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.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Herculean Task

Water, forests and land are closely interlinked and so to save water one must save forests and land also. Since most of the forests and lands are in rural areas this means that it is the rural people and especially the tribals who have to save the lands and forests with which they live in close proximity. However, deforestation due to commercial logging and commercial agriculture have decimated both forests and soils to such an extent that most rural people find it difficult to make ends meet from agriculture and collection of forest produce and have to migrate for work to cities and richer agricultural areas. This results in lesser and lesser attention being paid to the conservation of forests and land and so of water. In India the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) has been envisaged as a solution to this problem. Ideally it will not only provide 100 days of employment to a rural household and this labour will be utilised to undertake soil, forest and water conservation works so as to improve the natural resource base and livelihood opportunities. So is this scheme being implemented properly to bring about a radical regeneration of the rural natural resource base and economy?
Sejgarh is a village situated on the edge of the Malwa Plateau in the Vindhya hills just before they climb down into the Nimar Plains and is thus the southernmost village of Indore district in Madhya Pradesh. The inhabitants are all Bhil tribals. Straight as the crow flies the village is just five kilometers away from the four lane Agra Mumbai National Highway but there is the Ajnar river in between which flows through a deep gorge two hundred meters deep and a hundred meters wide and so the people have to traverse twelve kilometers over a stone and dirt track and cross the river higher up where it is narrower and shallower and reach the highway. In the monsoon months the villagers are more or less cut off as they can travel only by foot as the road is not motorable. The village remains cocooned in its isolation with the huts of the villagers also isolated in their farms as pictured below.
Over the past century or so the Bhil residents of the village have gradually slipped into poverty as the dense forests have been logged for their timber and the lands that they cultivate have lost their topsoil and the holdings have become fragmented due to increase in population. The soil depth on the farms is about six inches and the soil is of poor quality. The land has a fair amount of slope and so soil erosion takes place during the monsoons. Under the circumstances without bunding and levelling work there is little possibility of rejuvenating agriculture. Simultaneously the forests have to be protected to regenerate them and increase the nutrient flow into the farms. Only one earthen dam has been built on the stream flowing through the village about five years back and due to heavy soil erosion it has got silted. So even though it is full of water at the moment in October it will soon dry up as people have already begun drawing water for irrigation as shown in the picture below.
An intriguing element of this picture is the handpump submerged in the water in the tank. The people said that the handpump is functional but yields very little water. In fact the soil is underlain with basaltic hard rock which has very few fractures and there is the deep gorge of the Ajnar river resulting in the confined aquifer being very deep and with little water. The people have difficulty in getting drinking water in the summer as most of the handpumps dry up. A Gram Sabha or village general body meeting was conducted in the village on 14th October 2010 to deliberate on the livelihood problems of the village and the solutions to them. The villagers were well aware that there was a need for doing forest, soil and water conservation work but said that they did not have the resources and so they had to migrate immediately after taking the monsoon crop. When asked why they did not apply for work under the MGNREGS they said that they had done work about two years ago but neither were any entries made in their job cards and nor was any payment made to them. When asked why they had not complained to the higher authorities they said that they did not know to whom they should complain. Instead of fighting with the corrupt bureaucrats and local leaders they found it easier to migrate to Indore and do daily labour there.
This is not an isolated case but the general rule in this country and so overall huge amounts of soil and water are going waste instead of being conserved through local measures and so is the money being allotted through MGNREGS. Thus saving water is a Herculean task and it is in this dismal context that the exemplary work being done by a few mass based organisations, like the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, to implement MGNREGS must be appreciated. This blog action day should be dedicated to the promotion of communitarian natural resource conservation efforts because in them lies the salvation of the human race.

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