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, October 2, 2011

Reflections on an Award

The prestigious Times of India J.P. Morgan Social Impact Awards are to be presented today, the birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra which is the sister NGO of the trade union Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath is to be awarded the prize in the category of advocacy and empowerment. Shankar, Khemla and Veena the veteran Bhil tribal activists along with Bhania and Udlibai two of the thousands of the village level members of the KMCS will accept the prize from the Prime Minister of India. Three decades of hard grassroots work in ensuring the rights of the Bhil tribals has finally won recognition from the establishment. All the physical harassment, stints in jail and the sheer dogged persistence has paid off and it will be the moment of their lives when Shankar and Bhania go up on stage to receive the award. However, there is need for some  reflection on the overall significance of this award.
The KMCS has always worked within the liberal democratic framework of the Indian Constitution but with the clear understanding that this framework has some inherent limitations. The organisation has thus been critical of the nexus between capitalists and the elected rulers and bureaucrats which effectively renders impotent many of the enabling provisions for tribals that are there in the Constitution and other laws. The work of the organisation has been anti-statist even if it has remained within the framework of the Constitution. In its espousal of the traditional anarchist lifestyles of the Bhils it has consistently posited an anti-statist political vision. Thus, the acceptance of an award from the establishment is in many ways a contradiction that needs to be reconciled.
The basic problem has always been about the funding of the activities of the organisation. The poor Bhils who are its members are in no position to fund the expenses of running the organisation, especially that of the full time activists. So from the beginning these expenses have been met only in part by the Bhils and have had to be supplemented by external funding. Ad hoc funding, sourced from the Social Work and Research Centre in Tilonia, Rajasthan, sufficed for sometime.  But from the 1990s onwards this was not enough and so wider funding sources had to be tapped. The Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra, which had been registered as a public trust in 1987 and was lying dormant, was activated and grant funding from capitalist sources was accessed. Not very much, just about Rs 10 lakhs a year, was enough to keep the wheels of mobilisation oiled. Thus, even if rights based work continued to be done it was funded by the very capitalists who are ultimately the targets of such rights based mobilisation. This has come about because the capitalists too have progressively had to accommodate such rights based mobilisation as more and more people are getting frustrated with the misery being heaped on them by the depredations of capitalism. The culmination of this change is the institution of the TOI JP Morgan Social Impact Award.
The award is not only being given to NGOs working in the standard development areas of health, education, livelihoods and environment but also in that of the potentially subversive area of advocacy and empowerment. Not only that, despite a rigorous selection process which must have revealed the clearly anti-statist work of the KMCS, its supporting sister organisation DGVK has been chosen for the empowerment category award. The DGVK was initially nominated by a well wisher and when the application invitation was sent, the online application form was filled and submitted. Thereafter the DGVK was shortlisted after a two tier selection process and finally selected by the jury. What this award will do is improve the visibility of the work of the KMCS by grandstanding it before the world through media coverage. It is something that is in tune with the basically reformist character of the work being done by the organisation. 
Many friends have criticised the acceptance of this award. The most telling comment was - " we had never thought that the KMCS would one day be be known as an NGO". This comment is actually a tribute to the stand adopted and work done by the KMCS. However, in the changed scenario the KMCS has been able to continue its work only with the grant support accessed through the DGVK. If that grant support had not been there then the KMCS would have vanished by now. Thus, the challenge is to continue to do the work that the KMCS is doing with the grant support of the DGVK, keeping its anti-statist vision intact. So far at least, the grant support has not been able to dilute the anti-statist vision of the KMCS. 


Rajarshi said...

Dear Sir,

A very thoughtful post. This reminds of the post you did on Casablanca and the character of Rick Blaine and how certain ideals can be tempered with pragmatism.

Many congratulations to everyone at DGVK & KMCS for winning this award.

Rahul Banerjee said...

Our work has been full of compromises from the beginning. Only with time the compromises have gone on increasing as we have lost our cutting edge as activists. It requires tremendous sacrifice and hard work to keep a mass movement going only on the basis of members' contributions especially when the members are poor tribals. So in the end the only thing to do is to remain sceptical even while accepting funding and awards!

shivani bhardwaj said...

Why should there be a need to analyse every thing as black or white some things can just be for its happiness content. Many of us are very happy for kmcs and DGVK. rejoice, celebrate and be happy!

Rahul Banerjee said...

Many people have expressed reservations about our accepting the award and so the necessity for reflection!