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

Youth for Truth

Exactly twenty five years ago this May 2010 two male youths, one city bred and non-tribal and another a rural Bhil tribal but both pained by the sorry socio-economic status of tribes in India, joined the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath to further their dreams of evolving a more egalitarian and just society than was prevailing in the Bhil tribal dominated district of Alirajpur at that time. In accordance with the tradition of both Gandhian and Marxian activism and like the other city bred and tribal youths already working full time, these youths too joined the organization on a voluntary basis accepting only what the poor tribes whom they worked with could offer on their own and with some minimal external support for travel and legal expenses. These youths have with time become mature middle aged men who are still pursuing their dreams but tempered with a fair amount of realism. It would be appropriate to analyse why their dreams have not been fulfilled.
Gandhi had said that what India needed was committed and educated youth from the towns and villages for the uplift of every village in India. Gandhi was a trifle weak in socio-political analysis in that he did not pay adequate attention to the huge class, caste and gender oppression that exists in rural Indian society that makes it difficult for youth to bring about radical socio-economic transformation in favour of the historically disadvantaged sections. The main reason why this kind of community service on the part of the youth has not materialized in sufficient quantity is that Gandhi had stressed on the Hindu virtue of "aparigraha" or non-accumulation of wealth without having considered the tendency of capitalist development to promote exactly the opposite, the accumulation of wealth. The logic of capitalism requires production to be expanded continuously in the face of competition so as to sustain profit making. This in turn necessitates that consumption should also increase at an even greater pace so that product inventories are not built up. The media explosion of the twentieth century to promote consumerism was the key to the spread of capitalism throughout the world. Cheap energy from coal and oil made it possible to produce and sell goods and services on a global scale, further torpedoing Gandhi’s conception of autonomous village republics which would be the first arbiters of their socio-economic destiny. Consequently, the dominating obsession of the human race today, after over two centuries of capitalist development, is the earning of money. A mindset that considers a whole host of things to be indispensable like camera cell phones, motorcycles and cars, refrigerators and washing machines, to name just a few, makes the youth of today more worried about earning money to own these than about the consequences for society and the environment of such ownership and use. Those who are most talented with numbers join the top management institutes and want to become money managers in investment banks and play around with the immense wealth that has been monetised and concentrated in them.
This kind of reckless speculation, often unethical as revealed by the current investigations into the murky dealings of the Wall Street Banks, with money that basically represents the accumulated wealth created by generations and generations of toiling people would certainly have sent the world economic system into a tail spin if it had not been for hefty handouts by governments from the taxes paid by the very same toiling people who had been fleeced earlier. In fact the continuing crisis of the global economic system shows how deep rooted it is. When the banks were on the verge of failing in 2008, governments had not only to hand out hefty bailouts to them but also to offset the ensuing recession, taxes and interest rates had to be cut and various subsidies given as incentives to industry which resulted in huge budget deficits and burgeoning public debt. The European Zone governments are now on the verge of default due to this huge debt overload. So once again hefty handouts are being given to debtor governments along with cuts in public spending which will result in more misery. The financial sharks are in the meantime not letting go of even a single opportunity to batter currencies and stocks by short selling relentlessly at the smallest signs of economic weakness.
Marx as opposed to Gandhi had clinically exposed this demoniacal logic of capitalism but he had not reckoned with the power of the media because it was not there in his time. He had expected that when capitalism became crisis ridden due to a surplus of goods, which very few were in a position to buy because the thrust for profit making had led to their wages being squeezed to subsistence levels or their being unemployed altogether, this would lead to social unrest. Proper channelisation of this unrest through political mobilization and awareness building on a mass scale by a communist party would result in the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of an egalitarian social order. One in which eventually people would become so enlightened that they would organise social affairs on the principle of "from each according to his capacity and to each according to his needs". The first such serious over production crisis that beset capitalism and threatened its collapse was in the late 1920s and it overcame that through adopting some of the measures that a socialist state would and also by promoting further consumerism through a media explosion - television was invented in the 1930s. Films and television promoted the kind of fantasies that propagate the rags to riches myth and mesmerise the masses like the film "Slumdog Millionaire" has done by saying it is the destiny of some only to become rich while most of the others must reconcile themselves to being poor. As a result the rhetoric of sacrifice and simple living which is there in both Gandhism and Marxism, has been overwhelmed by that of profit making and consumerism. So over the past twenty five years it has become extremely difficult to work for social reform or revolution in the rural areas and relatively fewer are the number of youth who are dedicating themselves to this work voluntarily.
Nevertheless, Gandhi’s advice to the urban youth to go to the villages remains relevant even today. Most villages and especially those villages that are mostly populated by tribal and dalit people are still in need f activists to catalyse development. It does not matter, whether the youth go to these villages through service oriented NGOs or through activist mass organisations working on various rights issues. This is not the time to fight over ideological issues even though that too is important for framing an overall national or global programme of action. As long as educated young people ignore their careers for the time being and decide to do their mite to change the sorry state of affairs prevailing in rural areas or even in the slums in the cities it is a contribution to society. It’s not as if one has to spend a whole life in social service, though that would be excellent. Even a year spent in working among the under privileged makes a visible impact on the quality of their lives and the overall direction of society which is at the moment a highly selfish one.
Moreover, the time has now come when the youth must take stock of the kind of quagmire in which the human race is stuck. Both Gandhi and Marx had also spoken of the natural limits to economic growth. Gandhi, very eloquently and Marx, in a much more subdued manner, because he did not want to be seen as concurring with Malthus’s doomsday predictions regarding population increase far outshooting the regenerative capacity of our natural resource base. This has now become the most important dilemma for human beings. While social and economic exclusion can be carried on by mesmerising people through the media, the exclusion of mother nature from developmental planning has resulted in her sitting up and hitting back in a big way. Global warming and the crisis of agriculture have assumed serious proportions. It is now quite clear that the present levels of resource extraction and pollution are unsustainable and the human race has to reverse some of the development that has taken place.
Thus, now as never before is the time for the youth to take stock and turn away from earning money and enjoying luxuries towards serving the poor and nature. Both young women and men must take part in social rejuvenation and reorientation as the condition of women in this country is even worse than that of the men. In fact it is the deep rooted patriarchy in Indian society that is to blame for most of its ills including the problem of population explosion which has resulted from women being forced to bear more children to ensure male progeny. When I had thought of doing this in my youth I had found it difficult to spot an organisation through which to do so. I found one in the end but after much searching. That is not the case anymore. These days there are NGOs in every nook and cranny and they would all be too willing to welcome youth who are ready to offer their services for free. Though activist mass organisations are rarer, there is no dearth of these too. And even more encouraging is the fact that there are many different areas in which to work. So it is possible to find the area of one's choice. The internet too will aid in this. Recently a girl in Germany who wanted to work among the Bhils in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh got in touch with me after she reached my blog and website through a net search. She subsequently spent some time in a tribal village living and working with them. Similarly some youth in America who wanted to take a year off from pursuing their careers have volunteered to become teachers in a school that two former KMCS colleagues run for adivasi children in Sendhwa. As I said earlier some may decide to take this up as a career also or a lifelong mission but that is only for the few. The rest can just do a temporary internship and keep the ball rolling.
The only thing required is to ignore money for a period of time. When I first came to live and work among the Bhil adivasis twentyfive years ago I only asked them to give me food. I ate whatever they were eating. For as long as a decade after that I survived only on the food that they gave me to eat. There were other needs also but they were minimal and so I could raise the money for them through begging from friends and well wishers. Those were the best years of my life as I lived close to the ground without a penny that I could call my own. I spent most of my time touring the villages on foot because that way I needed very little money and in the process through intensive interaction with the people I could help them more.
Moreover, working among the under privileged has become easier now because all the struggles over the past decades have resulted in four very good laws being passed -
1. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005
2. The Right to Information Act 2005
3. Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act 1996
4. The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forestdwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act 2006
The state now has to give employment and information to those who demand it and also provide legal title to tribals who have been cultivating forest land and all this can be monitored by the Gram Sabha or village general body which has legally become the paramount decision making body in tribal areas. Many have been the times that we have had to go to jail because the state would refuse to provide employment and information when we demanded it. Not so anymore. Thus unlike in my case when as a youth fighting for the rights of tribals I had failed in achieving what I was campaigning for it is much easier for present day youth to strike gold. Moreover, there is now fifty per cent reservation for women in local government, a law to prevent domestic violence and many schemes and policies for the benefit of women which makes working for the empowerment of women much easier. Unfortunately the craze for earning money has made a deep dent into the stream of middle class youth who used to reject careers in the corporate world to work for the uplift of the down trodden. So also is there a dearth of tribal youth like Shankar who also joined the KMCS along with me a quarter of a century ago spurred by a desire to improve the lot of his tribes people.
There is much that is seriously wrong with humanity at present. A situation in which downright unproductive activities like acting in films and playing cricket and dangerously disruptive activities like speculating on the stock, commodity and currency markets command the highest remuneration and adulation and the crucial activity of farming which provides the food that sustains us has become unprofitable leading to farmers giving up farming and in extreme cases committing suicide, does not bode well for the future of the human race. We do not need more Sachin Tendulkars or Shahrukh Khans, instead we need many many more Baba Amtes and Medha Patkars. Baba has gone and Medha is fighting a lonely battle. The burning truth at present is that only through dedication and sacrifice in the service of the downtrodden and nature can disaster be avoided. The youth must go for this truth. If not for a lifelong mission like Babasaheb Ambedkar did, then at least for a short period of time. Even one year of free service by all the educated youth of the country, especially women, will generate many positives.

4 comments:

Nila-kantha-chandra said...

Thank you for writing this. You have voiced a generation's plea.

Anonymous said...

Young today are flowing with the wind of consumerism. It is good that it demands complete servitude that intoxicates enough for people to realize that they have begun addicted to consumption. The perceptive will win over this tide and return to making the most of situations that should serve at least the ones that matter to them. Your wandering in tribal lands was a result of perception years ago. The youth today has much more information based on which they accept and reject options of learning and gaining experience to pursue goals they set for them selves. They will adapt by being in the midst of plenty but will still impact distributive justice differently than the generation that was. We just have to depend on our faith in the power of the young to transform towards better.

Rahul Banerjee said...

The information that the youth have today is of a dubious nature. There is more emphasis on consumption and very little on altruism in the mainstream media. The most sought after profession is that of becoming money managers in banks. When a whole generation becomes obsessed with excelling in unproductive, speculative and globally destructive activities then alarm bells should be ringing instead of the complacency with which most people are continuing. Business as usual will hasten humanity on the way to doom.

Anonymous said...

very depressive...you do need to watch the sun rise more often. Hope lives on and transformation can not wait, this too shall change, hopefully soon.