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, September 28, 2014

Inequality in Development

Today 28th September is the twentyfifth anniversary of the first ever mass national public rally and meeting in India against destructive development held in the town of Harsud in Madhya Pradesh in 1989. "Vinash Nahi, Vikas Chahiye" - Development without Destruction was the clarion call that was given in that rally. It holds great memories for me personally. Before this we in Alirajpur, under the banner of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath had never ventured out of that district or western Madhya Pradesh for any rally on such a large scale. We had many village meetings and then people decided to take up the cost of going such a long distance in trucks. Eventually ten trucks jam packed with a hundred men and women each covered the distance of three hundred kilometers over night to take part in this historic rally. The rally saw the presence of thousands of toiling people, intellectuals and activists from across India with the most famous being the likes of Baba Amte, Medha Patkar, Shabana Azmi, Kaluram Dhodhre of the Bhoomi Sena and Jnanpith Award winning litterateur  U.R. Anantamurthy. The politicians V.C. Shukla and Maneka Gandhi also came to the meeting and were famously prevented from sitting on the stage due to the objection of Baba Amte that this was a non-party political gathering. Guthia spoke on behalf of the Bhils of Alirajpur and I had the privilege of translating what he said. There was definitely great expectation in the air that a new nationwide mass movement would take off from this show of strength that would seriously challenge the inequality and injustice of centralised development which had only devastated the environment and the livelihoods of the poor without giving them much of the benefits of such development.
Out of this rousing rally evolved the Jan Vikas Andolan in a meeting in Bhopal about two months later which was to be a nationwide movement against destructive development with a strong grassroots base. However, over the years since then neither the Jan Vikas Andolan, which soon became defunct or the National Alliance of People's Movements, which today is the most active and powerful coalition of mass movements in the country, have been able to fulfil promise of the Harsud rally. No doubt struggles have multiplied in number and many laws have since been enacted that have made fighting for a more equitable and sustainable development model much easier than it was at the time, but overall we have not really been able to turn the direction of development away from its destructive core. In fact the struggle against the dams on the river Narmada which had formed the core of the upsurge at the time later became so weak that Harsud town itself was submerged in the reservoir of the Indira Sagar dam in 2004. The struggle against the dams on the Narmada still continues and remains one of the greatest battles against destructive development not only in India but across the world but it has to be admitted that it is a back to the wall fight rather than one that will be able to overturn destructive development.
I have often pondered on this failure on our part. The main problem as I see it is that we have not been able to garner the resources necessary for striking at the roots of destructive development. Not only financial resources but more importantly human resources. In 1989 there were hundreds of young people both from the middle and upper classes and from the oppressed majority who had joined the mass movements at the grassroots level and provided the cadre that is so necessary for running a movement. However, within a few years most of these youths left the movements to pursue mainstream careers and very few were left behind to continue the struggles. Newer cadre did not join in the same way as the earlier youths had done. As the battles escalated various legal, documentation and travel costs increased and it became difficult to sustain the movements on just donations alone. So in many cases, and definitely so in our own case of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, an NGOisation took place. Even though we have kept external institutional funding to a bare minimum it does bring with it restrictions on mass action of various kinds and so those few of us who have remained behind to continue the fight at the grassroots have lost much of our earlier militancy.
Also, the ruling classes have met the challenge of grassroots militancy with deep counter planning. The lollipops of academic tenureship and NGO funding have been effectively dangled before grassroots activists both from the middle classes and the oppressed sections. Moreover, Panchayati Raj which began to be implemented in earnest after the constitutional amendment making it mandatory in 1993, has pushed corrupt party politics into the remotest corners and so it is difficult for mass movements to retain cadres. Finally, the cell phone and digital TV revolution of the twentyfirst century has pushed consumerist culture into the deepest corners of the country and made political education for countering destructive development very difficult. The night meeting and regular leadership and ideological trainings used to be the mainstay of building up a counter culture but these have become very difficult to organise in these days of inane TV programming that is pushed directly into homes.
The memory of the historic Harsud Rally of a quarter of a century ago has consequently dimmed and I would not have remembered it at all if it had not been for a post in Facebook and an email from Aid India. I remember that I had said that day while translating Guthia's speech that September 28th is also the birth anniversary of Shaheed Bhagat Singh and his legacy, which has not really been pursued after independence except for some ceremonial remembrance, has to be actively adopted if destructive development is to be seriously challenged. That remains true even today. How to do it is a conundrum that has to be cracked as otherwise the anniversary of Harsud Day will also be celebrated ceremonially without a strong nationwide movement evolving for more equitable development.

1 comment:

arjun said...

it was my first experience of a mass rally & travelling with thousands of people, each one of us had also carried a handful of soil. Its really crazy that such a symbolic town no longer exists