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.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Crisis of Agriculture, Poverty and Ill health

I had initially intended to spend a fortnight touring Chhattisgarh specifically to find out why the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has continually managed to win elections over the past few years. However due to some other commitments that came up suddenly I could not do so and could make only a short visit of three days. I found that a combination of the National Rural Employment Guanrantee Scheme (NREGS) and the supply of rice at Rs 3 a kilogram to the poor have indeed benefited a fairly large section of the populace(due to leakages in both schemes it is not only the absolute poor who have profited but also others. In fact when I was coming back from Chhattisgarh there was a person on the train with me who was taking along a quintal of such rice that he had purchased at Rs 12 a kilogram in black from a ration shop and he was a lower middle class person. Given the extreme poverty prevailing in Chhattisgarh as brought out by National Sample Survey data it is not surprising that the populist scheme has had an effect despite the overall situation being bad. The population affected by the government sponsored Salwa Judum movement against the Maoists and the ill effects of pollution and displacement due to various mining and industrial projects is comparatively much smaller. The tremendous factionalism in the Congress party which is really mind boggling from whatever little I could gather from this short visit prevented it from taking credit for the NREGS which went to the BJP instead.
The social movements have all lost their earlier strength and so there is not enough mobilisation on the issue of agricultural distress which is the main issue in Chhattisgarh. In a meeting held at Ratanpur the old capital of the Gond and later Haihay kings of Chhattisgarh farmer after farmer came up with detailed critiques of the crisis of agriculture and water resources and also what should be done to remedy the situation. The meeting on agriculture and water at Ratanpur on the 7th of June 2009 was held under the aegis of various organisations and the forum of farmers called Krishak Biradari had about fifty participants. The most notable thing to come out of the meeting was the deep frustration of the farmers with the prevailing sorry state of agriculture. All the farmers who spoke were relatively bigger landholders and all of them categorically stated that with the current scenario of costs of inputs and prices of outputs there was no way in which farming could be profitable. Concern was also expressed regarding the excessive extraction of ground water for industry and agriculture and also the indiscriminate acquisition of land for mining and industrial projects and the consequent pollution. The culpability of the government in failing to control these negative tendencies also came in for a lot of criticism. It was generally felt that the lack of a strong farmer's movement in Chhattisgarh was the main reason for their sorry plight. The upshot of the day long deliberations was that a set of resolutions were passed regarding the amelioration of this situation and a programme was drawn up for holding more such meetings in other rural areas of Chhattisgarh to raise the awareness of farmers in particular and civil society in general under the aegis of Krishak Biradari so as to build up a people's movement for the improvement of the agriculture and water situation in the state.
I personally enjoyed the meeting immensely and was especially thrilled when towards the end, at the time of the resolutions being finalised, two very old farmers who had earlier remained silent suddenly burst out in anger and held forth at length disregarding all appeals to keep quiet from the organisers who tried to convince them that their concerns had been taken into consideration. One of these venerable old men dressed in a traditional dhoti and kurta imperiously waved away the mike which was offered to him and instead relied on the strength of his vocal chords to express his anger. Finally while returning to Bilaspur we went to visit the ruins of the fort which used to be the seat of the Gond Kingdom of Chhattisgarh. Here is a picture of the old palace in ruins.

Yeh Khandhar aaj bhi bata rahe hai ki Gondon ki Imarat kitni buland thi par aaj ke hukumrano ko inke hifazat ko padi nahi hai kyonki unhe vartaman chhatisgarh ko bhi khandhar mein badalne ki jaldi hai.
Ratanpur has as many as 256 tanks and these have been witness to more than a thousand years of history. They were first constructed by the Gond kings who cleverly harvested the water that came running down from the hills nearby. Such is the efficacy of this water harvesting system that despite last year having been one that was heavily deficient in rainfall there is no water shortage in this town which gets a lot of tourists due to its being a religious centre of importance.
I ended my visit to Chhattisgarh with a trip to the Jan Swasthya Sahayog (JSS) hospital in Ganiyari village where a team of doctors from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences has set up a health delivery system for the rural poor that has become a legend. This trip very startlingly brought home to me the direct connection between the crisis of agriculture and health. A considerable proportion of the poor patients coming to the hospital for treatment are suffering from diabetes with post prandial sugar levels of more than 400. Now diabetes is categorised as a life style disease brought about by over eating and under working. But here is a situation in which poor people dependent on subsistence agriculture or agricultural labour, who are undernourished and over worked, are reporting a high incidence of diabetes. When the doctors at JSS began investigating the cause of this they came to the conclusion that this was because of chronic hunger. The unborn baby in the womb does not get adequate nutrition because the pregnant mother is undernourished and so its pancreas is underdeveloped when it is born. thus from birth itself the amount of insulin being produced is less and slowly the situation aggravates so that after some time the person becomes diabetic. This is indeed a frightening prospect.
Yet another disturbing fact analysed by the JSS team is that of the spread of anti-biotic resistance through the passing of stool in the open. Due to indiscriminate and irrational prescription of anti-biotics by both quacks and registered medical practitioners bacteria causing dreaded diseases develop resistance to anti-biotics. The resistant bacteria are then passed out in the faeces which contaminate the surface and ground water. this water is then drunk without purification by others and they too get filled with these resistant bacteria leading to general obsolescence of anti-biotics and this is probably the cause of the spread of epidemics of all kinds which are then untreatable.
Finally there is the issue of the spread of a kind of leprosy that affects the nerves and does not manifest itself overtly till well advanced. this kind of leprosy is not treatable by the standard Multi Drug Therapy (MDT) medicines and requires a much more expensive treatment regime. This disease too is very widely prevalent in Bilaspur and other areas of Chhattisgarh. But both the national and state governments are turning a blind eye to this serious problem. The worst and most depressing part of this whole scenario is the woeful lack of awareness in the populace in general about this deep linkage between poverty and health. the government looks askance at the JSS for having exposed this and creates problems of all kinds in its operation.


Arjun said...

Hi Rahul,

"All the farmers who spoke were relatively bigger landholders and all of them categorically stated that with the current scenario of costs of inputs and prices of outputs there was no way in which farming could be profitable......"

Well i would differ.

1.During the discussion did any one talk of soil, on how to build soil, how to maintain soil fertility etc. Since when did farmers start to see soil as something dead & only to be used & activated while they want to take a crop & to be abused when not in use ??

2. One can always find creative ways to cut down the cost of inputs & that is possible only, yes only in non chemical farming.

3. How can one link farming with profits ?? I thought farming is a way of life, a religion (if i can put it that way). Isn't it ??

Any way interesting to read about the observations at JSS.

bye !

Rahul Banerjee said...

these farmers have all been induced to disregard the natural quality of the soil and instead rely on chemical fertilisers and that is the basic problem. it is difficult for them to go back to organic agriculture without state support. when the whole of society is profit oriented then it is not possible for farmers not to be so.

caregiver7careseeker said...

Interesting write up on the JSS.

I have been inspired by their work strategy.

Quoting from a recent email forward,

"… Physicians here are awe-inspiring. Every one here is in the process of 'despecialising'. That does not mean that they are losing their skills as specialists. It means, they are learning the other specialities. ENT surgeon here is managing medicine OPD patients for 5 yrs and knows more about approach and management of general OPD issues than I do. A pediatric surgeon has become a general surgeon and has learnt anesthesiology and practices it when no volunteer anesthetist is available. A pediatrician is learning C-sections. Needless to say, they are all able obstetricians.

They all (7 physicians) started without any preconceived notions. Came to a rural setting and started learning how to become rural doctors. Many of my myths were shattered here in the first week itself..."

Priyank Jain, Resident Medicine, Wisconsin Milwaukee on a visit to a rural health set up run by a few committed physicians in Ganiari, Madhya Pradesh, India

Rahul Banerjee said...

de-specialising or becoming a jack of all trades is the key to effectiveness in a rural setting. whether in medicine or in sustainable livelihoods or in decentralised governance the activist must learn many things from many disciplines to be effective.