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.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Up Hill and Down Dale

One of the greatest pleasures of the initial years of activism in Alirajpur were the long treks that we used to take across hills and valleys to visit the remote villages along the banks of the Narmada to hold meetings with the people. There were occasions when action demanded that we traverse up to forty kilometers in a day climbing up and down hills. This diligence in walking to hold meetings and take part in actions was the main force behind the success of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS) in its early years and also the reason why the KMCS still manages to hold its own as a mass organisation committed to radical change in a generally corrupt political milieu even today. These days there are neither the same number of full timers and nor are those who are left as young and sprightly as they were two decades and a half ago! Much of the work these days is done with the use of mobile phones and motorcycles.
Nevertheless Guthia and Roopsingh, two old warhorses from Attha village and I felt that we should try and rekindle the fire of those golden days of our youth with a trip to the Narmada. So we set out one fine morning on 28.6.2010 from Attha via Chhoti Gendra, Badi Gendra, Khudar, Anjanwara, Nadi Sirkhiri, Bhitada, Khamba, Sakri and Gulvat villages for such a trip which was to end in Sondwa village which is the block headquarters. We were rewarded as soon as we climbed the hills after Badi Gendra as we spotted our first Salai tree. The Salai yields a gum that is used to make incense sticks and so provided an extra cash income to the tribals. However, with time over extraction of gum has led to this tree becoming almost extinct. Guthia and Roopsingh have stopped to take their breath in the jungles of Khudar near one such remaining tree in the picture below.

Another rarity we saw was the Kadai tree which too yields a very expensive medicinal gum and it also was in verdant foliage as shown in the picture below.

In Chhoti Gendra village we had a meeting with the Sarpanch or the elected village head Kachi regarding the skullduggery of the government in not recognising the rights of the tribals over land they had been cultivating for decades. This trip in fact had a triple purpose. Apart from rekindling our youthful enthusiasm, we were also testing our physical stamina to undertake long hilly trips and planning to hold meetings with regard to the non-implementation of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act 2006 (FRA for short). Kachi said he would meet us the next day in Sondwa and give us the certified photocopy of the resolution passed in the Gram Sabha or village general body regarding the recommendation of all the applicants for rights and its forwarding to the State Level District Committee for further scrutiny and action.
In a very detailed preparation the KMCS is collecting all the documents relating to the implementation of the FRA through Right to Information Act applications as a prelude to filing a petition in the Madhya Pradesh High Court regarding the gross violations of the FRA. So in village after village we are holding meetings to get the people to get their village Sarpanches to provide us with the documents of the Gram Sabha.
Generally the trip was both exhilarating and depressing. We felt good in being able to meet many people in these remote areas who we met rarely these days given the lack of frequency of physical meetings and to identify rare trees. However, the meetings with the people revealed to what extent the mass consciousness and activity of the KMCS had atrophied and the trip also brought out the increased deforestation that has taken place in the intervening decade and a half or so since I had last been here. Tapsingh of Khudar who is one of the leading lights of the Sangathan complained that people have got tired of fighting the government and do not easily congregate for meetings. Instead they try to get their problems solved by joining one or other of the mainstream political parties. Nevertheless he agreed to go after his village Sarpanch to get the requisite documents for filing a petition in the High Court. This was the same story in the other villages too where apart from one or two active members the rest of the villagers were in total disarray. The constant refrain we heard was that the weekly meetings held by the leading full time activists should be renewed. This is now an impossibility given that there are not enough such activists left with the Sangathan anymore.
The sight of the Narmada too, converted into one big lake due to the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam was depressing. It used to be such a delight to watch the Narmada flow through its gorges but now not only was it stagnant but due to the wind action the water on the surface tended to flow upstream instead of downstream. Moreover, the stagnant and larger mass of water had led to the proliferation of crocodiles and so it is not possible to swim in the river any more. I had swum across the Narmada a number of times earlier and so had taken swimming trunks along for a swim this time too but was warned not to step into the river because there had been over ten cases of human beings eaten up by the crocodiles and innumerable cases of cattle, buffaloes and goats.
I had gone to Anjanwara with the express purpose of meeting up with Khajan, an indefatigable fighter against the dam. However, he was not there as he had gone to Alirajpur to testify before a commission of enquiry regarding the fraud being perpetrated by the Rehabilitation Authorities. The refrain of the others was one of despair. These few families had stayed back and not taken land in compensation in Gujarat demanding land in Madhya Pradesh. But the Madhya Pradesh Government was not prepared to purchase good quality private land and give it to them and was instead showing them government land that had been encroached on by others. A quick calculation shows that the cost of rehabilitating the few tribals left behind in Alirajpur with good quality land would not be more than Rs 100 crores but yet the government is loathe to do this because it would set a precedent that they would then have to follow in the massive rehabilitation of other oustees from upstream dams.
Life for the people of Anjanwara and other villages like Nadi Sirkhiri has become really tough. The government has stopped all development works. There is no electricity and the only way to commute is on boats on the river. They have now to cultivate their forest lands on top of the hills as their revenue lands have all been submerged. There is no drinking water source and they drink the water from the river which is ridden with microbes and germs. Khajan lost one of his teenaged sons to a mysterious disease that killed him even before he could be taken to hospital.
Finally after a whole day of hill climbing over twenty kilometers we arrived totally tired in Bhitada. Even though we had managed to reach our interim destination our legs were in bad shape and the trip had driven home to us that we had become old.
Bhitada too has people still refusing to move to Gujarat and fighting for rehabilitation in Madhya Pradesh. Due to the continuous mobilisation being done by the Narmada Bachao Andolan there is considerable awareness and mass action in this regard by the villagers. However, there is no action at all on the violation of the FRA. Even the most active husband wife couple of Kaharia and his wife who have borne many beatings by the police and are shown in the picture below did not have any plan of action regarding the non-implementation of the FRA. An attempt on the morning of 29.6.2010 to get a village meeting going too did not succeed as only a handful of people congregated. So we told Kaharia and a few others to go and meet their village Sarpanch and get the records of the Gram Sabha meetings from him.

We met Kirma the first girl to have studied in Bhitada village. She had studied in the Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala boarding school being run by one of the full time tribal activists of the KMCS named Kemat Gavle in Kakrana village a few kilometers upstream. However, she had given up her studies after passing class eight to teach in the Jeevan Shala set up in Bhitada village itself by the Narmada Bachao Andolan. A brave decision by a slip of a girl as shown below. But now she said that she would like to pursue her studies as a private candidate and further improve her knowledge.

We moved on after that crossing the last few hills of Khamba and Sakri villages to Gulvat village where we are trying to set up a Climate Change Mitigation Centre on five acres of barren land that we had acquired many years back. The intention is to do soil, water and forest conservation work to increase the sustainability of both natural resource management and agriculture on a pilot basis on the farm and its adjoining barren hillocks as an example for other farmers to follow. It is also to serve as a training centre and to this end a small building also has been built at the site as shown below. The centre has been built in the traditional Bhil style.

We had our lunch at the centre and did an informal inauguration with Khemla and a few others from nearby villages. Then finally we moved on to Sondwa where we met a few more Sarpanches with whom we had a meeting regarding the records of the Gram Sabhas and the proposed legal action in the High Court. It is this ease of holding meetings in central villages with the village leaders that has led to the decay of the earlier village meetings and the general atrophy of the Sangathan. We thus ended our trip with mixed feelings about it. While we had been successfully able to physically complete the trip and also enjoy it we nevertheless had the mortification of seeing most members of a once vibrant mass organisation in a somnolent mood. Tribal mobilisation is always an uphill task but with time it has indeed become more difficult.


Nila-kantha-chandra said...

i wish i had joined you on the trip. do let me know in future. would be a great experience for me.

Rahul Banerjee said...

This trip was an exacting one physically and it is doubtful whether someone from outside not used to hill trekking could do it. However, we have been thinking of organising a boat trip on the Narmada river from Kakrana village to the dam at Navagaon with stops at villages in between. Lets see if we can get that going after the monsoons in October.

Shivani said...

I will also like to join in , do keep me posted. Till then will work for stamina needed!