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, November 15, 2009

The Train to Dahod

Many years ago in May 1985 I first took the train to Dahod from Ratlam on the Western Railway's trunk Delhi - Mumbai line on my way to Alirajpur to start my life among the Bhils. On that occasion I had marked with some concern that the hilly terrain through which the train passed was totally denuded. Even after I got off the train at Dahod and then took a bus to Alirajpur the same scenario was visible on both sides of the road. It was not until I reached Chhoti Gendra village deep inside Alirajpur district that I first saw some forested hills. Over the years through the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath a considerable amount of work has been done in community based afforestation and soil and water conservation and this is what I consider to be my best work. In 1994 I moved out of Alirajpur and began residing in Indore as the work of mobilisation spread to other areas. So I stopped travelling on the Ratlam to Dahod route as I used to do earlier.
Last month circumstances so transpired that I had to take the Dehradun Express from Ratlam to Dahod once again after fifteen years. This is the season when Bhils migrate in large numbers to Gujarat and the train was jam packed. I had to sit in the door to the compartment with another migrating Bhil and make the journey. Migration was there twenty five years ago also when I first travelled on this line but it was not to this extent. There is a local passenger train that runs between Kota and Vadodara on this line which used to suffice in providing transport to the migrating Bhils. However, nowadays the Bhils' livelihoods in their own villages have become much more precarious and the level of migration has become mind boggling. Consequently the general compartments of express trains also are filled with them.
However, there was a very soul satisfying upside to this slightly dangerous journey that I made sitting in the compartment doorway of an express train. At many places I noticed that the hills that were once barren had become covered with trees of around ten years'growth. The great thing about dry and denuded lands is that if there is some root stock left in them then with protection they regenerate and over time can afforest these lands. What had happened was that the Bhil farmers had begun protecting the hillocks that bordered their farms and so gradually they had become afforested. There are no NGOs or people's organisations working in those areas but these farmers must have internalised the rhetoric of protection that has been bandied about over the past decade and a half or so and then implemented it. I have always felt that if poor people are given enough freedom and opportunity they will find appropriate and sustainable solutions to their livelihoods and problems and this was a vindication of that.

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