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.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tribute to a Human Rights Stalwart

The beginning of the human rights movement was with the launch of the campaign Appeal for Amnesty, 1961 conceived by the lawyer Peter Benenson in London and supported by The Observer newspaper to free activists held in prison for long periods by repressive governments. This effort later became institutionalised as the Amnesty International and today there are many human rights organisations around the world and in our country India also. The basic modus operandi of human rights organisations right from the early days of the Appeal for Amnesty is to put pressure on Governments to respect Conventions and Statutes guaranteeing human rights beginning with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Even though the State is theoretically the upholder of all rights in a liberal democratic framework, it is often the greatest violator. Therefore, since the ordinary citizens in most cases are not aware of their rights and do not have the wherewithal to seek redressal even if they are it becomes necessary for human rights organisations to intervene on their behalf.
In India there are many human rights organisations with the People's Union of Civil Liberties and the People's Union for Democratic Rights being the most famous. It is the smaller organisations which operate in areas and among people which are remote that lend depth and breadth to the human rights movement in this country. Many of these small organisations run on shoestring budgets powered by the energy of one or two individuals who have dedicated their lives to the cause of the deprived. This post is a tribute to one such stalwart, Kirity Roy, of the Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), a human rights organisation in West Bengal, who is pictured below.

Kirity has spent more than three decades taking up cases of custodial violence, custodial rape, torture & death, illegal detention and enforced disappearance from police custody, extra judicial killing and police ļ¬rings. A concentrated effort to challenge the impunity of the State which severely restricts the freedom of individuals especially the marginalised poor through fact finding, documentation, public hearings and legal action primarily and sometimes even mass action. Not surprisingly he has often been targeted by the State and put behind bars himself and arraigned with many false cases. Even though his work is multi faceted one particular campaign of his deserves special mention because it is unique and no other organisation is doing this kind of work.
First a background has to be provided. Cow slaughter and export for slaughter is banned in India because the cow is considered to be holy by the Hindus. However, in neighbouring Bangladesh which is an overwhelmingly Muslim country beef is a major item of food and the hides of cows are in demand for processing into leather and leather products for export to the Western developed countries and so trade and slaughter of cows is legalised there. The demand for beef and hides in Bangladesh is much more than the indigenous supply there while the supply of cows is much more than the demand for beef and hides in India because this is met by the slaughter of buffaloes. Thus, a classical demand and supply mismatch of opposite kinds exists across the two countries and this has spawned a cross border trade in cows which is illegal in India but legal in Bangladesh.
There is currently a demand for two million cows from India and the trade value is US $ 1 billion. Thus, there are organised groups in both countries which bribe the police, the Border Security Force (BSF) and politicians and source cows from thousands of kilometers away and route them through the border between West Bengal and Bangladesh. However, since this trade is illegal the BSF has to show that it is trying to control it and this leads to repressive actions ranging from torture, rape and outright killing against people who smuggle the cows across in ones and twos without paying bribes or sometimes even after paying bribes. So ferocious is the repression of the BSF that the border has come to be called "The Wall of Death" with around fifty extra judicial killings of people every year and a total of more than a thousand killed so far. These people are the poor people residing on both sides of the border who in the absence of any sustainable occupation, take the risk of smuggling cows across. Here is a video of the inhuman behaviour of the BSF personnel


This is where Kirity Roy comes in. He has waged a tenacious campaign against the impunity of the police and Border Security Force in torturing, raping and killing poor people. Due to his single handed battle the issue of this huge cross border trade in cows and the associated repression of the poor people involved in it due to a lack of alternative dignified livelihoods has now become a major policy issue. Even though the rational solution to this problem is to legalise the export of cows to Bangladesh and this is what the Bangladeshi Government has been pressing for quite some time it is not so easy to do so. Primarily because Hindu organisations and political parties are dead against cows being slaughtered anywhere in the world and especially in a neighbouring country. These organisations vehemently oppose legalisation of cow trade as they feel it may well be the thin end of the wedge towards legalising cow slaughter in India.
Well even if no solution to this problem seems in sight the work of Kirity Roy continues and I personally have learnt a lot about the helplessness of the poor in the face of the Indian State and the ways in which this can be at least exposed through his work and so this tribute to him on this Blog Action Day focused on Human Rights. 

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