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.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Of Roses, Thorns and Papayas

The Bhil tribals in India, in theory, should have had it rosy given the plethora of laws that have been enacted for their benefit -
1. The Fifth Schedule of the Indian Constitution which provides for special governance in tribal areas even to the extent of the holding in abeyance of such colonial laws as the Indian Forest Act, the Land Acquisition Act, the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code which have been retained after independence.
2. Laws to prevent the alienation of tribal land by non-tribals, the control of money lending and prevention of atrocities against tribals.
3. A law making the tribal Gram Sabha the paramount body with respect to all local governance, Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA). This is especially significant because the Gram Sabha is defined as the small tribal hamlet which may be part of a bigger revenue village. All matters relating to land acquisition for development projects have to be cleared by the Gram Sabha.
4. A law to give tribals rights to the forest lands they have been cultivating and the community forest lands they have been using - The Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (FRA).
5. A law guaranteeing 100 days of employment a year to each household that demands it - the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
6. A law with stringent provisions to protect migrant workers - the Inter State Migrant Workers Act.
However, in practice none of these laws are being implemented in any serious manner by the government and the hard reality is a thorny one. Let us take the example of Alirajpur district in Madhya Pradesh. The Bhil tribals here have organised themselves under the trade union Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS) and have been fighting for their rights since 1982. Yet the administration and the workers of the two mainstream political parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, have continually thwarted the efforts of the KMCS, both at the grassroots and at the policy and legal advocacy levels, to get the above laws implemented. Especially glaring is the non-implementation of the NREGA, PESA and the FRA because the governments at the national and state levels continuously make public statements that they have implemented these laws very well. In Alirajpur even after considerable agitation on an average about 20 days of employment a year has been given to those who have demanded it and payments are pending even after more than a year has passed since the work was done. Several complaints made to the Chief Executive Officer of the Block responsible for overseeing the proper functioning of the NREGA have not yielded any result. Till date there has been no declaration about the status of the applications made under the FRA and any query begets vague answers. When an application under the Right To Information (RTI) Act was attempted the Officer replied that there was a website which gave all the details and provided the link. But this link turned out to be that of an intranet of the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department which could not be accessed without a password. After this was pointed out the officer reluctantly accepted the RTI application. Gram Sabhas are not held at all and demanding that they be held leads to confrontation with the supporters of the mainstream parties who do not want transparency.
A meeting was held recently in Vakner village on these issues in which people came from far and wide and there was anger all around. The general consensus was that the KMCS must return to its militant ways which had been put in abeyance for the past few years and mount pressure on the government and the administration. Things have become much more difficult than earlier even internally. Many of the members of the KMCS have joined the mainstream political parties feeling that they have more to gain there. Thus reviving the past militancy is not an easy task. Nevertheless the core that still remains intact decided to take on the challenge and a massive rally cum demonstration is being organised by the KMCS on October 12th 2009 in Alirajpur to kick off a concerted long drawn struggle demanding that all the above laws be implemented forthwith.
As the deliberations came to an end I suddenly felt a tiredness come over me. How much longer must the Bhils go on fighting going over the same old ground to get what is rightfully theirs. I felt a deep revulsion and got up and moved away from the meeting as the participants continued deciding on the nitty gritties of organising the rally and my eyes fell on this wonderful natural ebullience pictured below -

A papaya tree that had grown to a height of about seven meters dwarfing by a fair margin the tree in front of it. It is four years old and is still giving fruit that is very sweet to eat. Normally the papaya tree is grown for only two years at the most and never reaches more than two to three meters in height. I regained my enthusiasm at the sight of this tree because it resembled the KMCS which too had lasted close to three decades when such small organisations tend to fold up in a decade or so and was still active and fruitful.

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