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, July 30, 2016

A Crusader Gets Due Recognition

The Magsaysay Award for Bezwada Wilson is a well deserved recognition for the leader of one of the most dour battles being fought in this deeply caste ridden country of ours. Wilson, the son of manual scavenging parents who were forced to handle human faeces either from dry latrines or from sewers for a living, has fought a life long battle to get this abominable practice banished. He has not rested with just mass struggle and policy advocacy but has also taken the biggest institutional violator of the law against manual scavenging, the Indian Railways, to court. Apart from the Indian Railways all municipalities which have sewers, mostly the bigger cities, too, are guilty of violating the law as these sewers are routinely cleaned up by men and women who have to descend into them despite the fact that this can be done by machines. Wilson continues undeterred in his lonely struggle for the ending of this vile practice with his organisation the Safai Karmachari Andolan.

The guts of Wilson were evident when immediately after the award being announced he launched a broadside against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that he broomed the street for just two minutes and ordered lakhs of toilets to be built without making any provisions as to who were to clean these toilets and the huge sewage load that would be generated.
The total sanitation campaign in India which has now been named the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has never addressed the deeply casteist nature of society in India. For instance the huge push for constructing pit latrines never factored in the problem of who would clean the pits once they were filled. There is a tremendous prejudice in this country against cleaning faeces and so even today throughout the country this is being done by the traditional Dalit castes who have been doing it for millennia on end. Since many of these Dalits have now stopped doing this work due to upward mobility, there is a shortage of people who will do this work. Consequently, the pit latrines have mostly been failures as people don't use them.
Bezwada has forcefully made the point that latrines should be so designed that they do not require to be manually cleaned and sewers should be cleaned by mechanical means. Just building toilets without providing for cleaning them without the help of the traditional manual scavenging people is a crime. The biggest hurdle he has faced is that many manual scavenging people have had to give up on their dignity because of a lack of alternative livelihoods and the government is the main culprit in this regard. For instance the Indian Railways which is the biggest employer of manual scavenging people can easily put in toilets that do not empty their faeces on the railway tracks in stations but despite several orders from the Supreme Court it has steadfastly refused to do so. Similarly municipalities can use machines to clean sewers but they have continued with manual cleaning which leads to the death of some people every year. There is much that is rotten in the State of modern India but nothing more so than some people still having to manually clean faeces for a living.

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