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, February 10, 2013

An Unheralded Titan

It is with great sadness that I write about the demise of possibly the greatest warrior of Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath. Punia Bhima even on his deathbed in his village Pujara Chowki, told all those around him that the only medicine for all their ills was the Sangathan and they should never leave it. A man who remained true to his culture and to the hoary traditions of Bhil tribal militancy, Punia Baba as he was fondly called was the quintessential salt of the earth.
He was in his youth, in the 1950s, an active member of the "Lal Topi Andolan" or red cap movement, which had fought tenaciously for the rights of the Bhil tribals against the exploitation of the non-tribal Princes who ruled in Alirajpur and later the logging contractors of the Forest Department who indiscriminately cut down the forests for timber after independence. In one major battle Punia Baba killed one particularly oppressive and cruel contractor and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released after ten years in prison and continued his struggles for justice. However, with time the Lal Topi Andolan lost its strength as its leaders were either coopted or coerced into siding with the ruling Congress party and the corrupt administration. Punia Baba being illiterate and uncompromisingly militant refused to be cowed down but was unable to sustain the fight alone.
When the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath began its mobilisation in the 1980s then Punia Baba once again came into his own. He led the villagers from about five villages in the fight against the Forest Department which was fought along with many tribal organisations across the country. Despite being illiterate he was a very perceptive political activist and so invariably a part of any major delegation of the KMCS for discussions with administrators and mainstream political leaders. Eventually these efforts culminated in the legislation of the Forest Rights Act ( Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forestdwellers Act 2006) which seeks to do away with the injustice meted out to tribals in India from the British period onwards. Later he took an active part in the implementation of the FRA and is one of the few people in Madhya Pradesh who have got title deeds complete with a satellite map showing the location of his farm in the forest. Even though very few of the others in Alirajpur district have got such complete deeds nevertheless the total number is more than 8000 and the process is still continuing.
Punia Baba as a leading member of the KMCS was also targeted by the administration in the early 1990s when the battle against the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the river Narmada was at its peak. In one particularly harsh crackdown on the KMCS almost the whole of the leadership, including Punia Baba, were arrested on various false charges which included attempt to murder and then handcuffed and paraded in the streets of Alirajpur on different occasions. The picture below shows Punia Baba in handcuffs along with other activists of the Sangathan on their way to the magistrate's court in Alirajpur.

The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath then took the administration to the Supreme Court for various rights violations. The Supreme Court took Suo Moto cognisance of the fact that the administration had blatantly violated earlier orders from it regarding not handcuffing under trial prisoners and especially political activists fighting for their rights and admitted a contempt petition. The strictures and directions passed by the Supreme Court on this petition are now the main law of the land regarding the use of handcuffs.
It was not only as a political activist that Punia Baba excelled but also as a first class environmental conservationist. He pioneered the Sangathan's forest conservation programme which covers more than fifty villages in Alirajpur that have members of the KMCS.  Today the forests of his own village Pujara Chowki are one of the best in Alirajpur as shown in the picture below.

Punia Baba represented a rare breed of tribal activists who despite being illiterate were naturally militant and politically mature, flourishing as fighters for the rights of their people whenever they got an opportunity. That the the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath has been able to survive for thirty long years and is still fighting the hard fight against State injustice and oppression is because of the tenacity of such unheralded Titans as Punia Baba. We can only hope that he will not rest in peace but will be reborn with added vigour to continue the struggle for justice.

1 comment:

Prakash Kashwan said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful and well deserved obituary! Very inspiring! R.I.P., Punia Baba!