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.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Organising the Unorganised

Last year I had attended a meeting in which the Dakshini Rajasthan Mazdoor Union had described the way in which it had successfully waged a struggle to raise the wage of migrant unorganised child workers from Rajasthan involved in the cross pollination of genetically modified BT cotton on farms in Gujarat. The organisation of the child workers had been done through the labour contractors. At that time I had not said anything in the meeting but had thought to myself that this process would find it difficult to sustain itself as the employer farmers would surely bribe the labour contractors along with various political bigwigs to thwart the Union in its efforts to increase the wages of the child labourers. And that is what has happened. In fact in various other efforts made by the Union among cotton gin workers and brick kiln workers too, they have come up against the powerful and unholy nexus between the employers, labour contractors and the state apparatus which has thwarted many worthwhile efforts by labour unionists in the past. The brick kiln workers near Ahmedabad have gone on strike for a wage hike because they say that the current rates are too low to ensure even a living wage. Once again the organisation is through the labour contractors. Possibly a small increment in wages will be possible but whether the union will become a lasting institution remains to be seen.
At the present time it is indeed difficult to do labour organisation work effectively especially when the employers are well organised and powerful enough to influence the state apparatus.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

the very fact that child workers are being unionised cannot find legitimacy within the constitution. in addition, i-told-you-so syndrome can be vexing too -everyone wishes to learn from their own path.

i would assume in the current global meltdown with predictable unemployement and impact on some of the manufacturing industries such as automobiles, labour organizations might perhaps see this as an opportunity to reorganize themselve. Well, in any case the exploiters are so, because they are well organized maintaining the most lucrative social relations

Rahul Banerjee said...

The crux is that child workers were not being unionised but the labour contractors. In fact the DRMU has been running a very dour campaign to prevent child labour by lobbying with the administration and international agencies not to speak of putting pressure on Monsanto.
I have removed the I-told-you-so sentences from the post as a consequence of your comment!

Anonymous said...

unionisation of labour contractors would be a flawed concept altogether. But why should prevention of child labour with advoacay with the administration and international agencies and Monsanto be considered so severe a process ? child labour need find no concession and therefore condemned and sought action against.

Rahul Banerjee said...

Of course the unionisation of labour contractors is a second best solution and not likely to yield long term results. However it is extremely difficult to organise migrant labourers directly as they are under the control of the contractors. The state refuses to act to safeguard the rights of labourers and also to prevent child labour. This is the reality that prevails. Even in the fight for justice for the victims of silicosis contracted from working in quartz crushing units the government has so far refused to do anything to provide relief despite a petition in the supreme court. Now we are filing cases under the Workmen's Compensation Act.

Renegade Eye said...

Really interesting discussion, particularly as an outsider.

India has been portraying itself as modern, but still allowing child labor is regressive, and should be exposed.

Rahul Banerjee said...

there are laws to prevent child labour but it persists as a blot on the emerging indian society.

Anonymous said...

i understand the workmen's compensation act can be applicable only to those persons qualified as employees and those qualified as employers as defined in the Act. Does the crushing units fall within this definition? I am sure you all must have figured this out better if you are to challenge this is in court. Alternative Law Forum has developed a manual, in case you haven't taken note. It might be useful to translate the text into Hindi to share with the local group you are supporting for enriching your work.

Rahul Banerjee said...

getting the employers identified and the employees verified as having worked in these units is going to be very difficult. in most cases the employers of the crushing units have changed the names. there is also no record that the victims were employed in these units. the basic intent in instituting these cases is to get the employers to court in large numbers and create enough pressure for an out of court settlement though that also seems difficult. anyway if we can make the employers come to the court with the issuance of notices that itself will be an achievement.
We are getting the inter state migrant workers act translated into hindi and that itself is costing a packet.

Anonymous said...

building the case in court does appear weak. But if i trust my memory, NHRC had taken suo moto note of this and had asked for an explanation from the State. In fact your blog referred to this on an earlier communication. In that case why not involve NHRC into this and let the workers file petitions with the NHRC for them to seek better working conditions -including wages and even compensation and also now with the Unorganized Sector Workers' Bill on the move, that might be a better step ? Is there a union of these workers ? India is signatory to the Intl Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; therefore invoking some of the articles - right to work, just and favourable conditions of work, trade union etc could be considered? I also feel exercising freedom of association as enshrined in our own constitution should be used to the best - the workers registering themselves as a union could stand a better chance to bring their employers to their responsibilities. Won't it ?

Rahul Banerjee said...

a case has been instituted in the supreme court as the nhrc generally is a worthless institution with little powers to ensure anything more than enquiries. unionisation is what is being done but that will stand only the future workers in good stead. those that have already suffered are in the lurch as no one wants to do anything for them. the attitude of the madhya pradesh government is particularly shameful.