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.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Kolkata in 1970

I grew up in Kolkata and was a ten year old kid in 1970 when the Naxal movement (The armed uprising by the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) which began in the village of Naxalbari in West Bengal whence the name)  was at its peak in the city. There is no doubt in my mind that my eventual choice of working for justice for the Bhil Adivasis in Alirajpur was to a certain extent influenced by the liberation motif of the Naxal movement. At that time our neighbourhood and the place where my school was, remained free from the pitched armed battles of that time but one would read about the turmoil in the papers and hear about it on radio and in discussions. One maternal grand uncle of mine was arrested for having been part of the movement and one young man from our neighbourhood disappeared only to return many years later. Recently I read a book in Bengali, "Shottorer Dinguli" - The days of Nineteen Seventy, by Debashish Bhattacharya, who was a participant of the Naxal movement and eventually spent many years in jail as a result. This book is a good peg on which to hang a discussion of human rights in relation to armed struggles and the response of the State to them.
The book itself is shoddily written. There are the author's own experiences during that time interspersed with his current evaluation that the movement then was an infantile mistake along with some description of the brutality of the State response and a history of the legislative politics of the time, all strung together haphazardly in an incoherent manner. Despite being a non-fiction book there are no citations to substantiate the many things that the author says and so the book can be said to be an anecdotal narrative. However, there are a few important takeaways from reading this book. The most important information is that due to the fact that the movement was suddenly launched and subsequently drew in many young men and women who were still studying in college, most of the participants did not have any grounding in the theory and practice of Maoism which they were ostensibly trying to implement. The leaders of the movement too come out as having a romantic conception of the Maoist movement in China in trying to replicate it in India without a realistic analysis as to whether this could be done given the vastly different conditions prevailing here. Due to this the movement could never develop a mass base either among the workers or the peasants and degenerated into a movement of urban insurgency armed mostly with home made bombs!!  The biggest failure of the leaders was in underestimating the repressive power of the Indian State.
While the Naxals succeeded in annihilating less than a hundred low level policemen hundreds of Naxals were killed and thousands jailed. The leaders and many others were denied the due process of law and summarily executed by the police and other security forces. These leaders and many lesser Naxals were all apprehended with information about their hideouts from informers. The police used a mixture of terror and incentives to win over arrested Naxals and convert them to being informers. There were quite a few mass murders of Naxals by a combination of goons and police. Eventually the movement was brutally crushed. Later in 1977 after the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which unlike the Naxals is a party that believes in pursuing the parliamentary path, came to power in West Bengal a judicial enquiry commission was set up to probe the human rights violations by the police. However, nothing came of this as not a single police personnel high or low was indicted. The Naxal movement in Andhra Pradesh in 1970 contemporaneous with that in West Bengal too was crushed with similar repressive violence.
The overwhelming message that comes through from the book is that of the futility of launching isolated armed struggles without a large mass base built up over years of hard grassroots work. Such isolated struggles invariably lead to indiscriminate killings of low level oppressors or State functionaries by the participants which itself is a violation of human rights and then this gives the State forces the impunity to cavalierly disregard the rule of law and cause much greater havoc. The judiciary too is less likely to be sympathetic to pleas of human rights violation by the State forces voiced by the armed insurgents or human rights activists. Even though the Maoists regrouped in the early 1980s in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar and have gradually built up a formidable presence in some remote forested areas the precariousness of their situation results in wanton violation of human rights by them and the security forces in which the local population is the greatest sufferer.
There is of course the reality that given a State apparatus that is dominated by capitalists both nationally and globally, human rights of the poor, who form a huge majority, will always be violated to further the profit making of the former and so it is a little naive to talk of human rights. However, overall the slow process of non-violent mobilisation still is a better alternative than the waging of isolated guerrilla warfare.


shakti man said...

Would you kindly mention the name of the publication from which the book "Shottorer dinduli" was published and more books on this context.

Rahul Banerjee said...

Dear Shaktiman,
Please get in touch with Ramaswamy Venkateshwar who gave me this book to read and he has also translated it into English. The book is now out of print. For both the Bengali original and the English translation Ramaswamy can be contacted at -
He will also be able to give you the refernces of other books on this subject.