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 22, 2012

Whats in a Name?

Recently a reader raised the issue of the nomenclature of the people who are variously named as Tribes, Adivasis and Indigenous People. Since this is a vexing question I had sought to bypass it by including all three in the title of this blog. However, since the issue has been flagged it is appropriate that it is discussed here. Human beings were all hunter gatherers before the advent of the neolithic revolution about ten thousand years ago when they gradually became pastoralists and agriculturalists. This was an important change because it allowed humans to build up capital in the form of domesticated animal herds and stored grain and freed them from the need to always hunt and gather like animals and instead pursue economic and intellectual development. Initially the capital accumulation was not great but slowly with settled agriculture and trade developing capital accumulation and economic and intellectual development gained momentum. State formation followed to ensure that the accumulated capital and trade could be secured. This is the path that most of humanity has followed.
However, a set of people throughout the world have opted out of this path and have instead decided to live at subsistence levels with minimal or no accumulation still practising hunting and gathering or shifting agriculture. These people have customs in place that ensure that accumulated household surpluses are periodically distributed to the community through celebratory festivals so as to maintain economic equality. The societal formation that corresponds to this is generally referred to as tribe. So there are tribes throughout the world and some of them are still uncontacted. In India even though there are no uncontacted tribes there are still some that have minimal contact with the mainstream civilisation.
The tribes in India have been wary of the mainstream civilisation and been at odds with it for several millennia. Due to their existence in dense forests they mostly retained their independence from the mainstream kingdoms and empires. However, the British changed all that as they aggressively entered into and decimated forests to expand settled agriculture, plantations, mining and timber felling. This led to a tremendous amount of conflict which left the tribes severely devastated. Nevertheless the British colonialists also instituted a policy of  protection for these tribes in the later stages of their rule and it is this that was formalised in the Constitution of India after independence in 1947 with the provision of protection and reservation for the tribes in a special schedule and thereby they have come to be officially known as Scheduled Tribes.
Globally the tribes of the Americas have been very active politically and have since the formation of the United Nations been campaigning for their rights. In the context of the Americas they have coined the term Indigenous Peoples to indicate those who were residing in the Americas before the Europeans colonised their areas, decimated them and migrated heavily to set up mainstream economic and social systems. Their efforts resulted in the United Nations constituting a group in 1982 to formulate a draft Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for adoption by the General Assembly. This was a long process which eventually resulted in the adoption of the Declaration in 2007 and the details are available here and here. One of the most cited descriptions of the concept of the indigenous was given in 1986 by Jose R. Martinez Cobo, the Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, in his famous Study on the Problem of Discrimination against Indigenous Populations as part of this draft formulation process  -

“Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system.
            “This historical continuity may consist of the continuation, for an extended period reaching into the present of one or more of the following factors:
a)      Occupation of ancestral lands, or at least of part of them;
b)      Common ancestry with the original occupants of these lands;
c)      Culture in general, or in specific manifestations (such as religion, living under a tribal system, membership of an indigenous community, dress, means of livelihood, lifestyle, etc.);
d)     Language (whether used as the only language, as mother-tongue, as the habitual means of communication at home or in the family, or as the main, preferred, habitual, general or normal language);
e)      Residence on certain parts of the country, or in certain regions of the world;
f)       Other relevant factors.
            “On an individual basis, an indigenous person is one who belongs to these indigenous populations through self-identification as indigenous (group consciousness) and is recognized and accepted by these populations as one of its members (acceptance by the group).
            “This preserves for these communities the sovereign right and power to decide who belongs to them, without external interference” 
Following this the International Labour Organisation adopted a Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples in 1989 and in it Indigenous people have been defined as -

“a) tribal peoples in independent countries whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from other sections of the national community and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions or by special laws or regulations; 
 b) peoples in independent countries who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, or a geographical region to which the country belongs, at the time of conquest or colonization or the establishment of present state boundaries and who irrespective of their legal status, retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions.”
  The problem in the Indian context is that if the country is taken as a whole then the mainstream population and the tribes are both indigenous with the former having followed the path of accumulation and development while the latter have not. However, within the country it can be said that there has been an internal colonialism, expressly so in the post independence period, when the mainstream population aided by the independent Indian state has continually encroached into the areas of residence of the tribes and marginalised and devastated them. So internally the definitions given above apply to the tribes and they can claim to be indigenous peoples. In many cases they refer to themselves as adivasis in Hindi which means indigenous people. The Indian government is obviously loathe to accept that the tribes in India are indigenous peoples as defined above. The tribes themselves are pushing for recognition as indigenous peoples so as to be able to claim their rights under the provisions of the powerful Declaration of the United Nations. The most important part of the definition is that if a set of people who have distinctly tribal characteristics want to declare themselves as indigenous peoples vis a vis the mainstream population then they have the right to do so. This has its upsides as well as downsides. The Gujjars in Rajasthan have now begun demanding that they too are tribes and so indigenous people and should be notified as Scheduled Tribes whereas the Meenas who are already so notified since the time of independence are vehemently opposing this.
Consequently the name to be given to these people who have traditionally led a non-accumulative lifestyle in tribes has become a contentious issue. Primarily because most of them have now become part of the mainstream socio-economic system and want to take advantage of the benefits of this system while ensuring that they do not have to bear the costs as they have had to so far. So one can say that they are tribals, adivasis and indigenous peoples all rolled into one!
The nomenclature may be useful to these people in their fight for their rights but what is more important is that they insist on a reorientation of the path that mainstream society has followed so far. Today is another of those international days - Earth Day, to be celebrated ostensibly to underline the importance of nature. However, unless the traditional conservationist culture of the indigenous peoples is adopted by more people worldwide there is no real hope of saving the earth or humanity. 

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