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.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Holding the Anarchist Flag Up!!

This year marks the completion of three decades of my anarchist political activism among and along with the Bhils of Alirajpur. Whatever may have happened in these three decades is not so important as to see what is the current situation in Alirajpur.
The modern Indian political party centric and first past the post election based liberal democratic political system has spread to every nook and cranny of this once remote district and so in each and every village there are active members of both the major political parties in Madhya Pradesh - Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian National Congress. So much so that the local government system of Panchayati Raj is nothing more than an adjunct to the higher levels of state and central governments despite provisions in the Constitution to make it an institution of true local self governance. The governments in India at all levels are currently excessively influenced by those who provide the money to run the political parties and to fight the elections and therefore there is very little scope for pursuing pro-people politics and this constraint exists in Alirajpur too.
The modern industrialised market economy too has penetrated to the remotest corners of the district. This penetration has been facilitated by the spread of mobile telephony and direct to home television. A further thrust has come from the increasing reliance of the Bhil household on migratory labour given the fragmentation of land holdings and the reducing productivity of their farms. Thus, the Bhils are now labouring cogs and eager consumers in the centralised market economy. The Indian economy in turn is an insignificant part of the global capitalist economy which is controlled by the financial might of a few corporations. Therefore, similar to the situation in the political sphere, in the economic too there is little scope for pursuing equitable and sustainable development policies.
Culturally, majoritarian Hinduism has made deep inroads into Alirajpur. Even though many of the Bhils still practice their traditional animist religion and its rituals, increasingly the youth are also celebrating the Hindu festivals and taking part in Hindu religious rituals. The distinctive names of the Bhils are vanishing as the new generation is being named with Hindu names. In matters of dress too the traditional apparels are on their way out and the Bhils have taken to wearing global fashions spurred on by what they see on television. Thus, parallel to the erosion of the local in politics and economics, the cultural distinctiveness of the Bhils too is vanishing.
The great thing, however, is that amidst this huge power play by forces that are much stronger than it is, the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath has succeeded in maintaining its distinctive presence in opposition to them in all the three spheres of politics, economics and culture. It has done so mainly by utilising the provisions for anarchist practice in tribal areas laid down in various statutes beginning with the Constitution. The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, The Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forestdwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act, The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, The Food Security Act, The Right to Education Act, The Control of Usury Act, The new Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Act and the National Rural Health Mission all make the Gram Sabha very powerful on paper and an organisation that is determined to implement local self governance can put immense pressure on the government and administration to indeed decentralise governance and make the people powerful. The KMCS is doing just that and as a consequence solving many problems that the people normally face in a centralised and corrupt system. The Gram Sabhas in the KMCS villages are very active and have regular meetings to decide various action plans. Of course the militant history of the KMCS over the past three decades during which it has fought tenaciously for the rights and entitlements of the Bhils makes the forces inimical to people's power a little wary of cracking down on the organisation.So even people in Alirajpur who are not members of KMCS know it to be an organisation that stands up for the poor and come to it for help in times of trouble.

To do so, however, the KMCS through its sister organisation Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra has to rely on external funding for meeting the expenses of its full time activists and various administrative, legal and travel costs. These amount to about Rs 25 lakhs annually and have to be accessed from institutional, corporate and individual donors. Primarily because the culture of consumerism has taken such deep roots that voluntarism has shrivelled and the ethic of monetary contribution to fund activism has also all but vanished while the costs of activism have increased tremendously. So, the work of the KMCS is not truly anarchist as it is not wholly funded by the Bhil community even though they do contribute substantial amounts in time and food.  If this external funding stops then there will be a considerable weakening of the organisation. External funding comes with its own conditions and so in many senses compromises have to be made to access it. This is the reality of the current compromised political activism that the KMCS and I practice in Alirajpur. Nevertheless, given the dismal state of things nationally and internationally as far as anarchist political practice is concerned it is heartening that at least we are able to maintain a minimal presence and hold the anarchist flag up amidst the capitalist, consumerist and majoritarian thrusts that have swamped humanity.

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