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.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing

A debate is raging over a cartoon drawn by Shankar in 1949 depicting Dr B.R. Ambedkar sitting like a cart driver on a snail which has been labelled as the constitution and with Jawaharlal Nehru in the background preparing to whip him. The cartoon was drawn in the context of the criticism at that time regarding the slow pace in which the Constituent Assembly was proceeding with the drafting of the Constitution. The controversy has arisen because this cartoon has been republished in a text book on political science for Class Eleven brought out by the National Centre for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) some six years ago. Recently members of the Republican Party of India, which is a Dalit party set up initially by Ambedkar after he left the Congress Party due to its failure to enact the Hindu Code advocating divorce and property rights for women, raised the issue of the cartoon showing Ambedkar in poor light and requested the NCERT that it be removed from the textbook. However, the NCERT refused to do so. Then slowly the issue began to gain steam among the Dalits and finally it was raised by Dalit politicians in parliament with considerable anger. Cutting across political lines all parliamentarians then raised their objections to the cartoon and demanded that it be removed from the textbook and the government hastily agreed. In the wake of the huge uproar against the cartoon being published in the textbook the two academic political scientists who as advisers had recommended the inclusion of the cartoon and supervised the preparation of the text, resigned from their advisory posts with NCERT.
However, subsequently a number of academics, all upper castes, began a campaign, castigating the reaction of the politicians as being a blow to the freedom of expression and to critical pedagogy. Now this obviously begs the question as to how critical the pedagogy is in this particular instance and what is the quality of expression, the publishing of this cartoon entails. My understanding is that the Constitution as it was finally enacted was a highly anti-people one. Roughly 63% of the sections were lifted verbatim or with minor changes from the Government of India Act of 1935 that the British colonialists had enacted to give limited self rule to the Indians. The constitution retained two very anti-people provisions. The first was that the first past the post electoral system would be followed instead of proportional representation and the second was that colonial laws like the Indian Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, Land Acquisition Act and the Indian Forest Act would continue to be valid. The first provision meant that the Congress party despite getting around 40 to 45 % of the popular vote was able to secure huge majorities in number of seats won in both the parliament and the state legislatures for close to twenty years at a stretch. The second provision meant that the tremendous groundswell of popular protest that surfaced very soon after independence, as the promise of emancipation and development was not fulfilled for the vast majority, was summarily crushed using the draconian provisions of the colonial laws which had been enacted precisely for this purpose by the British. Thus, the immense plurality and diversity that is India was sought to be streamlined in the same way as the British had done by the new Brown Sahibs consisting of the upper caste elite that held sway over the Congress, the judiciary and the bureaucracy and also in the fields of industry and agriculture.
The critical discussion in the textbook therefore should have been on this betrayal of the aspirations of the people by the Constitution and not about the delay in its formulation. The delay in the formulation took place because of the filibustering resorted to by the upper castes to prevent the adoption of the few progressive aspects like the chapters on Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy. Nehru, who was an extremely duplicitous person who used to mouth socialist doctrine while actually following a reactionary path of suppression of mass movements for rights, fully supported this delay in the drafting of the Constitution so as to get a colonial one through. Ambedkar in fact did his level best to expedite matters. Thus the cartoon is a travesty of the facts and of extremely poor quality. There is no case at all for inserting it into the textbook and misguiding the minds of young students with a non sequitur. This the point that the Dalit politicians are making. They are not asking to curtail the freedom of expression of the academics who misguidedly inserted this cartoon into the text book but objecting to such poor quality expression being featured in a textbook.
Dalits even today continually face oppression on a daily basis and very little of this is ever discussed in the parliament or legislature. On this occasion, however, they have taken up the matter and forged a bipartisan unity among all other politicians for the removal of this cartoon. Ambedkar cannot be made fun of in a text book for sins that he did not commit. Liberal democratic constitutions even at the best of times are woefully inadequate in addressing the illegality and violation of the rule of law by the upper classes. There should be a discussion in the text book regarding the serious problems that liberal democracy faces in ensuring justice for the oppressed and yet this has been given the go by and a trivial issue like the delay in the formulation of the Constitution has been highlighted. The text mentions that the Constituent Assembly was fairly representative of the people of India and the members were working in the national interest. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The members were elected on the basis of a limited franchise during the Colonial period in 1946 and they vigorously worked to safe guard their sectarian upper caste and feudal interests. This kind of text writing is especially surprising as both the advisors in this case are political scientists with strong socialist leanings and so should have been critical of the Constitution and the machinations of Nehru and the Congress party in its adoption. Even when their mistake was brought to their notice in a bona fide manner through a complaint to the NCERT they arrogantly refused to acknowledge it. Now that the power of identity politics has forced them to backtrack they are raising the bogey of their freedom of expression being curtailed and critical pedagogy being jeopardised.  

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