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, July 21, 2013

How can Women be Women and not just Mothers?

I visited Pakur town in Jharkhand early this month after exactly thirty years. I had gone there in 1983 after passing out from college to join a group of activists organising the Adivasi labourers in the stone quarries there. I did not stay there long and shifted to the adjoining Birbhum district of West Bengal and later came away to Alirajpur district in Madhya Pradesh. Pakur used to be a small town then but now it has become a big commercial centre and with the opening of coal mines, a major industrial centre also. It was recently in the news because the Naxalites ambushed and killed a police team headed by the Superintendent of Police. The district is also notorious because it has one of the highest incidences of trafficking of women and children into the flesh trade. In fact this last is what took me there in a round about sort of way. An NGO named EFICOR is working with the Government of Jharkhand to improve the maternal and child health situation of rural women in the district under the National Rural Health Mission. I had gone there to conduct a gender sensitisation training of the field workers of the programme and help them design a programme for men's behaviour change so that the patriarchal obstacles to maternal and child health could be minimised.
My wife Subhadra always rails against the fact that for the government and most NGOs, women seem to be only mothers and care providers and all efforts are concentrated on making sure that they perform these duties properly and not on their problems qua women. Once again as the workshop unfolded it became clear how little awareness there is among people, even senior staff of NGOs that patriarchy and gender are socially constructed and have no factual or logical basis. Feminists have unearthed through their research how the subordination of women and their domestication into the role of being mothers and care givers came about in history.
About 20000 years ago the species Homo Sapiens Sapiens came out as the only human species as all other species became extinct because of its capacity to walk upright, use stone tools and hunt and gather in groups. However, this development brought about a very important change from the point of view of the biological difference between men and women. Due to walking upright the pelvic girdle became smaller and the space within it became restricted. Simultaneously due to increased intellectual activity the human brain became larger. This meant that the human baby could not come out of the womb at childbirth if it had the proportionate size of brain and skull required by the stage of evolutionary development. So the human baby began coming out with a proportionately smaller brain and skull with the rest of the development of these taking place after birth when in the first year they grow much faster as compared to the rest of the body. Thus, not only did the process of delivery become more difficult and stressful for women but also the human infant at birth was much less able to survive on its own than that of earlier hominids and required the utmost care. In those days the life expectancy was only about 30 to 35 years of age and the infant mortality rates were also very high and so the survival of the human race depended crucially on producing children in large numbers. Given the difficulties of childbirth and the subsequent dire need of infants for care this biologically restricted the earlier mobility of women as they were continually producing children and tending to them. So their participation in hunting and gathering became less and due to lesser physical exertion their body structure became physically weaker over time than that of men.
After this as the population of humans increased competition over resources too increased and so groups of humans began fighting each other. In those days the most important resource for any group was the human resource as the level of technological development meant that natural resources could not be harnessed in any great quantity. Therefore a group that won a fight would take members of the opposing group captive and try and assimilate them into their group to increase its numbers. However, since there were no ropes or chains it was difficult in the initial period of captivity to keep the captives as they tended to run away. This is when the men realised that it was easier to hold women captive because by raping them repeatedly and making them pregnant they could be made to continue within the victor group. This also had the advantage of adding children producing machines to the group!! This is how Men's subordination of women began about 15000 years ago and it was later consolidated with the discovery of agriculture and animal husbandry about 10000 years ago. Agriculture and animal husbandry led to the creation of surpluses and class division and the need for men to identify their heirs to pass on the accumulated property. Therefore the earlier free sex was curtailed and the institution of marriage was invented under which men would keep one or more wives exclusively so that they knew who their children were to whom they could pass on their property and along with class formation this institutionalised patriarchy and also sex work by women because with the rise of trade and wars men began to move out and stay out of their homes for long periods of time and they had to be sexually serviced during these long absences from their wives.
Gender sensitisation and initiating men's behaviour change basically means explaining to men and women (because most women have also over the last 10000 years internalised patriarchy and believe falsely that men are socially superior due to natural reasons and not because of a quirk of history and the subsequent mischief of men who took undue advantage of the biological pressures on women) that currently women do not need to produce a huge number of children and neither do they have to exclusively look after them because men can do that once the baby has been delivered. In short women today have to be women per se and not just mothers and care providers and they have to take their equal place alongside men as economic and social members of a gender just and equal society.
I had a great time initiating a stunned set of field workers, both men and women, into all this and much more, like the neglect of women's gynaecological problems in the public health system and the false concept of masculinity which restricts men from being more compassionate towards women and since my presentations were laced with humour there were quite a few good laughs at the expense of the men, myself included. We ended up designing a pretty good practical plan of action to improve men's participation in ensuring maternal and child health in particular and reproductive health in general which was the basic objective of the training. Also, even though Subhadra and I frequently conduct these trainings we had never formalised the stuff into a systematic manual. So for the first time now there is a training manual in Hindi on gender sensitisation and men's behaviour change communication.
While returning I could not help but dwell on the great transformation that has come over me in the same way as Pakur is not the same as it was thirty years ago. I had visited then as a prospective grassroots tribal rights activist bent on declassing myself but I had come this time as a highly paid consultant and stayed in the best hotel in town!!.

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