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, May 5, 2013

Love and Its Management

According to Gerda Lerner the feminist historian who has done extensive field as well as archival research on the origins of patriarchy in the transition between the paleolithic and neolithic era, the control of women's sexuality by men precedes the emergence of private property. The later paleolithic era was one in which the homo sapiens sapiens species had developed leaving all other varieties of homo sapiens to become extinct and it did so by living in small tribes which controlled their territory for hunting and gathering. Frequently there were clashes between tribes over territories and in such cases the winning tribes used to abduct members of the losing tribe. This was because given the low life expectancy at that time of about 25 years of age, procreative human beings were the most important resource for any tribe. However, since the level of technology at that time did not allow men to be held captive over long periods of time, it was the practice to capture women instead and then make them pregnant through continuous raping over a period of a month or two and so render them incapable of fleeing.
With the advent of the neolithic revolution and the development of farming and livestock rearing, surpluses began to be accumulated and private property emerged. This made it imperative for men to know who their children were so as to be able to pass on the accumulated private property. Thus, the relatively free sexual relations between men and women of the later paleolithic era gave way to the institution of marriage and the further chattelisation of women. Consequently, marriage institutionalised the control of female sexuality and outlawed female independence. With time the institution of marriage has become more and more claustrophobic as far as women are concerned dooming most of them to giving birth to and rearing children in large numbers to ensure the continuance of the human race.
Tribal societies in India without exception are patriarchal and there is tremendous control of female sexuality in them. Even if there are greater instances of pre and extra marital sex in such societies as compared to the caste societies in India ( Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities in India are all caste ridden and so irrespective of the religion all non-tribal communities can be deemed to be caste societies), this is strictly controlled and severely punished if it becomes known even in tribal societies.
This long preamble has been necessitated in order to critique a tendency among the media in recent times to portray the Bhil tribal society as an exception to this all round male control of female sexuality, not so much to try and eulogise the supposed freedom of its women but to give a yellow and risque colour of free love to their culture. The Bhils of Jhabua, Alirajpur, Dhar, Dewas, Khargone, Khandwa and Barwani districts celebrate many festivals. The most important is Bhagoria, which is celebrated just before the Hindu festival of Holi in spring. This festival is a celebration of the harvest and a thanksgiving to nature as also a supplication to their Gods for more such harvests in the future. Men and women and especially the adolescents and young adults visit the weekly markets on the market days and partake in communitarian dancing and singing as shown in the picture below. So for a week before Holi by turns there are huge colourful turnouts of Bhil men and women in the weekly market villages and towns enjoying themselves in a celebration of song and dance.
Now among the Bhils there is a practice among adolescent boys and girls of eloping instead of waiting for their parents to decide a match for them. Thus, throughout the year boys and girls decide to elope with each other and they do so during the festivals also, including the Bhagoria festival. However, the proportion of such elopements is miniscule as compared to the total number of marriages in Bhil society because when such elopement does take place then the boy's family has to pay an extra premium above the bride price which may at times exceed the latter. Therefore, families generally discourage their marriageable age children from eloping and instead pro-actively arrange for them to be married through kinship connections. 
But disregarding this strict patriarchal control of love among the Bhils, the media has portrayed the Bhagoria festival continually as a love festival in which the boys and girls who are dancing together as in the picture above are doing so to select their partners as a prelude to eloping with each other in large numbers at the end of the day. This despite the fact that to this day there is not a single video in the public domain of any such couple fleeing together from the Bhagoria festival. It is also said that the Bhagoria festival has got its name from the Hindi word "Bhaagna" which means to flee. This is yet another preposterous fiction as the Bhil language does not have any such word. In fact the name Bhagoria comes from the village Bhagor in Jhabua district where this festival first began to take on a regional flavour rather than being restricted to being celebrated only in the villages as in the case of other Bhil festivals.
To give an idea of how tightly love and marriage are controlled in Bhil society here are two real life stories of what actually happens. A girl from Kanthari village of Alirajpur district, whose sister was already married to a boy in Vakner village, decided to elope with another boy from Vakner village while they were both working as migrant construction workers in Gujarat. The boy and the girl came back to the boy's village and then the family of the boy sent word to the girl's family that their daughter had now become their family member. A whole group of people, all males, from Kanthari village came to Vakner to resolve the issue. Traditionally in such cases the two parties sit at a distance from each other and negotiations are conducted by go-between people called "Vatars" to arrive at a consensus. The Kanthari people said that since the boy had eloped with the girl without prior information to the girl's family or going through a negotiated marriage, so the boy's family would have to pay a premium and demanded one lakh rupees in toto. The boy's family responded by saying that they would pay only rupees twenty thousand. This angered the Kanthari males no end and in typical patriarchal fashion they said this was an insulting economic devaluation of their honour. They got up and immediately began beating up the go-between who happened to the Sarpanch or the elected Village Council head of Vakner. It was only after the Sarpanch's wife and sundry other people intervened that the Sarpanch was rescued but by that time he had been severely beaten up requiring hospitalisation. The Kanthari men in the meanwhile boarded their jeep and fled from the scene. The people of Vakner phoned the office of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath in Alirajpur to complain about the Kanthari people's violent behaviour. The activist in the office in Alirajpur then phoned the police outpost in Chhaktala village which is on the return route to Kanthari from Vakner and the police  apprehended the Kanthari men on their way back and put them in the lock up where they had to cool their heels as well as their tempers. So finally the Vakner men also reached the police outpost in Chhaktala the next day along with the Sarpanch of Kanthari. Eventually the dispute was resolved with the Vakner boy's family paying rupees forty thousand as bride price cum premium to the Kanthari girl's family and now everything is hunky dory.
In another incident the veteran Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath activist Khemla's daughter too eloped with a non-tribal mason while working as a construction worker in Gujarat. The mason's family said that they would not pay any bride price because in their caste it is the girl's family that pays the dowry. While Khemla was amenable to this, his brothers and larger kin group were not. They said that they would not only take the bride price but also the premium because the mason had married their niece without their prior consent. So Khemla's daughter did not return from Gujarat and preferred to stay there with her husband. This angered Khemla's brothers even further and they went in a jeep to search for their niece at Khemla's expense even though Khemla himself did not go. They returned empty handed as Khemla's daughter and her husband had fled from their residence being forewarned by Khemla. But even to this day Khemla's daughter who is now the mother of two children after more than six years has not been able to return to Alirajpur due to the intransigent patriarchal stance taken by her uncles and the larger kin group.
Control of women's sexuality through marriage is a fundamental aspect of patriarchal oppression and it is very much there among the Bhils also. To ignore this and portray  the Bhagoria festival as a love riot and the Bhils as a society of elopers smacks of the yellow trivialisation that has now become a hall mark of most journalism these days.


Sadanand Patwardhan said...

Interesting anecdotes. Didn't the Wakner vilage head get any compensation for the beatings he received?

Media sees what it wants to see, so its portrayal of Baghoriya festival is in line with 'everything for sell' philosophy.

The study of control of female sexuality got inextricably caught in 'surplus' and 'private property' discourse because of Marx's in particular and political economists' in general gross influence in 18th to early 20th century. Other streams of research have started to make impact in last few decades.

Rahul Banerjee said...

Actually there are many girls from Kanthari village who are married to men in Vakner and vice versa and so there are strong kinship ties between the two villages. That is why eventually a compromise was reached and no police complaint was filed. The Kanthari people took care of the medical expenses of the injured Sarpanch and considerably scaled down their money demands. The important thing to note here is that despite existing strong kinship ties the Kanthari people were not prepared to compromise on their honour and this goes to show how deeprooted is the patriarchal control of women's sexuality among the Bhils.