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.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Respect for Women and the Earth

Sick and Tired of male dominance, including that by her husband Rahul Banerjee, in both the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath and the Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra, Subhadra has revived the women's rights organisation Kansari nu Vadavnu and set up a new NGO Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti to pursue the establishment of women's rights in earnest. Kansari nu Vadavno in the Palvi dialect of the Bhil language means Felicitation of Kansari who is the Goddess symbolising the cereal jowar or sorghum which is the staple food of the Bhils. The phrase is taken from the epic myth that is sung when the Bhils celebrate the festival of Indal which is a thanksgiving to nature for having provided them with a bountiful harvest. Even though the Bhil society is highly patriarchal it has many powerful Goddesses like Kansari and Rani Kajal and the name seeks to enthuse the Bhil women to emulate the power of these Goddesses in real life to establish the rights of the women. Set up in 1997 KnV had become moribund lately due to the fact that its agenda of women's rights had taken a back seat. It has now been revived and is asserting itself once again. Since mass organisations by themselves these days find it difficult to operate just on the basis of members' contributions, an NGO also has been set up to garner funds for the mass mobilisation activities named Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti or Majlis for short. Majlis means assembly, in this case the assembly of empowered women and the whole name of the NGO can be translated as Society for Respect for Women and Earth. The word Lihaaz means respect and the word Jagat meaning the earth is taken from the famous first stanza of the Isavasya Upanishad which advocates a sustainable use of the earth's resources and roughly transliterates as follows -
The entire universe is pervaded by the supreme spirit, primordial nature and the earth have been gifted by it, partake of these without craving for others' wealth.
One of the thrusts of Majlis is to revive sustainable agriculture and the control of women over the traditional processes that are a part of this agriculture. Since this is a tough task and since it has to be done on the ground, Subhadra has bought a piece of farm land and is practising sustainable agriculture on it. The diverse crops have begun to ripen and the first crop of fox tail millet has already been harvested. Soon pearl millet, maize and sorghum will come in also. Sustainable agriculture means that the post harvest processing should also be sustainable and traditional. So Subhadra decided to use the hand operated stone grinding assembly called as ghatti in Bhili to make flour for rotis and broken cereals for porridge. She has sourced the two stones used for grinding and then got the wooden frame called thaala in which the stones are placed, custom made by a Bhil carpenter.  Today Aladibai Bhargav a veteran of many mass struggles for women's rights and an executive board member of both KnV and Majlis came to our house in Indore to help Subhadra set up the whole cereal grinding assembly and teach her how to use it. The picture below shows the "resource person" Aladibai explaining the set up to Subhadra.
Adjusting the whole assembly is a tricky business. The upper stone has to be balanced over the lower stone using a wooden lever assembly in such a way that the gap between the two is approriate for grinding or breaking the cereal. the size of the flour grains or broken wheat particles will depend on this gap and so it is crucial. Aladibai set up the system for Subhadra. The wooden frame has some intricate carving work and it has been made totally by hand and is an excellent specimen of Bhil craftsmanship as shown in the picture below which is a close up of the ghatti and thala as Aladibai is testing it to grind some broken maize after setting it up.
Finally after Aladibai was satisfied with the set up and the way the ghatti was spinning round and grinding the maize she asked Subhadra to try her hand. While Aladibai had been grinding effortlessly Subhadra was soon perspiring from the effort. Nevertheless she gave it a determined go as seen in the picture below in which she has her jaws set!!
The wooden leverage system requires an earthen floor to work properly so that the friction keeps the levers in the right place. On the polished stone floor in our house the levers slip out under the dynamic impact of the stones grinding. In two years time we will move to our village base and there the ghatti will function in full glory in the earthen house that we propose to build there.

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