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, March 10, 2009
Taming the Pig - Bhil Women's Struggle Against Patriarchy
Matters are aggravated by the social custom of the Bhils which gives importance to alcohol as a holy spirit. Children are given alcohol even when babes in arms. The Gods have to be propitiated every now and then with alcohol. This gives the men and sometimes even women the licence to drink. Alcoholism brings to the fore the worst manifestations of patriarchy in the men. As mentioned earlier by Kesarbai men under the influence of alcohol make sexual demands of their wives and resort to violence if these are not met. Men frequently go on drinking sprees doing no work at all for days on end. This too increases the burden of the women who then have to work harder. These alcoholics also inavariably object to their women taking part in organisational activities to improve their status. Moreover the Bhils having been a martial race there is a clear gender division of labour, which is not easily broken. The men even if they want to find it difficult to help out with domestic work. All this burden manifests itself in serious reproductive health problems for women.
Subhadra Khaperde an activist who had been working under the aegis of the Adivasi Shakti Sangathan to mobilise the Bhils in general in Khargone district against their oppression by the forest department staff and the moneylender sahukars was moved by these conversations she had with the women and felt that something had to be done. Initially she organised a few reproductive health camps with gynaecologists coming from Indore. The analysis of the data collected about the reproductive health status of women clearly indicated that they were severely anaemic and on an average suffering from atleast three kinds of reproductive health problems. Subhadra decided to mobilise the women to organise on their own to improve matters.
Hundreds of adivasi women in their multicolour sarees, ghagras, lugras and doglis were seated under the shade of the two big mahua trees in Akya village one sunny afternoon. It was the first week of May and in the midst of the marriage season. So an adivasi coming from outside would have wondered why only women were congregated and why there was no drum beating. But this was not a marriage. It was the meeting called to discuss the results from the conduct of the health camps. Subhadra painstakingly explained with the help of coloured charts what all the data that had been collected meant in terms that the women could understand. Then she let the bombshell drop – the data had revealed that all women suffered from reproductive health problems because of patriarchal pressures and medication alone could not provide lasting solutions to them. There was a dam burst after this. Woman after woman got up and said that they could do nothing as the men would not listen and would impose themselves on them. Thus unless the male chauvinist pigs were tamed there was no solution possible.The biggest problem was that the men drank too much and when under the influence of liquor they became even more demanding. Previously they had had to brew their own liquor from the flowers of the mahua tree, which is a laborious and time-consuming task and so could be undertaken only occasionally. With the profuse availability of bottled illicit liquor from the two distilleries in the area this constraint had been removed the women said. It was decided that the men also would be taken into confidence on this matter as without that it would not be possible to make any headway.
The men activists of the organisation conducted workshops exclusively with the men on the issue of patriarchy. The group discussions ended with the conclusion that the alcoholism of the men was the most severe problem for the women. The men also said that it was proving to be a financial drain and so something should be done about it. Rajaan, one of the adivasi activists, who is a teetotaler said that the illegal liquor shop in Okhla should be closed down. The bootlegger who ran this shop was a notorious goon as is the case generally all over India. He used to abuse and beat up the adivasis. A mass meeting was held in Okhla and the bootlegger's shop was raided, his liquor confiscated and the shop was sealed. After this successful action the people of Bagli tehsil just across the border in Dewas district began demanding a similar action in their area. The whole area was literally flowing in alcohol at this time and there was an illegal liquor godown in Pandutalav village from where all the liquor was supplied.
A murderous goon had been hired by the contractor to oversee the operations. He was a ruthless fellow and on one occasion he had caught a man selling the liquor of another contractor and had taken him from his village to the police station beating him up publicly on the way and then got him arrested by the police on a false charge. So a mass meeting of the organisation was scheduled in Pandutalav village. The contractor got word of this and he too came down on the appointed day with a jeep load of his henchmen. However, on seeing the thousands of men and women he turned tail and ran away. The liquor store, worth some two lakh rupees, was sealed and the keys handed over to the police. It is indeed ironical that despite a provision in the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution that the state should pro-actively clamp down on the sale of liquor in adivasi areas it looks the other way when liquor contractors blatantly flout the law. However, women when they become organised can force the state to act as Karotibai of Katkut village emphatically told the Commissioner in Indore when he proved insensitive to their demands, "If you are incapable of providing good government to us then we will form our own government".