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, August 5, 2015

The Tragic Lone Ranger

Finally after many years I met up with Khajan again at his house in Anjanwara. Two failed fighters against destructive modern development who have had vastly different life trajectories of late as is somewhat evident from our looks in the picture taken below to mark this meeting for posterity!!
Khajan is one of the most steadfast fighters against the Sardar Sarovar dam being built on the River Narmada at Navagaon in Gujarat. The dam has been built partially but the final act of putting the gates on it and completing it to its full height is still in abeyance mainly due to the intransigence of a few people like Khajan. The Supreme Court in 2000 delivered its final judgement on the petition filed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) for the scrapping of the dam dismissing it and allowing the construction of the dam but with the proviso that the affected people would have to be rehabilitated and resettled first in accordance with the provisions of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award. This Award stipulates that each affected person will have to be given a minimum of five hectares of irrigated agricultural land in lieu of the land that is to be submerged and this land can be either in Gujarat or in the State of his residence in accordance with the choice of the affected person. Many Adivasi people in Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh initially refused to be rehabilitated in Gujarat and instead demanded land in Madhya Pradesh. Khajan who had been fighting against the dam from the mid 1980s led this new phase of struggle also in refusing to go to Gujarat. Since the Madhya Pradesh Government was not prepared to resettle the people from Alirajpur in Madhya Pradesh, this resulted in a stalemate that is still continuing in that the dam cannot be completed despite all efforts of the Gujarat and Central Governments.
However, with time the situation has become a little dicey. One by one or in groups of a few most people in Alirajpur have agreed to go to Gujarat over the last fifteen years since the Supreme Court judgment was given in 2000 and now only twelve families remain who are still hanging on to the demand to be rehabilitated in Madhya Pradesh. Khajan and three of his brothers (two other brothers have opted for land in Gujarat) are the only ones from Anjanwara village who are still holding out.
In these fifteen years Khajan has fought tooth and nail along with other affected people to get land in Madhya Pradesh but to no avail. Twice he has led people to forcibly occupy Government Agricultural Research Farm land and gone to jail in the process. The Government has consistently showed them barren land or those in adverse possession by others and refused to give them either good unencumbered land that it owns or buy good land from farmers and give it to them. The Supreme Court has time and again heard contempt petitions from the Narmada Bachao Andolan about this negative attitude of the Government of Madhya Pradesh in not giving the affected people land and rapped it but even so in the end this has not resulted in anything positive. So one by one the stalwarts of the fight against the dam have accepted land in Gujarat and only a few like Khajan are still holding out (The Gujarat Government of course is eager to give land to the people from Madhya Pradesh because it can construct the gates to the dam and complete it only when all affected people are resettled).
Finally today Khajan is dispirited even though he swears that he will not go to Gujarat under any circumstances. He says that after all these years he is without any money in his pocket and hope in his heart. He survives on the forest land up on the hills in his village which he has encroached and to which he does not have any legal title. His legal agricultural land has been submerged in the dam and even the small farm behind us in the picture above is one for which he does not have legal title. He is able to farm the forest land because the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS) has fought a long battle to ensure access to forests for the Adivasis in Alirajpur and has considerable strength in the area.
Khajan recalled that the River had been so beautiful flowing majestically through the gorges very clean and great fun to swim in. I too have great memories of the River in its pristine form. Now the water is dirty and stagnant and infested with crocodiles so that it is neither possible to swim in it nor drink its water. A man who has given his all to fight against destructive modern development has lost the battle.
I couldn't but reflect on the dire situation of Khajan and the comparatively better situation that I am in. We have both failed in our fight but I am in a much better situation financially at least because of my money earning skills. I harked back to the days of our youth when he was such a handsome guy with a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step as we fought our battles thinking we would never lose. Looking at the old man that Khajan is now, a deep sadness engulfed me. Fourteen years back after a particularly hard battle against the State that I lost, I decided to stop fighting the State full tilt as I had been doing till then and toned down my activism. However, I had something to fall back on but Khajan not only continued his good fight but now when he is exhausted he does not have the luxury of an alternative source of livelihood. Of course he gets considerable support from both the KMCS and the NBA and that is why he is able to continue his fight but he is a lonely tragic figure like many great Adivasi fighters before him who have made huge sacrifices in the fight for a more socio-economically just and environmentally sustainable world.

1 comment:

Ravi Hemadri said...

Rahul this is a very moving account and memories.. I am glad you have documented this meeting with Khajan and reflected on the past years. We could nt meet him when we went a couple of years ago. I can't agree more with your analysis... but still it is great to remember that human s don't give up fight for justice easily. Khajan s story is one such example