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.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rural Realities

One of my friends who used to study with me in the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur recently expressed surprise that the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath worked on such a minimal scale and did not expand its operations. I told him that up scaling means hierarchy and centralised control and the introduction of professional people into the organization as the Bhil members do not have the capacity to run a big organization. My friend’s angry reaction was that if the Bhils could not run an organization for their own uplift then they did not deserve to be helped. I did not say anything as this would have led to acrimony but the basic fact is that centralization while being economically and operationally efficient is destructive of social and environmental harmony. The difficulties of implementation of decentralised rural development programmes in a centralised system are many. An example from our work will illustrate this admirably.
We tried to popularise the cultivation of the less water using Harshita variety of wheat this year in the Rabi season in Attha village after its success in Dewas district last year. Six quintals of seed that we had bought and cleaned from Dewas were distributed among the people with the condition that they would return one and half times the amount of seed after harvest. The extra seed was being asked for because in the preparation of seed from the harvested grain some loss had taken place and there were some holding and transportation costs involved. The people who took the seed all agreed to this condition. However, when the crop was harvested and the grain winnowed there was reluctance on the part of the people to return even the amount of seed that they had taken let alone the premium of half times more that they had also agreed to paying. These people are all veteran members of the KMCS and yet they behaved in this manner even though the seed had performed well and they had got good output at a lower input cost due to the lower requirement of water and the lesser weed formation. The main argument advanced by the people was that another NGO had distributed ginger seeds and the training to cultivate them free in Attha and had also bought the output so we should also do the same. We said that we had already given them a subsidy by bringing the seed and showing them how to cultivate it and that it is not sustainable to give a higher subsidy in the form of free seeds as this would prevent the seed cultivation from spreading further to other villages. We also said that KMCS is not an NGO but a mass organization. While some funds are sourced through its sister organization Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra the stress still remains on mobilization of resources by the people for their own development.
The principal amount of wheat was finally collected after much effort but the whole process underlined the difficulty of bringing about rural development. The overall centralised system of development has on the one hand immiserised the people and they are living in poverty. On the other hand it has introduced some minimal transfers to the poor through subsidies either from the government or the NGOs which has induced an expectation in the poor for free handouts. People also raised the issue of full timers of KMCS receiving salaries and the construction of two pucca offices in Sondwa and Alirajpur and the office in Indore where I reside. They said that Khemla, Shankar and I had benefitted from the work we were doing whereas the people themselves had remained poor. We said that we as full timers were providing services free of charge. These services were priceless as only people with a dedication to social service could provide them in such a remote area. Since the people did not have the means to pay for these services funds were being sourced from outside sources at a minimal level. The pucca offices belonged to the Dhas Gramin Vikas Trust and we resided in them only as workers and not owners. While it was true that we lived a better material life than the members of the KMCS it was still a frugal one.
The situation has changed drastically over the years. Rural development work requires funds and these are not available to hole in the wall organisations. Thus, a minimal amount of infrastructure involving pucca buildings, computers etc are necessary. However, to the people who are still living a hand to mouth existence it appears as if the activists are skimming off funds that are meant for their benefit.


Nila-kantha-chandra said...

Hullo! Visited out of the blue after a long time - and what you write about - working on a "minimal" scale - is exactly what was on my head, after getting a mail from a friend who asked me about "scalability" of whatever I was doing. The automatic raising of the question of "scale" - is not so objective, it is actually very peculiar, and sadly most people - who can talk about "scale" - have no clue what their presumptions are or entail. Its about concepts, numbers, abstract goals being more important than people, than 1 person, or even 1,000. Its a form of pathological thought disorder. They do not belong to any place, they do not have any human relationships or affiliations with specific people in a particular place. Hence every place is a site for the unloading and unleashing of their abstract notions and objectives. People and place are only instrumental. Of course that's also about power, who is instrumental for whom. Power also arises when one talks about "place" and "people", which are not homogenous entities. Reversal is required.

Your friend who said Bhils who cannot run their own organisation do not "deserve" to be "helped" - would he be able to survive one day in the conditions the average Bhil lives in - without a Bhil's help?

Who said things have to be scaled? Why not apply that same notion regarding wife and children also? People can try to do something at a micro-scale. That may work for them. Similar efforts have to be made by others, at their micro-levels. Its the blooming of such micro actions - that "development", or "transformation" is all about. The various micro-formations would in turn arrive at the need for linkages and collaboration.

Every educated and definitely highly educated person in India should attend a 1 minute 'Development" class. The lesson:

Shut up. Shut your mind. You don't know anything at all. Look, listen, think, question. Try to learn. Never stop. Be respectful. Discern how pathetic you are. Try to gain credibility in your own and "their" eyes. Try to give back a tiny bit of all that the common people of India have enabled you to have. You would not "help" anyone. You would help yourself to have some self-respect.

Anonymous said...

These reflections are applicable to all human verses market transactions. What can be done through cooperation is quickly monetized. The trick is to learn to detach the two modes of working

Rahul Banerjee said...

It is impossible to detach the market and the cooperative. Rather the aim should be to synergise both. This can be done at the small community level where it is much easier to curb the ills of private accumulation than in large centralised states. Eventhough the Russian and Chinese states abolished private property the state became the biggest property holder and by extension those in control of the state apparatus became hugely powerful vis a vis the common person.