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.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Remembering Mehndikhera

Ten years ago on 3rd April 2001 the Madhya Pradesh Police on orders from the government gunned down four members of the Adivasi Morcha Sangathan (AMS) in Mehndikhera village in Dewas district. The AMS had been making organised demands that the tribal area on the banks of the river Narmada in Dewas district be made into a separate administrative unit and declared a Scheduled Tribal Area under the provisions of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution. This would enable them to get the benefits of local self governance under the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act (PESA) which they were being otherwise denied. This demand was to set right a historic injustice that had been done by the non-tribal upper classes of the region when they had trifurcated the tribal area and appended the three divided parts to non-tribal dominated regions to serve their own interests.
The government did not pay much heed to these demands and so the AMS members went ahead with implementing them on their own in the twenty five odd villages in which they had a strong base. This in effect resulted in true local self governance coming into play and the local administration was marginalised whether it was the revenue, police or forest administration. Soon the movement began spreading and this caused concern to the government and in a high level meeting it was decided to crush the organisation to re-establish the "might of the state".
So starting from March 28th 2001 a huge force of four hundred police and forest officials began attacking the villages bearing allegiance to the AMS and destroying the houses and grain and also taking people into custody. This wholly illegal use of force ultimately led to a showdown in Mehndikhera village where thousands of tribal members of the AMS both men and women amassed to protest against this unjust crackdown by the government only to be met by a hail of bullets and more arrests. A massive repressive action followed and the result was that all the main activists of the AMS were thrust into jail and the organisation crushed.
A memorial has been set up in Bisali village on the main road about four kilometers from the site of the confrontation where every year a memorial event is organised in which the tribals get together to commemorate this struggle shown in the picture below. The memorials are called gathas and are relief sculptures on stone. Apart from the four martyrs of the Mehndikhera firing there is also a gatha in the centre dedicated to the great freedom fighter Tantia Bhil who was hanged by the British after a summary trial in the late nineteenth century.
The massive repression resulted in the mobilisation process of the AMS being considerably diluted and it does not undertake the same kind of militant demonstrations anymore. However, in the immediate aftermath of the killings the World Bank withdrew from funding a forestry project of the Madhya Pradesh Government due to the hue and cry about these atrocities. Moreover, this mobilisation along with many others in the Western Madhya Pradesh region and elsewhere in India eventually resulted in some very good legislation being enacted. These are the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the  Right to Information Act and the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forestdwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act. These statutes along with the PESA have made it easier to mobilise for the rights of the tribals. The sacrifice of the martyrs has thus not gone in vain and so a decade after their demise the struggles of the tribals in Western Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere in India for a more just dispensation are still going on apace.
Mehndikhera also deserves to be remembered because it was a crucial turning point in the mobilisation process among the tribals in Western Madhya Pradesh. It became clear that militant anarchism would not be able to deliver an alternative given the tremendous power of the state. Instead the thrust was changed to making the most of the democratic spaces available within the liberal democratic system. Luckily the nationwide struggles succeeded in the enactment of the tribal friendly statutes mentioned above and so the democratic space has increased. Something is achievable even without militancy these days.

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