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.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015


Recently a Phd student did a preliminary study of the areas of influence of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath in Alirajpur to see what made small mass organisations like this tick. As an initial exercise she did some interviews with some of the veteran grassroots fighters of the KMCS. The foremost among these is Dahelibai of Attha village who is seen below leading a rally of the KMCS in Alirajpur even though now she is close to seventy years of age.
Dahelibai and her husband Lalia were landless in the late 1970s because they had been prevented from cultivating their ancestral land by the Forest Department after the area was declared to be a Reserved Forest under the provisions of the Indian Forest Act 1927 which had a colonial vintage having been carried over after independence instead of being abrogated. Since the Attha village was in the Mathwar princely state before independence, there were no land records and no demarcation of forests as elsewhere in British India where the Indian Forest Act and the Land Revenue Code used to prevail. However, after independence gradually all the princely state areas in Madhya Pradesh were assimilated into the modified British Indian system and in the process many tribals across India were dispossessed of the lands they were cultivating. Daheli and many other Bhil tribals in Alirajpur too suffered the same fate. Since they could not survive without cultivating land they did it by bribing the forest department officials and often had to bear severe beatings also.
By the early 1980s things got very difficult as the bribes and the beatings increased manifold and it became almost impossible to exist. On one occasion Daheli's husband Lalia was so severely beaten up that he bled from his anus for days on end and could not get up from bed. Then in 1983 Khemla Aujnaharia, a Bhil tribal activist who had fought many battles against the police and the forest department in Alirajpur was invited along with some non-tribal activists who were working with him to come and help the Mathwar tribals. Thus began the struggle against the forest department which later evolved into the KMCS.
Daheli led from the front in this struggle. She mobilised the women of Attha and they went and confronted the Forest Department staff when they came to beat their men. She led other women to come out of their homes and go to Alirajpur to participate in rallies and dharnas to highlight the oppression of the forest department. These struggles along with that of many other tribal people across the country finally resulted in the Forest Rights Act coming into force in 2007 and now the tribals in Alirajpur have legal title to their land.
Daheli has not only fought the State for her rights but has also mobilised the women of her village to protect the forests. They regularly go out on patrols to guard the forest as shown below. The forest is now lush green and since other villages in the watershed have also followed this practice, the stream running through the village has become perennial.
  Daheli is not content with just protecting the forest but has been a driving force behind soil and water conservation also. She has been instrumental in the revival of the traditional labour pooling custom of Dhas in which people get together and work on each others' fields to do agricultural work. Many stone bunds and gully plugs have been built to conserve soil and water and create more agricultural land as shown below.

Even though both KMCS and Dahelibai have lost a considerable amount of their militant dynamism of the early years, the fire continues to burn in both. Those initial struggles have ensured that the people these days lead much more secure lives and they are mostly in control of their village resources. Also by migrating to labour in Gujarat off and on they are able to earn extra income which results in cash in their hands and better food, clothing and housing. But this is not the only things we had in mind when we started fighting all those years ago. Daheli and all the rest of us had dreamed of tribal self rule. However, that has remained a distant dream due to the increasing power of capitalism. We need many more Dahelibais among the new generation now for that dream to be realised.

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