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, August 15, 2009

Distant Dream

One seven year old boy Nastar of Kakrana village in Aliarajpur district on the banks of the river Narmada decided some years ago that he wanted to study instead of graze cattle. His father reluctantly decided to send him to the government school in the village. However, Nastar had other ideas and asked his uncle to give him money to enrol in the new Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala school that had been established by the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath in the village where a nominal fee of rupees thirty per month was being charged from day students. Thereafter Nastar progressed well and passed out in the first division from the Rani Kajal school which is pictured below which has classes only upto the middle level of class eight.

Nastar then took admission in the nearest government secondary school in Sondwa village which is also the block headquarters. He passed out with eighty per cent marks in the class ten Madhya Pradesh Secondary Board examinations in 2008. When I flashed the news of this success over the internet, two of my Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur batchmates came forward with the proposal that they were prepared to fund Nastar so that he could be given proper coaching facilities to enable him to make it to the Indian Institute of Technology too. I made some enquiries and found that it would cost about 1.25 lakh rupees to educate Nastar in Indore over two years and provide him with IIT coaching facilities. There was some debate within the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath regarding spending so much money on one boy as this was an unsustainable approach to education but consensus was reached that as a one shot experiment it should be tried out.
Consequently Nastar came to Indore and began studying in a school there and taking special coaching for IIT also. However, it immediately became clear that there is a vast difference between the education of the Madhya Pradesh Board schools and that of the IIT coaching classes. So a special tutor had to be engaged at a huge cost to provide him with support. Over and above this the costs of accommodation and food too escalated and the net result was that the expenditure in the first twelve months itself came to Rs 1.3 lakhs. This raised a hue and cry within the KMCS and a huge opposition built up against the spending of so much money just to send an adivasi boy to IIT. After all it was argued there was no way in which more students could be funded in this way to go to IIT on a regular basis and so there was no point in continuing this programme. Moreover, my colleagues in the KMCS pointed out that I myself had rejected most of what I was taught in IIT and had chosen instead to fight for an alternative anarco-environmentalist developmental paradigm and so there was not much point in pursuing this expensive project of sending Nastar to IIT as a symbolic gesture. After much debate a compromise has been reached wherein Nastar's family are going to bear his accommodation and food costs which will be at a much more modest level than before and KMCS is going to bear only the cost of the IIT coaching classes and his expensive special tutor is going to be discontinued.
This whole episode brings out the vast gap that exists between education for adivasi children and that available to the elite. The cost of sending a student to an IIT these days is anything like Rs 3 lakhs and there is no way in which a poverty stricken adivasi family can foot the bill on its own and it must remain a distant dream. Of course there is also the question as to whether so much money should be expended on a kind of technical education that eventually leads to the devastation of the environment and the livelihoods of the tribals through unsustainable industrial development.


anish said...

its true - so many negative things about iit. it (at least iit bombay) is becoming more and more insulated from society. the number of students from small towns is dwindling. the fees are too much. there is very less academic freedom to choose what to learn. casteism is very much present. and overall authoritarian attitude of professors. suicides that are never heard about outside campus walls.

what can be an alternative for kids like nastar? where will he find good teachers who will encourage him? to help him find his inclinations, aptitude. if he can find his true calling maybe he will go on for a phd in maths or sociology. who will expose him to all the wonders of learning and books that exist in this world?

even kids from big cities do not have a comprehensive exposure to different fields and people just send them to become a doctor or an engineer by default.

we should try to find some way - maybe a month long exposure camp for children. where people from diff fields will come and tell & demonstrate to the children what kind of work they exactly do. like a soil engineer, a microbiologist, a scientist, a teacher. so that they can decide what inspires them the most and choose accordingly. constraints will be there but at least they will know what they like.

or else there should be a truly open university where teachers visit and hold workshops all year round, kids do not 'work towards a degree' but learn as they live and get maximum freedom and opportunities to learn about the world, get good teachers to give them the confidence to do their best for themselves and for communities. and be happy. i would like to work on something like this. do u have any ideas - like anyone who is doing something similar? i would really like your feedback.

its a shame that one has to pay these horrible amounts of money to get into IIT - a government institute. just shows how much it has alienated itself from the people.

have you guys considered showing nistar vigyaan ashram near pune for the time being?

Rahul Banerjee said...

the basic chicken and egg problem with reforming education is that it cannot take place without reforming society and that cannot take place without reforming education! I spent some time after my graduation from IIT at Shantiniketan studying the state of affairs at the Vishwa Bharati University which was set up by Rabindranath Tagore with the intention of providing reformist education. However, it had instead become part of the dominant system. The schools that we run are all an effort to reform education but given a milieu in which education is seen as a passport for succeeding in the dominant system it is very difficult to run a school that fosters rebellion against it. Thus our schools succeed neither in fostering rebellion nor in providing a passport to the dominant system.

Siddhartha said...

Rahul, so what happened to Nastar's education? Is he still studying? I understand the viewpoint that one may gain the conventional education only to reject it in favour of more socio-ecological awareness but Nastar deserves his freedom of choice and he can only have that if he has choice. A few bright students like Nastar can, in the future, support ten more students like him.

Rahul Banerjee said...

Nastar is continuing to study. We have only withdrawn the additional private tutor but he is still attending the IIT Coaching Classes. So he will end up going to an engineering college even if he does not make it to IIT. And if he is lucky and can secure the minimum cutoff marks for tribals then a seat in IIT is also assured.