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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Great Crusader is No More

Sunilbhai the National General Secretary of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad and the founder member of the Kisan Adivasi Sangathan in Kesla in Madhya Pradesh is no more. He suffered a severe cerebral stroke a few days ago which led to a part of the brain becoming dead and this later affected the rest of the brain leading to his passing away in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital in Delhi yesterday, 21.04.2014, at 11.30 pm. The struggles in this country for a more just, decentralised and people oriented development and polity have suffered a tremendous loss at this untimely demise at the age of 55 of one of their foremost thinkers and activists.
Sunilbhai hailed from the obscure town of Rampura in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh. His family was displaced from their original village due to its being submerged in the reservoir created by the construction of the Gandhi Sagar dam on the river Chambal. His father is an economist who used to teach in Government Colleges and is an acolyte of Ram Manohar Lohia. Sunilbhai picked up the basics of Lohiaite Socialism from his father and wended his way to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) for his post graduation in the late nineteen seventies. JNU was the hotbed of radical left politics at that time with both the faculty and the students distinctly red in colour. Sunilbhai took active part in student politics in the student wing of a particular faction of Socialists and even unsuccessfully contested for the post of the president of the JNU student's union. Finally after spending a few years he decided that academics was not his cup of tea and gave up his studies as a Ph.D scholar to take up residence in the premises of the defunct and so vacant Lohia Academy in Kesla village in Hoshangabad district to start mass organisational work there in the mid nineteen eighties.
The Gond and Korku adivasis in the area were in a sorry plight. They had suffered multiple displacements without any proper rehabilitation and resettlement from the construction of a dam on the Tawa River, which is a tributary of the Narmada River and a proof range for testing bombs and missiles produced in an ordinance factory. Moreover their habitats were converted into the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary leading to a further restriction of their rights to forest access. All this had severely affected their livelihoods and they were living close to starvation.  Sunilbhai began organising the people to demand that the government initiate relief works in the area. A mass organisation named Kisan Adivasi Sangathan (KAS) was formed and agitations began, involving rallies and sit-ins and long marches to the administrative headquarters. Inexorably this was countered with police repression by the state and Sunilbhai and his comrades were beaten up and put into jail. They were handcuffed while being taken to court from jail to attend their dates and they challenged this illegality in the Supreme Court, which passed strictures against the administration in what has gone down as a landmark judgement regarding the right of under-trial prisoners not to be handcuffed (SCC 1990 (3) p 119). This repression combined with some sops given to the people had the typical result of weaning them away from the KAS and it began losing ground for sometime.
Things hotted up again in 1994 when the fishing rights in the Tawa dam reservoir were auctioned off to a private contractor in Bhopal and a proposal was put forward by the Forest Department to evict the adivasis residing within the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary to make way for the preservation of tigers. The government through its Fisheries Department had controlled the fishing ever since the Tawa dam had been built. The department had brought in people from outside to do the fishing leaving the adivasis literally high and dry. However, the adivasis had learnt to fish and in the absence of any other viable livelihoods used to poach fish from the reservoir and sell them by bribing the department staff. But the contractor from Bhopal would have none of this and he descended with his musclemen and began beating up the adivasis when they were caught poaching. The Forest Department staff too began harassing the adivasis to leave the forest. This became a major issue and once again the KAS under the leadership of Sunilbhai began agitating for the rights of the adivasis through rallies and sit-ins and finally a roadblock agitation. This was brutally suppressed and the agitators thrown into jail. However, the agitation finally paid off as the government took a decision to revoke the eviction orders on the adivasis in the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary and it agreed to give the right to fishing in the reservoir to a cooperative of the adivasi fishermen.
This cooperative proved to be a resounding success. Not only did the earnings of the members increase substantially but the fishing environment of the reservoir too improved resulting in higher and more sustainable output. Since this enhanced output was more than could be sold locally the adivasis became adept at transporting the fish in refrigerated trucks to far off locations like Kolkata and Mumbai and earned greater profits under the guidance of Sunilbhai. The government too began earning much more from royalties that it had ever done earlier. All the adivasis being members of the cooperative had a vested interest in ensuring that the reservoir was well taken care of and stocked and fishing was stopped during the monsoon months when spawning takes place. The bonus from the profits was distributed during these months so as to balance the loss of income due to stopping of fishing. The social fencing by the adivasis was so effective that even the illegal poaching of tigers and timber has been reduced. On one occasion some adivasis from a distant village wanted to poach turtles required for some ceremony from the reservoir. They were not allowed to do so. They were asked that even if the KAS allowed them to take the turtles how they would cart them through the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary to their village, which was outside it. The answer was that the forest guards were far easier to convince than the KAS members!
The immense success of the cooperative in increasing the earnings of their members meant that they contributed from their wages to the KAS to fund its political activities, which were an insurance against any possibility of the government rescinding the fishing rights. However, the government being the government later did rescind the fishing rights citing the reason that the reservoir was within a protected forest area in which no fishing could be allowed  and deprived the people of a viable livelihood alternative and the KAS of a regular source of funds for its political mobilisation.
Sunilbhai in fact was the national general secretary of the Samajvadi Jan Parishad, which is a national level party of Socialists. He was also the convenor of the Jan Sangharsh Morcha, which is a federation of mass organisations in Madhya Pradesh and also a member of the National Alliance of People's Movements. Thus, Sunilbhai took part in people's action right from the local to the national level. Sunilbhai was very active in trying to build up national and state level movements of the people espousing a more human and nature friendly decentralised model of development. He was a traveller on a very tough road. The government and especially the bureaucracy and the police have not liked the local successes of the KAS and so have tried to scuttle it at every opportunity. Now once again the people have had to bear not only the withdrawal of fishing rights but large scale displacement arising from the expansion of the area of the Satpura National Park in the Pachmarhi region of Hoshangabad district by the inclusion of the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary and also the reservoir of the Tawa dam in it. The sequestration of ecological niches as carbon sinks and bio-diversity reserves to compensate for the environmental profligacy of the elite has become a new cause for the displacement of adivasis from their habitats throughout the country and the adivasis of Hoshangabad too have suffered. In the midst of all this and the many other national struggles to which he provided leadership, suddenly, Sunilbhai is no more. A great crusader is irretrievably lost.

1 comment:

rama said...

May his spirit live on.