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, June 22, 2014

The Wild Wild West!!!

What happens when modernity in the form of capitalism and traditional Bhil adventurism meet in Alirajpur? You have a twenty first century version of the Wild Wild West!!! The Bhils have traditionally been a martial race and even today they keep bows and arrows. Till about a decade and a half back the Bhils in Alirajpur were a murderous lot embroiled in internecine killings and looting. Then things changed drastically. Huge investments began pouring into nearby Gujarat for the development of industry. A construction boom began and the Bhils were in great demand as labourers and masons. So they gave up their fratricidal warfare and instead began migrating to Gujarat in hordes and earned good money. The industrialisation also created jobs for the middle classes and so the younger generation among the farmers of Gujarat got educated and left their farms for the cities leaving their old men to manage as best as possible. This too created new opportunities for the Bhils who began share cropping these farms. All in all the Bhils have had a decade and some more of great earnings as compared to what was going on earlier. So they forgot to fight among themselves and began earning through their hard work.
However, their inherent adventurism could not be satisfied through such mundane slogging. So the more enterprising among the Bhils drifted into illegal occupations. The biggest money spinner of all is smuggling of liquor into Gujarat. Gujarat is officially a dry state and liquor can't be produced or sold legally. So it is sold in large quantities illegally and has to be supplied from outside the State. Alirajpur being on the border with Gujarat is obviously well placed to supply this liquor and so many of the Adivasis have become the liquor supplying mafia. Then there is the smuggling of cattle for conversion into beef. There is a huge export market for beef in the middle east that is supplied from India which has a surfeit of cattle. However, since the killing of cattle is regulated and prohibited in some cases here too illegal supply routes have developed which have to traverse remote areas. Once again the hilly fastnesses of Alirajpur bordering on the River Narmada provide an ideal route for cattle smuggling. Cattle is brought from all over Central India and transported across the Narmada into Maharashtra and thence to the Mumbai coastline where they are slaughtered in abattoirs before being exported to the Gulf. Finally there is sand smuggling. Sand has become a very scarce resource with the construction industry booming all over and Alirajpur happens to be a major source for this material. Since sand mining kills rivers it is prohibited beyond certain limits by environmental laws but once again illegalities dominate. Apart from this there are other illegal professions like selling of fake notes and fake silver or gold. The younger generation of educated Bhils of an adventurous bent have taken to these professions and become big time mafiosi.
If there is a mafia then there will also be  the need for guns. Since guns too are a controlled item in this country it is very difficult to get them legally. Naturally an illegal gun trade has also sprung up. This has been fuelled by the fact that there are some people called Sikligars living in remote parts of western Madhya Pradesh who are traditional arms manufacturers. They were originally part of the army of the Sikh Guru Govind Singh and have stuck to the profession of making fire arms of all shapes and sizes. They are so adept at this art that they just have to take apart any gun and that is enough for them to be able to produce a replica by working on iron and steel with their tools. Thus automatic pistols which cost lakhs of rupees are available from the Sikligars for just twenty to thirty thousand rupees and the simpler one shot pistols for as cheap as a few thousand rupees. Bullets are available for all calibres as they are smuggled out of the ordnance factories and even from the police armouries.
Thus, with all these hugely paying illegal businesses there is a lot of competition among the Bhils and frequently there are murderous battles between the different gangs and now the murder graph is rising again. But what is more of a concern is that the battle for justice being fought by the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath has got slightly side tracked as a result of all this. First, many of the leading grassroots activists of the KMCS have now become part of the mafia given that it is much more profitable. Even though they normally do not dare to attack the members of the KMCS nevertheless the loss of good cadre to such illegal activity automatically puts a brake on the pace with which the KMCS can expand its activities. Second, the gang rivalry between the Bhils prevents the building up of a larger movement for the establishment of a just and sustainable socio-economic order. People now come to the KMCS to get problems solved and not to build up a strong movement to fight the larger structural injustices as was the case a decade ago. Over the past decade a huge change has come over the whole of Alirajpur and now vast amounts of illegal money rule the area as never before. Capitalism, today, has conquered completely one of the last bastions of subsistence adivasi living on the fringes of the modern economy where we had once dreamt of overthrowing it!!!!
The use of illegal firearms has become so rampant that they are brandished even in the traditional dispute resolution Panchayats. Recently one youth did so in such a Panchayat sitting to decide on a dispute over a girl who had been betrothed to one boy but was abducted by another. The youth was reported to the Police. The Police arrested him and some of his friends and then proceeded to beat them black and blue. The youth was beaten with batons on his body and one baton hit him in the back and ruptured his liver leading to his death. The ostensible reason for this beating was to get information from him about the gun that he had brandished but which could not be found. However, the Police are not really interested in stopping the gun trade but only in getting bribes out of it. So in this case the beating was being done to get the source of the gun so that more bribes could be got. The KMCS immediately organised a rally in protest and submitted a memorandum for strict action threatening to complain to the National Human Rights Commission. This resulted in all the policemen involved being charged with murder and being arrested and also suspended from their jobs.
Nothing is more evocative of this than the story of Kalusingh. He was a young illiterate lad who joined the KMCS with a desire to fight for justice for the Bhils in the early 1990s when KMCS mobilisation was at its peak. He learnt the ropes of grassroots mobilisation and taught himself to read and write and became one of the most able leaders of the movement. Then on one of his trips to Gujarat he met Chhotubhai Vasava who is the Member of Legislature from Jhagadia constituency in Bharuch district of Gujarat. Chhotubhai has built up a fief among this Adivasi populated area and rules it as if he is the monarch of all he surveys there. He has a finger in every pie. Kalusingh was greatly impressed and resolved that he too would set up a similar fief in Alirajpur and came back and began to work for that. He resigned from the KMCS and set up a gang of looters to rob people in Gujarat and garner funds. He then started a false campaign to give land rights to forest land and took a lot of money from people for that. Finally he became a professional killer taking contracts for abducting, looting and killing rich Adivasis in Gujarat. He became a big mafia don in and around his village and won the elections for Sarpanch and this gave him access to the huge funds coming through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. However, other gangs of Adivasis had also built up and one of these laid a trap for him and murdered him two years ago using illegal arms.
Given this kind of wild lawlessness, it is not surprising that the KMCS is hard put to just hold on to its bases let alone expand them. More than three decades of militancy and an ability to move the courts against both criminals and corrupt administrators and politicians, and a core cadre of brave full timers who are committed to fighting for justice come what may, provide some clout to the organisation that enables it to just about keep alive in the face of the ongoing capitalist onslaught. That too is possible because it sources external funds through the NGO Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra to fund its programmes and full timers.


Rajarshi said...

Dear Sir,

I am really saddened to read this rise of lawlessness and the gradual of weaning away of committed cadre from KMCS. This coupled with your another recent post on the rise of RSS most-ably funded by big business just remind one of the sort of daunting odds people's movements face in this country.

Thanks again for sharing these insights. Given the vice-like grip of businesses on what passes as media in this country, your blog becomes even more relevant and significant to understand the changing landscape of activism and people's movements.


Rahul Banerjee said...

Dear Rajarshi,
here is a comment that I had made in another thread on the impact that neo-liberalism has had on society -
neo-liberalism has as its foundation a return to primitive accumulation mainly through contractualisation of labour at all levels and especially so at the lowest level. technology makes this possible in many ways that have become available since the turn of the twentieth century. thus even though in the developed world technology has not been able to generate spectacular growth of wealth it has certainly been able to redistribute it by facilitating a withdrawal of the state from social sectors and a strengthening of its repressive arms. while continuing our struggles against this we have to understand its dynamics so here is a short analysis by David Harvey of this phenomenon -
"...the main achievements of neo-liberalism have been redistributive rather than generative.... ways (have been) found to transfer assets and redistribute wealth and income either from the mass of the population towards the upper classes or from vulnerable to richer countries...these mechanisms (can be termed as) "accumulation by dispossession". By this I mean the continuation and proliferation of accumulation practices that Marx had treated as "primitive" or "original" during the rise of capitalism. These include the commodification and privatisation of land and the forceful expulsion of peasant populations; conversion of various forms of property rights (common, collective, state, etc) into exclusive private property rights; suppression of rights to the commons; commodification of labour power and the suppression of alternative forms of production and consumption;... the state with its monopoly of violence and definitions of legality, plays a crucial role in both backing and promoting these processes.... undoubtedly the neo-liberal insistence upon the individual as the foundational and essentialist element in political-economic life does open the door to extensive individual rights activism. But by focusing on those rights rather than on the creation or re-creation of substantive and open democratic governance structures, the (activist) opposition cultivates methods that cannot escape the neo-liberal trap. The neo-liberal attachment to the individual is allowed to trump any social democratic concern for equality, democracy and social solidarities." - Neo-liberalism and the Restoration of Class Power.
Harvey above has not mentioned the control of the ruling classes through the media and academia on people's minds which further makes it difficult to fight neo-liberalism through class action which has anyway been weakened through contractualisation of labour. While dour struggles are going on no doubt across the country at the moment, beyond a point these have little chance of achieving a return to democracy in the short term. overall its a retreating rear guard action. eventually social movements have to fall back on legal action which as we all know is at most times a costly and dicey proposition.