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.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Antidote for Cynicism

Of late I have been castigated by a few people for being cynical about the possibilities of a radical transformation of society towards a more just dispensation and some others have wondered how I manage to carry on as an activist despite this cynicism. Well there is a very powerful antidote to cynicism - the simple energy of those who live close to the earth. I may have become cynical about the prospects of establishing a more just and sustainable human socio-economic disposition but I happen to be in touch with some astounding people who continue to live their lives with energy and purpose close to mother nature regardless of the great difficulties of such a life. This post is dedicated to a couple who have been with me from the first days of my activism in Alirajpur - Guthiabhai and Chagdibai of Attha village.
When I first met them in 1985 they had no land of their own and were cultivating the side of a hill owned by the Forest Department in violation of the provisions of the Indian Forest Act 1927. This is one of the many colonial statutes that have been retained after independence. It makes the Adivasis who are mostly forest dwellers thieves in their own backyard. In Alirajpur during the 1950s, when the forests of the area were being assimilated into the Forest Department after the accession of the princely states into the Indian Union, the Adivasis were deprived of title to most of the land they were cultivating and left with only small parcels of land. The problem was compounded by the fact that the Adivasis practiced shifting agriculture at the time, had no recorded title to land and were not only illiterate but totally ignorant about the complexities of a modern centralised State system. The little bit of land that the Adivasis did get soon lost its fertility and  they had to continue tilling that land as they could not shift to a new piece of land anymore. This combined with the loss of access to the forest for other uses and  the penetration of the market economy and its frontmen, moneylending traders, soon pushed the Adivasis to the edge. So the Adivasis had no option but to illegally cultivate forest land by bribing thie Forest Department officials.
This is what Guthia and Chagdibai were also doing when I first met them. Initially the people in Attha and nearby villages used to pay bribes and also bear physical chastisement from the Department staff and there was no record that they were cultivating the land. Then they got organised under the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath from 1983 onwards and began fighting for their rights. However, once the Adivasis refused to pay the bribes, the Forest Department increased its legal and illegal opposition. On one occasion the Forest Department staff raided Guthia and Chagdibai while they were sowing the seed on their farm. Guthia and Chagdi somehow managed to free his bullocks and flee with them but they had to leave behind the plough and seeds which were confiscated by the Forest Staff and kept in another Adivasi's house as they  went further inside the village to raid someone else. Guthia came running to the KMCS office and told me what had happened. I immediately told him to take me to the Adivasi's house where the confiscated plough and seeds had been kept and we recovered them and put them back in Guthia's house. Then Guthia, Chagdi, another Adivasi and I went off to the police station in Bakhatgarh all of thirteen kilometers away by foot and lodged a complaint against the Forest Department staff for harassing Guthia and Chagdi. To cut a long story short over the past thirty years this couple has been at the forefront of the Adivasis' fight for justice in Alirajpur. However, the point of this post is not this tenacity in battle on their part but their exemplary work as natural resource conservationists.
Guthia and Chagdi along with other families in Attha have been building gully plugs and farm bunds to conserve the soil that gets eroded from the hillside and also planting trees, bamboos to improve the biomass availability. They pool their labour and are thus able to do a considerable amount of such hard conservation work. The picture below is of the new farm that Guthia and Chagdi have filled out in the gully next to their original farm that is even more productive.
The dense forest on the hillock on the side is also a result of the continuous planting and protection activity of the family. In fact there is a considerable amount of bamboo in this forest and it is so dense that even during daytime it is dark as shown in the picture below.
Guthia and Chagdi make baskets out of the bamboo which is then sold in the weekly market at Chhaktala. The important thing is that this couple and many others like them have fought for their rights and are continuing to do so and are making the best of what they have, to improve their lives despite the overall dispensation being unfavourable to them. Thus, I have full belief in the capacity of ordinary to people to fight small battles for their livelihoods but am cynical about their ability to bring about a radical change in the overall injustice of hugely powerful centralised exploitative systems.

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