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.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Compulsion of Illiteracy and its Wonders

Alirajpur district is in the news because in the recently concluded Census 2011 whose results are just out it has come out as the district with the lowest literacy of 37% in India. The administration in Madhya Pradesh has been pushed on to the back foot as a result of the hue and cry raised over this and has tried to wriggle out of the situation by saying that it is still a vast improvement on the 20% or so literacy that was there during the last census in 2001.
The primary reason for this low literacy of course is the fact that 85% of the households in Alirajpur migrate seasonally for an average of three months in separate time spans each year to work in the construction industry and agriculture in the neighbouring state of Gujarat. This effectively throws a spanner into the education of children who have to go along with their parents and so miss out on schooling both in their residence and destination areas. The fragmentation of landholdings combined with a degradation of the land and surrounding forests have meant that agriculture and minor forest produce collection cannot provide adequate livelihoods to the Bhils and they are forced to migrate. A study conducted by the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath has established that on an average a migrant worker earns about Rs 120 a day and after deducting all expenses a husband wife couple can bring back about Rs 3000 per month of net income to Alirajpur. Which works out to about Rs 60 to 70 crores brought in annually by all the migrating families. Thus, migration and the consequent illiteracy is a major compulsion for the Bhil tribals given that there are few schemes on the part of the Government of Madhya Pradesh to provide livelihood opportunities to the Bhils. Schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme are not functioning properly and only about 20% of the people get work and that too for a month or so instead of the mandatory hundred days. Then there are tremendous delays in getting the money.
However, the Bhils themselves do not see illiteracy as such a major drawback. Being hard manual workers and given the abysmal quality of education that is provided in the government schools they prefer to vote with their feet rather than labour over learning to read and write in what is essentially an alien language. Most literates have to go back to farming and labouring as they cannot hope to land a white collar job. This is why the Bhils have largely still retained their traditional culture and continue to enjoy the pleasures of illiteracy.
Nevertheless, it is of course important that all children get through the primary stage of education at least and this has become mandatory under the Right to Education Act. The KMCS runs a residential school, Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala, in Kakrana village on the banks of the Narmada River. The children learn first in their own mother tongue Bhilali and only later pick up Hindi which is the official language of the state. Many parents who migrate send their children to this school so that they do not miss out on their education. Residential schools like this one are what is required to jack up the literacy rate in the district as seasonal or circular migration has now become a widespread phenomenon and is going to increase as there is more and more investment in Gujarat. Instead the Government mostly has single teacher schools in place where the teachers pursue other money earning options and rarely visit the schools to which they have been posted. 

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