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.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Death March!!

A trip into the remote interiors of Alirajpur district was accomplished a few days back in which Professor Anandswarup Gadde from Australia, Nagendra Subbakrishna and his wife Kathryn Baranackie from USA and Professor Swapan Bhattacharya from Indore were the special guests. Professor Gadde I first met on the internet when he read the blogpost by another internet friend Bhupinder Singh about my e-book "Recovering the Lost Tongue" and offered to finance its publication in print. Since then we have remained connected on the internet and on one occasion on his last visit to India we had met briefly. He has from time to time contributed funds to the work being done among the Bhils in western Madhya Pradesh and this time he expressed a desire to see some of this work. Nagendra or Noggy as he is more popularly known is a very close friend of mine as we were from the same batch and same hostel as students in the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. After passing out we lost touch with each other what with Noggy having gone abroad and I having gone into the interior!! Once again the internet was instrumental in bringing us together after more than three decades year before last. He has ancestral roots in Bengaluru and Karnataka as a whole and so comes down frequently to India. He too read my book and was intrigued enough to want to see the work being done among the Bhils and his wife Kathy, who is a social worker in the USA, too showed interest. Swapanda of course is now an integral part of the Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala after he too ferreted me out from the internet about two years ago. However, he had not yet seen the really remote parts of Alirajpur where life is still very primitive as compared to the modern lifestyles we are used to in cities.
The trip started off from Swapanda's house in Indore on one fine morning and the first stop was our farm in Pandutalav village in Dewas district about fifty kilometers away where we are practicing organic agriculture. There we had lunch prepared on wood fired stoves with the organic produce of our farm. Our farm is next to the farm of Shri Raisingh Patel shown below and we had our lunch in his wooden, tiled roof home. The lunch consisted of rotis prepared from millets, rice, chawla daal cooked in buttermilk and vegetables and an indigenous breed of chicken. The dessert was laddoos made from sorghum flour and sesame seeds bonded with jaggery.
Noggy found the ambience to be very stimulating with the fresh air and the greenery all around and was mesemerised by a buffalo offspring that had just been born the day before.
After lunch at Pandutalav we had a long road journey of about 250 kilometers and reached the Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala school late at night. Everyone was tired but still they enjoyed the simple repast consisting of rotis made of millets, rice and daal. After the tiring first day the next day was devoted to interacting with the students and teachers at the school. Noggy insisted on cooking the fresh fish brought from the River Narmada in Indian Sula wine that he had bought in Indore. So with me as the assistant he proceeded to direct the cooking of Fish Nagendrano as shown below.

The next day was the one that everyone had been waiting for. We set out early in the morning at 6.15 a.m. from Kakrana and reached the headquarters of the Mathwar forest range at Bakhatgarh. Here we left the car we had been travelling in from Indore and switched to a local jeep that could negotiate the hilly terrain and untarred roads of the Vindhyas that had been arranged for us by Nevji, the veteran activist of Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath. This jeep took us via the village of Vakner where there is a field office of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath to the village of Chilakda on the banks of the River Narmada. Then began what Noggy has characterised as the "Death March"!! Whereas I had arranged for this trip through hilly terrain to a remote village to underline the realities of the life that the Bhils were living at the margin, Noggy jokingly alleged that I was forcing them to their death!! First of all there was a three hundred walk downhill to the edge of the river where a boat was waiting for us. Once everyone was in the boat, however, their spirits rose at the prospect of a ride through the serene hills surrounding the river as is evident from the smiles in the composite picture below.

 The man in the middle with the headdress is Nevji who not only planned and organised the trip but also provided a helping hand to the death marchers to help them negotiate the hilly slopes. The motor boat in which we made the trip is owned by another veteran fighter of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, Geria pictured below. He tied his hand boat to our boat and hitched a ride to his hut on the banks of the river.
Geria is a rupee millionnaire now which is saying quite a lot for a Bhil person living in these remote hills. When the Narmada River became a lake after the Sardar Sarovar dam was built further downstream he lost most of his farm land which was submerged. While he had fought against the dam to stop it along with others but he did not succeed. So he had to look for alternative livelihoods. Once some fishermen came from Gujarat and used big nets to catch a new breed of small fish that had multiplied in the reservoir water and dried them and took them away to sell in the cities. Geria had been a great fisherman earlier but then the catch was small and done with hook, line and sinker. He quickly learned the technique of fishing with large nets and bought a net himself. Thus, began his journey towards becoming a millionnaire. Today he not only catches a lot of fish himself but is also a wholesale buyer of fish from others. He then dries up the fish and sells it to big traders in cities who come to get the fish from him. Though this flourishing business is under threat as the Government is proposing to lease out the reservoir to some big contractor and eliminate small players like Geria from whom it does not get any revenue.
Finally we arrived at Bada Amba village to be faced with the prospect of climbing up a high hill to reach the Motia Bhil Bhanai Ghar school perched on the top as shown below. The school is named after a Bhil king of the region who was murdered by Rajput invaders who usurped his kingdom. Bhanai Ghar means a place of learning. 
The climb up to the school was indeed a challenge for some of the guests, especially the seventyfive year old Anandji who could make it only in short climbs with rests in between with the help of the driver Sanju as shown below. He blamed it on his habit of smoking which he said he would try and reduce.
The school was resonating with the chants of the children with the younger ones reciting the English alphabet and the elder ones the tables!! Noggy was quick to point out that it was absurd that the children were reading A for Apple when it would be more appropriate to say A for Aonla!! There is only one teacher, Mavsingh, in the school who has to do multigrade teaching. He has been given training to teach with locally relevant teaching material but this is not enough to wipe out the legacy of the way he himself was taught when he was a student. He gets Rs 20000 a year from the Government as a guest teacher. The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath gives him another Rs 40,000 a year to enable him to do a better job. A solar lighting solution has also been installed to enable the adolescent youth to learn in the evenings. He also does some fishing on the side apart from farming. But in the end it is too much to expect him to provide quality education. At least he does better than other government schools where mostly the teachers don't teach at all. Even the school in Kakrana which is considerably better funded and has more qualified teachers cannot compete with the well provided private schools in cities. Thus, in this digital age a huge and increasing gap is builiding up between the children of the Bhils and those of the privileged sections of society. 
After a quick lunch of rice and daal we headed back from Bada Amba and reached Kakrana around 7 p.m. after a very long and tiring day. Instead of dying, the guests felt that they had seen some of the most pristine beauty of nature and met people who lived a simple life amidst it. The next day after breakfast we headed back to Indore. 
This is the first time that some of the many people who read about the Bhils and their struggles from my posts on Facebook have visited Alirajpur and that too one of its most remote villages. They were overwhelmed both by the simplicity of the people and the way in which they were working hard to lead their lives with minimal resources in the absence of much help from the Government.

No comments: