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.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Something to Look Forward To

The livelihood situation in Bhil adivasi areas is generally bad. Yet the Bhils are surviving somehow. I feel bad about their situation but they are not so pessimistic themselves. They go on struggling with their difficult lives as best they can. A visit to Katkut village the other day confirmed that this resilience of the Bhils is what should be the key to persevering with the project for getting economic justice for them. Katkut is the village where Subhadra and I stayed for two years from 1996 to 1998 while initiating the organisation process among the Bhil tribals in Khargone and Dewas districts. The non-tribals of the area had immediately voiced their opposition to our work and so we had to vacate the rented accommodation that we had taken up in the village itself which is comparatively well developed because it is the place of the weekly market and also has a health centre and police outpost in it. We then constructed a small house on the land of one of the villagers in a tribal hamlet nearby shown below.

Along with this new house we also acquired a new motorcycle which is standing proudly in front of the house. We had initially been against both constructing a house and buying a motorcycle but circumstances forced us to do both as they had earlier forced us to buy a computer . We had to buy a computer because only with its help could we get funds for research and action projects to defray our living and activism expenses. In a changed situation in the early nineteen nineties in which people who used to help us earlier with financial contributions were more interested in using their credit cards to buy fridges, washing machines and cars, we had to fend for ourselves financially. This forced us to buy a motorcycle also. It was not possible to work at the level of a few villages only once we began accessing funds for our work because funding agencies demand that there should be impact on a large scale. So to cover a larger area we could not rely just on our legs and the very unreliable and infrequent rural bus services alone. This heightened activity in turn brought on the wrath of the non-tribals even faster in a new area where we were just starting our work and so we had to move to the tribal hamlet. We could have continued to stay on in the hut of the old Bhil patriarch Gulsingh where we holed up initially but the computer could not. So we had to construct the house. The people of the surrounding villages contributed some labour and timber but eventually we had to spend about Rupees sixty thousand at the time to construct the house. It became a regular meeting place especially for women who were mobilised in large numbers by Subhadra as in the picture below.

In fact I had a revelation one day when one woman told me in the market place that she had come to offer some produce from her fields to our temple. I was flummoxed at first till she explained that our house was the temple she was referring to! Subhadra and the women waged a major struggle against the sale of contraband liquor which led to them going to jail. However, these struggles eventually did not prove successful given the strength of the powers we were fighting and so we had to leave Katkut.
After we left, the house continued as a meeting place for the members of the organisation and later also as a school for children. But with time the organisation process began decaying and the house became vacant. This is when last year Sojiram, who is the son of Gulsingh who has since expired, suggested that we sell the house to him. Now, since people of the organisation had contributed in some measure to the house we first asked them whether it was alright to give the house over to one individual. They acquiesced, saying that since the house was built on Sojiram's land it was fair to sell it to him as the organisation was not making any use of it. It was decided that Sojiram would pay us Rupees thirty thousand for the house. This is when the fighting spirit of the Bhils in adverse circumstances came to the fore. Sojiram, shown below with his family in a picture from those happy days, set about garnering the Rupees thirty thousand for the house with grit and determination.

Sojiram has just two acres of land of medium fertility. He, manages to grow enough food for his family from this land by taking two crops. However, he does not have any extra money for other expenses. So he had taken a loan from the Dairy Cooperative fighting with the non-tribals and the corrupt officials for his share and bought two buffaloes. He then worked almost twenty hours a day both on his farm and on tending his buffaloes and getting fodder for them from the forest and not only repaid the loan but also began earning extra income. His wife became a member of a self help group and began sourcing small loans from there too to get working capital for their home dairy. Soon they were able to get two more buffaloes. After his father Gulsingh had died the land had not been formally divided between Sojiram and his four other brothers. This prevented them from accessing the agricultural credit cooperative society for loans. This was the position when last year he approached us for buying our house in Katkut.
Thirty thousand was like a fortune for Sojiram. The first decision he took was that he would not marry off his eldest son who has by now become a strapping young man and istead make him study further. Normally Bhils marry off their children at the onset of puberty even if they may be studying. This postponed the whopping expenditure of Rs 15000 that he would have had to incur in giving the customary bride price. He then stopped drinking to save on the money he spent on liquor. Then he got his brothers together and persisted with the process of mutation of their ancestral land till it was formally transferred to their names. In this way he could access a loan of Rs 10000 from the agricultural cooperative society. Finally he sold off one buffalo and in this way over a period of six months or so he put together the sum of Rupees thirty thousand and took possession of the house.
Sojiram continues to live on the economic brink and sometimes he finds it difficult to garner even the rupees fifty or so that he requires to attend the monthly court date in a case in which he, Subhadra and I are implicated with twelve other men and women from our days of active struggle against state injustice. But he is very proud that he now lives in a "pucca" house. He has renovated the house and he invited us to come and have a meal with his family to celebrate this achievement of his and so we went down to Katkut last week. More than the indigenous chicken that we were served it was the joy in the faces of Sojiram and his family that made my day for me and I came back with a greater resolve to continue my efforts to get a better societal deal for the Bhils.


Siddhartha said...

Rahul, I applaud you for putting together this amazing blog. I am very pleasantly surprised to see a blog dedicated to life in bastar. Keep up the good work.

Rahul Banerjee said...

This blog started off hesitantly after prodding from a number of persons that there should be something worthwhile on the Internet on the Bhil tribals. Now I am constructing another site in which I will upload all the articles and books on the Bhils and sustainable development that I have with me either my own or that of others. I will also do some more research on the Internet and find more literature. I will link that website to this one so that anyone coming here will have access to a wide variety of resources on the Bhils and sustainable development.