgiving to nature for having been bountiful with her harvests. Finally there is the myth of Kalorano the God of Rain which is sung to appease him when the rains play truant during the monsoon season. Apart from these major myths there are a number of other stories. Their contents reflect the close empathic relations that the Bhils have traditionally had with their habitat given the fact that their very existence is directly dependent on the munificience of nature. This rich and valuable oral literary corpus has the potential for reviving not only the belief of the Bhils in themselves and thus motivating them to better participate as equal citizens in political and economic processes but is also capable of providing theoretical and practical clues towards the formulation of a more sustainable agriculture based developmental model than the one that is dominant today. However, this valuable heritage is in danger of being lost forever as the younger Bhils today have little regard for the traditional Bhil culture and its rich oral heritage given its inability at present to secure them a viable livelihood.
Today the lack of entertaining written literature in the Bhili language has resulted in most literate Bhils switching over to Hindi instead. So transcribing the voluminous folklore of the Bhils and publishing it can provide the literate Bhils with enough reading materials of quality to entice them back to their mother tongue. New literature and the further development of the written Bhili language and a revival of their decaying culture will then follow as the night the day. The modern Indian languages have all developed in this way. Moreover the experience of using the traditional myths and tunes in conveying modern developmental and cultural messages has shown that they are extremely effective for this purpose. Transcription of the whole of the folklore would also allow a systematic study of it and thus offer many more opportunities for innovation. The folklore is amenable to creative interpretation and copious material in support of the theory and practice of alternative, decentralised and sustainable development can be culled from it.
There is for example the creation myth sung in the villages near the Narmada which detail how God was suddenly beset with the idea to build the universe and he looked towards Relu Kabadi the woodsman to go into the jungle and fetch him wood. Thus starts the whole story of how slowly all the animals and plants are created and finally the rivers Narmada and Tapti. These rivers finally meet up with the ocean Dudu Hamad in marriage and in the process of their journey all the various villages, hills and valleys are created. The whole song gives a sense of the vastness of nature and the strength of natural processes and inculcates a respect in the listener for these. This is in direct contrast to the hubris of modern man who has tried to subordinate nature to his own ends and given rise to the serious environmental problems that face him today. The adivasis have been sufferers of this process. Thus popularizing their creation myth and emphasising that their world view is much more “rational” in the present context of serious ecological degradation can go a long way towards increasing the Bhils' self esteem.
Similarly, there is another story in one of the epic songs about a woman who has to answer for having questioned the authority of her husband. She is brought before the panchayat which is the traditional all male dispute resolution forum. There the panches decree that she be punished for her disobedience and order that her tongue be cut off and given to the husband to swallow. The tongue then gets stuck in the throat of the husband where it has remained ever since. This story has been picked up to depict the extent to which Bhil society is oppressive to women. At the same time the fact that the tongue has got stuck in the husband’s throat offers the chance to the woman to recover it and so establish her right to speak out for her needs. This is the motif that has been used to organise the Bhil women to fight against diverse patriarchies inside the home and outside. Literature especially religious literature of an allegorical character has tremendous power to motivate people to act to change their socio-economic condition. Unfortunately for adivasis in the central Indian region in general and the Bhils in particular there has not been any significant effort till now to transcribe and use their rich oral literature.
While in the case of other modern Indian languages such forums sprang up by themselves in the case of Bhili a special effort has to be made because it is not a written language and being the product of an indigenous culture which is under threat of extinction requires protective promotion. While there have been desultory literary efforts before in the various dialects of Bhili there have been few conscious efforts apart from one current project by the organisation Bhasha in Gujarat.
The penetration of market oriented consumerist culture has led to the breaking down of traditional communitarian bonds not only in urban societies but also in remote agrarian societies like those of the adivasis. Thus the social system prevalent at present promotes cut throat competition among its members and hampers collective action. This in turn leads to violence and crime. This is extremely harmful for society as a whole. So it is of utmost importance that adivasi societies which still retain communitarian social practices be encouraged to thrive and creatively build on these practices so that society as a whole can draw on this valuable resource to counter the threat of evolving into a consumerist mono-culture. For instance there is no sense of belonging in the cities these days leading to the problem of alienation. This is then sought to be corrected through identification with fundamentalist religious organizations which tend to divide society further into narrow communities. So in this crucial sphere too Bhil culture and religion can add to diversity.
The form of politics that has come to dominate the globe now is that of first past the post competitive centralised electoral liberal democracy. In this system central governments of nation states tend to override the lower level governments. The local government institutions at the small town and village level suffer most as their needs and aspirations are sacrificed for the development of mega cities and industrial centres. The net result is that there is tremendous destruction of the environment and the livelihood opportunities of the urban and rural poor. This kind of political system is also extremely divisive socially as it tends to pit communities and groups against each other in the fight to gain control of state power which is crucial to secure a good livelihood. Thus it is imperative that a more decentralised and localised form of democratic politics be promoted which works through consensus rather than by competition. The traditional village council led management of affairs which is central to the lives of the Bhil adivasis and the eventual evolution of an alternative decentralised political system globally as an antidote to the ills of the present centralised one can also emerge from a promotion of Bhil culture.
This new literature being the product of an agricultural society will first of all provide intellectual and cultural support for the ongoing national and worldwide efforts for the revival of agriculture which is in crisis all over the world leading to serious problems of food and livelihood security. The modernisation of agriculture based on artificial inputs has proved to be a failed enterprise and there is a growing trend towards the revival of sustainable organic agriculture. This is especially important for India which is primarily an agricultural country. The main agricultural areas in India have all come under the sway of modern agriculture and have lost the traditional seeds and processes and are suffering from severe erosion of soil quality and water sources.
The Bhils still retain traditional knowledge in this regard and a strengthening of their culture will lead to a strengthening of their agriculture too. At present the worldwide movement for sustainable agriculture lacks a mass base and a supporting culture which will help it to thrive. Sustainable ariculturists are perceived as quixotic deviants rather than as proponents of a serious alternative system. The Bhils have the capacity to develop a sustainable agriculture based socio-econono-political system as a comprehensive and viable alternative by strengthening its cultural dimensions and contribute positively to this movement. At a later point of time an alternative agriculture based system of development that is less destructive of nature can develop from these preliminary efforts.
Finally agricultural societies are all highly religious given their dependence on nature and the need to placate forces which are beyond their control. This is why despite the Nehruvian project of building a secular society and the specific injunction that the state will not function in support of any religion, in practice the majority of Indian society having rural agricultural roots has remained deeply religious and all the mainstream parties including the Communist Party of India in Bengal have to a greater or lesser extent promoted Hinduism. However, of late this has become overly problematical due to the aggressive fundamentalism of the Sangh Parivar. The Hindu fundamentalist organisations have embarked on a proselytisation campaign of the adivasis in violation of their fundamental right to follow freely their own religion as guaranteed under article 25 of the Constitution. The converted adivasis do not get an equal status with the high caste Hindus but are inducted into Hindu society as menials who are even today treated as untouchables by the latter.
The reality of the power of religion in pre-modern agricultural societies has to be acknowleged and fundamentalism has to be countered through promotion of religious diversity. Religious diversity is as much a desired value as cultural diversity for the survival of the human race. The revival of their literature which is traditionally highly religious will automatically lead to a revival of the Bhili animist and nature friendly religion and provide them with an effective antidote to the proselytising thrust of the fundamentalist Hindu organisations.
Today we have a globalised world with far flung nations and communities tied together by trade in commodities and services, cross border manufacturing, financial transfers and also a massive communications industry. Thus it is relatively easy for the more well endowed societies to press their social, economic and political thought on those who are not so advantaged. This process is happening at all levels from the village to the global. We have a situation in which cultural production is taking place in the affluent west and being broadcast for consumption by the world at large. The western cultural icons and agencies dominate the powerful medium of television, the newer and equally powerful medium of the internet as well as the various printed media.
This cultural domination favours the economic interests of the various corporate behemoths that control the world economy. It is in the interests of these corporations that the cultural tastes of the population of the whole world are homogenised. This has created a critical situation for human survival with the loss of diversity in the biological, economic and social spheres in addition to the cultural sphere. As mentioned earlier the only way in which this dangerous cultural homogenisation and erosion of diversity caused by thoughtless industrialism can be challenged is by rediscovering the virtues of traditional agriculture and the culture that it gave rise to. Today it is the indigenous people worldwide who still retain the skills and knowledge of traditional agriculture and the accompanying culture. Thus reviving and conserving the culture of the indigenous Bhils will challenge the dominant system of development and governance which is increasingly being adopted at all levels from the local to the global. Since centralisation and homogenisation invariably necessitates violence which is so evident in various forms today by pitching for decentralisation and difference the prospect of revival of Bhil culture presents a prospectus for peace and amity worldwide.

1 comment:

Mahipal Bhuriya said...

Dear Rahul,
You have rightly discovered about the rich cultural heritage f the Bhils and other tribals in India. An eminent cultural anthropologist of tribal India used to often say that the tribal India has much more richer cultural heritage than those of their Hindu bretheren on the plain.
Mahipal Bhuriya