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.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rural Development Dissected

I attended a workshop on rural development today. It was specifically about ensuring land rights for tribal women in Jhabua. The NGO which had organised the workshop had initiated a programme for empowering Bhil tribal women in Jhabua to gain formal rights to their land. However, after starting the programme they found that this was a very difficult proposition. Not only is the Bhil society highly patriarchal but also the average household landholding is now around 0.3 hectares. Consequently the Bhils do not get much of an income from agriculture and have to rely on migratory labour to make ends meet. Under the circumstances even if women were given formal rights to the land as per the law after considerable struggle with the men it would not really give them much in material terms.
The women who came from the villages, said that they wanted some livelihood support, so that they could stay in their villages and earn money and not have to migrate long distances to Gujarat and Rajasthan. This feedback had made the NGO too start some minimal livelihood programmes. However, undertaking large scale livelihood programmes requires the investment of huge amounts of funds and also skilled implementers. Since these are not easy to come by, so the trend these days is to do rights based work which requires less funds. However, doing good rights based work requires even greater skills which are more difficult to find than funds. Especially for trying to ensure land rights for women in a highly patriarchal milieu! In the end I advised them to try and improve the implementation of the MGNREGS which is pretty poor in Jhabua at the moment with on an average only 30 days of work is being provided every year to each household. If women were to organise and press for more work under MGNREGS for soil and water conservation work on their farm lands successfully, then this would considerably increase their standing within the family and society vis-a-vis their men. Thereafter, the general issue of gender justice could be taken up on a wider scale.
Earlier I had attended another field learning exercise and analysis workshop in Orissa organised by the same NGO in collaboration with its funders and the United Nations. The purpose of that visit was to study the work being done for rural development and specifically women's rights by NGOs there and then analyse the learnings from the visit to come up with recommendations for implementing good rural development. Some of the top rural development practitioners and thinkers from across India had been invited as resource persons and many people from Orissa too participated. Consequently the recommendations that came out of that workshop are unexceptionable. Covering all the key areas of governance, livelihoods, environment, gender rights and tribal rights these recommendations constitute an ideal set of guidelines for rural development. However, the problem is not about identifying the correct strategies for rural development but about implementing them. Implementation always comes up against vested interests which do not want the poor to improve their condition. Eventually true rights based action requires hard grassroots activism and this will also ensure good rural development. But such activism invariably faces state repression and so the status quo remains.

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