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.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Impact of Social Activism

Social Activists often wonder whether their work has any lasting impact or not. Are there any substantial changes in the way societies are run because of activist work? Well, the other day I got an indirect indication that the answer may be yes. A multi-national executive search firm after going through my details in the professional network Linked In of which I am a member, contacted me to ask me if I was ready to take up a job as Vice President of the newly set up Social Inclusion Group of the Infrastructure Finance and Leasing Services Limited (IL&FS). This was indeed like a bolt from the blue. After having spent over twenty five years fighting against the predatory operations of national and international corporations, the details of which are there on my Linked In page and also on my website and this blog the last thing I was expecting was an invitation to become a corporate honcho. Of course nothing eventually came of this as the IL&FS people must have chosen someone more like a World Bank Social Development expert or the head of one of the many big NGOs in this country from the menu of options served up to them by the executive search company.
However, I began pondering over the whole thing. The first thing I had told the executive search agency was that many corporates nowadays have social inclusion groups or social responsibility wings which basically engage in some social development work with a miniscule percentage of their resources. The IL&FS since it was engaged in the development of infrastructure had obviously come up against many thorny social and environmental issues. The question was whether they were serious about including the costs of mitigating or preventing these social and environmental problems because in many cases they were prohibitive and would entail giving up the project altogether. The job description in this case was that the incumbent would have to conduct social and environmental impact studies of the projects being serviced by the company and then on the basis of these convince the concerned project heads to include the mitigation measures in their project design. This is obviously a tall order and one does not know how sincere the company is about this because I could not get to quiz them on this.
Nevertheless, this whole episode shows how much the corporate sector is concerned with the increasing tide of protests from people to be affected by development projects and from people who are suffering from the pollution or displacement from earlier projects. A discussion of the economic scenario in this country by various international and national economists in a business fortnightly that I read recently has the common theme of the difficulty of land acquisition and related environmental problems. There is also a grouse that so much money is being doled out in the form of social and employment schemes to the poor which could have been more profitably invested in building infrastructure. There is, thus, a clear realisation in the corporate world that social and environmental costs of their business operations and profit making can no longer be cavalierly externalised as before and they need to take on more and more of these costs whether they like it or not.
So even if social activism has not really been able to bring about a more people friendly dispensation it has certainly made the corporate sector sit up and take notice. Especially after the recent rejection by the Ministry of Environment and Forests of the Vedanta Plc's bid to mine the bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills of Orissa which are the habitat of the Dongria Kondhs  who are a primitive tribal group. This came about because of a tremendous social activist campaign spanning from the local organisation of the tribals to international organisations like Survival International.
Social activism is very much alive and we can still hope for a better world!


foryoureyesonly said...

Nice posting, considering that I too have been approached by a recruitment agency for the same post. After reading your post, it became very clear what they are loking for, and the problems associated with this job.

Rahul Banerjee said...

people like us would stick out like sore thumbs in a corporate milieu! but i suppose the executive search agencies have to serve up a varied dish to their clients.