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.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Sunk Cost Fallacy

Sagarbai a Bhilala tribal widow, shown in the picture below, has finally got her due after a long drawn legal battle for justice fought in the High Court of Madhya Pradesh over the last nine years against a government and administration bent on disregarding the "rule of law" and their constitutional obligations towards the tribals. But the victory has proved to be a pyrrhic one.

In September 1999 a team of forest department officials raided the village of Katukya in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh at 6 am in the morning and fired on and killed Roopsingh, a Bhilala tribal who was returning from answering nature's call. The forest officials had gone ostensibly to arrest one Balu for allegedly having cut timber from the forest. Why they had to go at the unearthly hour of 6 a.m. to do this and why they had to enter the village with their guns spitting bullets remains officially unexplained to this day. However, the fact is that this murderous foray was part of an ongoing illegal exercise sanctioned by the government of the day to crush a mass organisation of the tribals, Adivasi Morcha Sangathan (AMS), which had over the past four years or so been protesting against the corruption and mis-governance rampant in the area since independence and demanding the implementation of the special provisions of local governance enacted for Scheduled adivasi areas in accordance with the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act 1996.

The murder of Roopsingh evoked an immediate protest response from the AMS members as they amassed in thousands in front of the Police Station in Udainagar with his dead body demanding the immediate filing of a case of murder and the arrest of the guilty officials. The administration had to yield to these demands under public pressure. According to the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules 1995, the state has to provide monetary compensation to the heirs of the deceased when a tribal is murdered by a non-tribal. So the AMS pressed for this compensation to be paid to Roopsingh's widow Sagarbai. Despite all the formalities being completed the District Magistrate did not pay the compensation making the specious plea that since the forest guard who had fired on Roopsingh was a tribal, the provisions of the Atrocities Act did not apply. The counter arguments of the AMS that all the members of the team, which included and was led by non-tribals, had gone together to perform state duty and had illegally killed Roopsingh and so they were all together along with the state responsible for the crime were summarily brushed aside.

The AMS then went to the High Court in Indore against this arbitrary decision of the District Magistrate in September 2000 and the case was admitted. However, on the day of the final hearing the honourable judge gave the astounding excuse that since the rules for Madhya Pradesh were framed in Hindi he could not give a judgment as this latter had to be written in English. No amount of pleading that the rules in question had been published in the gazette of Madhya Pradesh in Hindi only could make the judge budge and he demanded an official translation from the government advocate. The latter conveniently dilly-dallied and so the case was thus pushed back onto the slow backburner of pending cases.

Even though the judge hearing the case was changed after some time the government advocate would make some plea or other and get the case postponed every time it came up for a hearing. Things would have continued in this frustrating manner had not the Supreme Court sent strict orders to the High Court that during the summer vacation of 2005 a special bench should be constituted to dispose of the 1000 oldest cases that were still pending in the court. Roopsingh's case happened to be in this list and so it came up for hearing on 19.5.2005. This time the government prosecutor made the weird plea that since the District Magistrate had not passed any written order refusing to give the relief that was demanded there was no cause for action by the High Court. Surprisingly the learned judge despite protests from the petitioner's lawyer went along with this to some extent but had the grace to admit that the District Magistrate had no business not to give a written order even after so much time had elapsed. So he passed an order directing that the District Magistrate should give the relief to the petitioner in accordance with the rules and write a reasoned order based on the facts of the case within two months of a repeat application being made by the petitioner along with the certified copy of the High Court's order.

When Roopsingh's widow Sagarbai met the District Magistrate and gave him this new application along with the High Court's order, the first comment that he made after reading it was that in his opinion this was not a fit case as the forest guard who had fired and killed Roopsingh was a tribal! This was a different person from the District Magistrate who had initially given this same idiotic excuse some six years back but such is the consistency of the training in stonewalling given to the bureaucracy in this country that they invariably come out with the same checkmating answers regardless of the person.

The AMS once again went to the High Court against this order of the District Magistrate. On December 6th 2006 the High Court passed an order directing the administration to deposit Rs 2,00,000 in a fixed deposit in a nationalised bank in the name of Sagarbai within a month of the passing of the order, failing which it would have to pay interest at the rate of 9% per annum on the amount. The honourable judge while passing the order made note of two landmark judgments of the Supreme Court stating that -

1. Functionaries of the government cannot themselves become law breakers and adopt inhuman methods in trying to enforce the law against alleged offenders as they had done in this case by murdering Roopsingh while ostensibly going to apprehend Balu for an alleged timber cutting offence (D. K. Basu vs State of West Bengal, 1997 (1) SCC 416).

2. The Government is vicariously liable to compensate the victims of such lawlessness on the part of its functionaries and if it doesn't then it is the responsibility of the High and Supreme Courts to ensure that it does so (Nilabati Behera vs State of Orissa, 1993 (2) SCC 746).

The Government appealed against this order of the single bench of the High Court to the division bench. The division bench too upheld the order of the single judge bench in August 2008. Yet the Government refused to comply with it even after a written reminder was sent to it. Finally the AMS had once again to approach the High Court with a petition of contempt of court. Only after the High Court took serious note of this and issued stern notices did the Government eventually pay the compensation to Sagarbai on 19.9.09 exactly ten years after her husband was killed. In the meantime Sagarbai with four small children who were aged less than five years when Roopsingh was murdered somehow managed to survive by cultivating her small farm with the help of other members of AMS. She could have married again and left the children to their fate as is the custom among Bhil tribals but she decided to fight on against an unjust and heartless state trusting the AMS.

This is no doubt an important victory but it is one that has left the AMS with little other than moral high ground. The longdrawn battle in the High Court cost the AMS Rupees One Lakh in lawyer's fees and other related expenses thus considerably reducing the monetary value of the award. The High Court did not deem it fit to award any costs to the petitioner despite her being a tribal even though the judges are well aware of the kind of fees that lawyers charge. When organisations fighting for the rights of tribals have to expend so much time, energy and finances on such basic issues clearly laid down in law then it wouldn't be wrong to say that social activism for the rights of tribals in this country is a sunk cost fallacy of putting in time and effort for a lost cause without any hope of gaining tangible results.

No comments: