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.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Gandhians who turned Violent

I recently read a book "Churchill's Secret War" that details the inhuman role played by Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Britain during World War Two, in precipitating the horrendous Bengal famine of 1943 which killed at least three million people if not more. Though, it is well known that the famine was a man made one caused by the British imperialists, the author of this book, Madhusree Mukherjee, shows through painstaking archival research how Churchill deliberately took racist policy decisions that led to the catastrophe ignoring the pleas of the Governor General and Secretary of State for India for importing wheat and rice to alleviate the situation. However, what interested me more was the other narrative in this book about an armed mass struggle against the British during that time conducted by the people of what is now East Midnapur district in West Bengal .
The Indian National Congress after dilly dallying for over three years since the beginning of the War finally launched the Quit India Movement against the British in 1942. The British immediately arrested the leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and also many other workers of the party and put them into jail. However, such had been the sufferings of the people due to constant levies in cash and kind from them to fund the War effort of the British that the whole of India erupted in a violent response to the call for revolt. Due to lack of leadership and prior preparedness for waging a concerted armed struggle for freedom, this spontaneous upsurge was soon quelled with the use of the armed forces including bombing by the airforce. But in East Midnapur a different story played itself out.
The Gandhians in East Midnapur initially undertook passive resistance and peaceful demonstrations against the British but this was mowed down by the armed forces and many including the matriarch Matangini Hazra were killed in police firing. Later the police and military forces resorted to looting and mass rape. This angered the Gandhians and they decided to jettison their non-violence and wage an underground violent struggle against the British. The region had for long had a very prosperous economy which was engaged in surplus trade with the rest of the world prior to the British occupation in the eighteenth century which had thereafter laid it waste. It was known in ancient times as Tamralipta. The rebels formed a parallel government naming it the Tamralipta Jatiya Sarkar (TJS) or National Government of Tamralipta and began their underground war against the British, killing informers, collaborators and government officials. Such was the support it garnered among the masses and especially women that it continued its struggle successfully, proving a thorn in the side of the British despite its leaders being apprehended from time to time and sent to jail. The struggle finally stopped only after Gandhi  in 1946 advised the leaders to desist and court arrest instead, reprimanding them for straying from the path of non-violence.
This rebellion has been almost forgotten and there are very few scholarly treatises on it. Madhusree has extensively interviewed men and women participants of this rebellion who are now all very old and some have since expired, to piece together a fascinating account supported by secondary research. This account, which in the book plays itself out as a meta narrative juxtaposed to the grand narrative of Churchill's racism and imperialism, appealed to me much more than the latter. After all the heroism of the subalterns is much more inspiring than the skullduggery of scoundrels.
There has been criticism that Gandhi's non-violence had prolonged India's subordination to the British rather than having brought about independence. It has been argued that a more aggressive armed struggle that harnessed the spontaneous uprisings of the masses right from the time of the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1921would have forced the British to flee much earlier and not as they did eventually because they were unable anymore in the post World War Two situation to hold on to India. The description of the rebellion in East Midnapur bears this out. The rebellion could sustain itself because it systematically eliminated the informers and collaborators of the British and so the underground activists were able to largely avoid arrest and continue their armed struggle. The British were able to conquer India because of treachery on the part of Indians and they were later able to rule for such a long time because of the support they got from informers and collaborators. The TJS, however, were isolated as elsewhere there were no such organised armed struggles and so they could not increase their footprint. However, if the Indian National Congress had adopted a policy of armed struggle from the 1920s as meticulously planned as that of the TJS, then very soon the British would have had to pack their bags being bereft of local support in the form of informers and collaborators. In the event due to long years of vacuous non-violent rhetoric and participation in the fraud of limited self government introduced by the British through the Government of India Act of 1935, the Congress was in no position to take advantage of the golden opportunity provided by World War Two to get rid of the British. Much of the British war effort in fact in terms of men and materials was extracted from India.
Ultimately the freedom that we got was an ersatz one which favoured the very informers and collaborators of the British who came to rule over the masses who had suffered the most. They were left high and dry to be ruled by the former in a dispensation that even today reeks of British colonialism. The story might have been radically different if more Gandhians had turned to the systematic violence of armed struggle like those of East Midnapur did in 1942.


Anonymous said...

I have been following this blog for a long time and appreciate the posts but this most recent one advocating violence is poorly researched and even more poorly argued.

However, I will not try to argue against speculation on history - what it could have been if we had done things differently. That is just a fool's errand.

But I do want to ask. Have you thought of what violence does to the soul of an individual, of the society or of a nation? Do you think of violence merely as a means to an end? When you use violence, how does that change you? To my mind, there isn't justified vs unjustified violence. Violence is simply violence and whoever uses it pays a price. The breaking of civility and descending to an animal state has deep consequences, not so much for the enemy but for the self.

Practically, where did violence get Kashmir, Punjab, Tamil Sri Lankans, Naxals? No, I will not deny violence has it's place but that is of a very surgical variety that must be wielded with the utmost caution and only as a last resort. Even when you do that, there are costs to be paid - for a very long time.

Rahul Banerjee said...

No doubt violence is bad for the soul. But so is non-violence in the face of a violent oppressor. Over a period of two hundred years the British sucked India dry converting a country that was the richest in the world into one of the poorest ( this is a fact established by the research of economic historians). in all this time the British used violence and injustice to throttle the lives of millions of Indians. There is a qualitative difference between the violence of the post independence era when there were legitimate modes of non-violent agitation available and the violence of the pre-independence era when they weren't. Also in practical terms the British State in India was much weaker than the modern Indian State is and so it would have been much easier to wage an armed struggle then than it is now. Costs are obviously involved not only in violent struggles but also in non-violent ones. Due to the idiocy no less of Gandhi's non-violence at least three million people died in the 1943 famine in Bengal and many more millions over the long years from 1920 to 1947. Violence or Non-violence are not the issue here but the fight for justice. How to fight for justice has to be decided depending on the circumstances that prevail at a certain point of time. Speculating about history is no doubt a fool's errand but so is deciding on a strategy of public action without taking into consideration the prevailing circumstances. In the final analysis no State power is going to give in without resorting to violence to crush those who are opposing it. So at some point of time or other the opposing forces have to resort to violence also. Because we didn't that is why the majority of people in this country are still not independent in the true sense of the term. It is all very well to talk of the soul when you yourself do not have to suffer daily violence. What is the status of the soul of the millions in this country who are going to bed hungry and diseased and without any education worth its name. If they are not rising in violent protest it is only because there are huge police and armed forces to ensure that they do not. I have nothing but scorn for people who ignore this daily violence being perpetrated by the State on its own poor citizens and talk glibly about non-violence and the soul.

lamp post said...

As a ‘total’ Ahimsa, if we abandon violence altogether, it will open up a country & society to foreign forces. Even Bhagavad Gita does not approve weakness against wickedness. (I do not belong to any religion , but Gita I consider to be a Human sustainability manual). It is the duty of all to protect against evil - and let be violence be called for it. ‘Badh’ is called to destroy ‘asura’ - the evil; and this will prevent further violence to weak and oppressed. When Draupadi was being stripped, Vidura lashed out to others who were silent that : whosoever is watching this ‘Adharma’, and fails to oppose it shares the half of the ‘Paap’.

Rajarshi said...

Dear Sir,

I see merit in - but not necessarily, agree to - your arguments that systematic violence would have forced the British to pack their bags much earlier. I also agree that the regime change has only brought about the change in colour of skin of the oppressors.

However, I have serious reservations about utility of violence - however surgical or methodical its application may be - as a means to an end. It may yield results in the short term but the costs are enormous. And here I refer to both violence by the state as well as its citizens. It may be argued that foundations of many of today's developed countries have been in violent revolutions leading to massive bloodshed. But then are they the best examples, considering the trajectory of self-destruction they are following in this century?

Finally, what about the situation where the leaders or ring leaders of a well-intentioned violent struggle themselves turn into despots and tyrants once the struggle succeeds. History has plenty of examples of this kind as well from Stalinist Russia to Mao's Great Leap Forward.


Rahul Banerjee said...

Rajarshi you are right about violence turning out counter productive in the long run and I have discussed this in my evaluation of Marxism in a post earlier -
The problem is that when the centralised State does not hesitate to use violence to crush protest movements regardless of their being violent or non-violent then it becomes strategically necessary to use counter violence. Secondly if there is no guarantee that violence will ensure a just dispensation in the post revolutionary situation there is also no guarantee that non-violence will do so. There is in fact violence all the time in the form of exploitation of the poor. And this is what leads to an implicit atmosphere of violence as the State has to employ a huge police and armed force to ensure that this exploitation can continue. All in all it is a complex problem and there are no easy solutions.