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.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Women to the Fore

Possibly the most important statutory provision in India from the point of view of women is that of 50 per cent reservation in local body elections in rural and urban areas. Over the two decades since this was introduced through the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, the participation of women in local governance has gone up substantially as a result and currently women who have once got a taste of political power sometimes do not hesitate to stand again for election even if their seat becomes unreserved in the next term due to the rotation policy. However, given the fact that in most cases women have little or no experience of politics and governance, they need to be trained to make the best of this opportunity. There are both Governmental and Non-Governmental organisations engaged in training elected women representatives in local governance. One such organisation is The Hunger Project (THP). This organisation has been working with elected women representatives (EWR) in the Panchayats in eight states of India for more than a decade and a half, training them to become effective change makers to bring about gender equity. Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a conference of these EWRs organised by THP Madhya Pradesh in Bhopal and came away hugely thrilled by the enthusiasm and determination that they showed as they held forth on their achievements and the challenges they were facing.
The main speaker was Mangnibai a Sarpanch or panchayat president from Rewa district who has taken the Swacchh Bharat Mission for cleaning India by eradicating open defecation to heart. In the space of a year since she was elected she has had  toilets constructed in 800 households in her panchayat and then convinced people to use them. Initially she faced a lot of opposition as people did not want to give up their age old practice of open defecation in the fields. However, she mobilised a section of the women and imposed a fine of Rs 500 on those who were persisting with open defecation. Thus, she was gradually able to get everyone to use the toilets and the panchayat has become open defecation free. However, the use of toilets increases the requirement of water which has to be brought from distant sources. So there was a demand from the women, who mostly have to get the water, for a piped water supply system. Mangnibai has risen to the demand and initiated the process of getting a piped water supply system sanctioned for her panchayat. Not only has she mobilised her panchayat members and villagers but she has also got the generally lethargic bureaucracy to work. She is shown in the picture below delivering a speech on her work at the conference in Bhopal.

There were many women who came up and spoke about their work but what was more interesting was their description of the challenges they faced in their work. Invariably they found the bureaucracy to be a major hindrance. Especially the panchayat secretary who always tried to block various development works that the EWRs tried to get sanctioned and implemented. One EWR, a Sarpanch, described in detail how the panchayat secretary was refusing to do all the paper work necessary for sanctioning projects and she insisted that a resolution be passed in the meeting to remove him from his post. While others tried to explain to her that the process of removing the official would have to be initiated in her district she remained adamant that Bhopal was where she would get justice!!  The women were also very vocal about the pressure from their husbands and family who did not like their going out to do their panchayat related public work. One woman said that she has to continually fight with her husband to go out of the house to do her panchayat duties. She said that there was tremendous opposition from her husband and other family members to her coming to Bhopal to attend this conference as she had never gone out of her district earlier. She said that she told her husband that the sun might rise in the west instead of the east but she would attend the Bhopal conference!!
Hundreds of women from across Madhya Pradesh, some of whom are shown in the picture below, attended the conference which was inaugurated by the Women and Child Development Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Ms Maya Singh. The Minister said that despite the legislative assembly being in session and many of her male colleagues advising her not to be absent from the assembly, she had come to the conference because she wanted to impress on the EWRs that they must use the opportunity they have got to the hilt to enhance the situation of women in society.
Most of the women had travelled out of their districts for the first time and enthusiastically related the great achievements they had made in curbing the sale of liquor, acting against gender based violence within and without the home and in mobilising the community to get various development schemes implemented and government services delivered. They all rejoiced in the freedom, equality and political power that had become theirs as a result of becoming EWRs. Many said that without the training received from THP they would not have been able to achieve what they have. This just shows that while laws in themselves have an important role to play in the emancipation of women, without proper training women cannot avail of the huge opportunity provided by reservation of seats for them in local governance given the highly patriarchal society in which we live. The THP conducts a systematic training process involving leadership workshops and specific inputs about the rules and regulations that govern the functioning of the panchayats followed by details of the various schemes and projects of the government. Gender issues are also covered in these trainings so as to ensure that the EWRs act effectively to counter the widespread gender discrimination that is there in society.

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