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.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Back to the Village

Smita and Dhirendra Soneji gave up their jobs as professors in an engineering college in Ahmedabad and moved to Sakva village among Adivasis in Narmada district of Gujarat in 1986 three decades ago to live at subsistence levels on a two acre farm. They produce their food from the farm and process some of the herbs and fruits into medicines to earn the little money that they require for clothes, books, travel and the like. For their energy needs there is gobar gas, solar power, wind power and pyrolysis of agricultural and wood bio mass. All waste is recycled. They have to work about four hours every day to ensure that the farm produces at its peak. Most of the agro and food processing work is also done by human power and some bullock power. Some of this work is critical and it has to go on without interruption. For instance when we visited the farm in the morning Dhirendra was using a piece of tin and a stick to create a sound to shoo away the birds which were trying to eat the grains from their standing crop of bajra or pearl millet as shown below. So he continued to do this while at the same time talking to us as we walked up and down his farm with him.

This was a particularly important piece of work because on our farm in Pandutalav village too the birds are feasting on our crop of diverse kinds of millets and since we don't stay there we are losing a considerable amount of the crop. If there are a lot of farmers sowing millets then this problem is not so acute but with farmers in Sakva like elsewhere having largely given up sowing millets shooing away birds is a must for the Sonejis who have to survive on the crop unlike us!!
The Sonejis have two sons who have grown up on the farm and have been homeschooled. They don't have university degrees but they know many things about farming and food processing. The elder son Vishven has designed an oil extracting machine that is operated by hand. It not only extracts all the oil from groundnut, sesame, linseed, mustard, neem and the like but also leaves the seeds intact after extraction to provide a high protein food. Thus, with the help of this machine one can assure oneself of pure cooking oil in this age of adulteration.
This too is very important. Subhadra and I were living in a village when our son Ishaan was conceived. Unlike the Sonejis we decided to move to the city because we felt that was the only place where he would get a good education. We compromised on many of our principles and have only now begun planning to move back to the village in a year or two when Ishaan goes to college. In the process of getting the education our son has launched himself in pursuit of a mainstream college education in engineering!! Thus, it is important like the Sonejis to reject the mainstream education altogether if we want the new generation to challenge the present system of centralised economic development which externalises social and environmental costs in search of economic profit. The Sonejis are alone in their effort as they do not attempt to build up a social movement but they are a living testimony that it is possible to live at subsistence levels doing agriculture and food processing on a two acre farm and lead a good life.

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