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, February 29, 2012

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Sister Valsa John Malamel, a Christian nun who had spent three decades fighting for the rights of the tribals in Pakur district of Jharkhand, was murdered on November 15th 2011 by an armed group of the very tribals for whom she had done so much. The story behind this gruesome murder has been reported in a detailed five part series in the Wall Street Journal. The basic story is that a company wanted to mine coal from a tribal area. Sister Valsa organised the tribals of the area to oppose this and as a result the company had to reach an agreement with the tribals, not only to give them a fair compensation but also to give the contracts for transportation of the coal from the mines to the washeries to the tribals. However, with time the some of the tribals felt that Sister Valsa was not letting them profit as much as they would like to from the transportation of coal and this led to enmity setting in. So much so that Sister Valsa had enough indication that her life was in danger. Finally her intervention on behalf of a tribal girl who used to live with her and who was raped by atribal youth led to her murder in which many of the tribal leaders who were chafing at Sister Valsa's admonitions regarding proper distribution of the income from coal transportation among all tribals also participated.
The important problem here is of tribal leaders being lured by the profits that can be earned by participating in the corporate grab of natural resources to jettison the mass organisations through which they have fought for tribal rights and even turning against the non-tribal activists who had earlier helped them to do so. Almost all tribal mass organisations including the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath have faced this problem to a lesser or graeater degree. In fact the KMCS has not been able to evolve into a much stronger organisation precisely because of this problem which has led to the attrition of good grassroots tribal leaders who have gone over to the mainstream political parties. Even though none of the non-tribal activists of the KMCS have ever been killed there have been threats from time to time. Also since there is now no important mineral resource to be mined in Alirajpur, big corporations are not involved and neither is big money.
Thus, the story of tribal activism these days is a chronicle of death foretold. Even if activists are not murdered the spirit of tribal activism certainly is. The cooption of the tribal leaders into the system of natural resource exploitation inexorably leads to the death of the mass organisations of the tribals which try to oppose modern development as being inherently unjust and unsustainable.
Yesterday, I attended an academic seminar on development induced discontent in tribal areas where several speakers spoke about tribals having lost their traditional characteristics and especially the increasing phenomenon of stratification in once economically homogeneous societies. There was no appreciation at all among these speakers of the simple fact that given State sponsored capitalist development and the tremendous media onslaught promoting consumerism it is only to be expected that such a change would occur. Neither was there any realisation among the academics that such a change was detrimental to the larger interests of the tribals in that it weakens their mass movements for justice. In fact as I have stated before on a number of occasions if the KMCS did not access funds through its sister NGO, Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra then it would not have been able to carry on the minimal mobilisation work that it is still doing.  This is also the case for many other mass organisations.

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