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.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Past Sixty and Still Going Strong

A quick trip recently to Jharkhand proved productive in many ways, not the least in that I met three very senior stalwarts of the social sector. The trip came about because Professor Madhukar Shukla of the  renowned management education insitute, XLRI Xavier School of Management in Jamshedpur, invited me as a speaker in the National Conference on Social Entrepreneurship (NCSE) being held there. Even though social entrepreneurship strictly speaking should apply only to those organisations that run for profit business enterprises to provide services to the poor and not to non-profit development organisations that provide these services free through grants, Professor Shukla has widened the definition to include a few of the latter kind of organisations that generate some resources from the beneficiaries also in the form of contributions from them. That is how I qualified as a social entrepreneur despite primarily being a social activist and development worker because our organisation Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS) does mobilise a considerable amount of resources from its members in cash, kind and labour to accomplish its work much in excess of what it accesses through grants.
First something about Professor Shukla before I go on to the proceedings of the NCSE itself. Madhukarji is an internationally renowned expert in organisation development in mainstream management education. About a decade and a half back he began to take interest in the field of social entrepreneurship and began researching organisations that ran for profit enterprises in the social sector either in providing livelihoods through income generation activities in agriculture, small industry and crafts or in providing services like micro-credit, water supply and sanitation, education and the like. About a decade back he put in a lot of effort to organise the first ever National Conference on Social Entrepreneurship where he brought together for experience sharing and discussions some of the leading social entrepreneurs of the country. And the great thing is that every year since then this conference has been held with ths year's being the 9th edition. I have closely followed these conferences from the beginning and even though I have not attended them before, I have read the details from the reports on the conference website. Every year many innovative organisations have made presentations and this was the case this year too.
The most important sectors from the point of view of the KMCS currently are sustainable agriculture and decentralised renewable energy production. I was happy to find very good presentations made in these sectors and got a considerable amount of information and inspiration that will help us to initiate work in these fields in western Madhya Pradesh. Madhukarji, by providing a platform for so many great social enterpreneurs to meet and share their experiences is doing a splendid job. This year Rs 4 lakhs was collected through crowd funding towards defraying the costs of the conference which too is a great achievement.

Once the conference was over, I came to Ranchi to meet the veteran activist Xavier Dias who has spent close to five decades in Jharkhand after he came there from his native Goa to fight for the rights of the Adivasis. He has been both a grassroots activist and a researcher and over the past decade or so has worked tirelessly against the depredations resulting from indiscriminate mining in Jharkhand which has devastated Adivasi livelihoods. These tireless efforts have taken their toll and today he is not in the best of health. I have known him on Facebook for quite some time now and so grabbed this opportunity to meet him face to face and pay my respects to him. He expressed his inability to understand where the world was going given the way in which capitalism had overwhelmed all opposition and had effectively prevented any large scale movement from coalescing against it. He was especially worried by the fact that people like us had now had to give up working at the grassroots in the militant mode that we used to and are just applying patches to a deeply defective system. Even though his poor health does not allow him to do very much these days, Xavier is one of the most active people on Facebook where he continually posts and comments on anti-capitalist struggles around the world.
Finally, I met up after almost a decade with Meghnath Bhattacharjee. One of the most colourful characters that I have known. He started off as a social worker with the jesuits and Mother Theresa in the early 1970s while still in college in Kolkata and then went to the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai to study social work. However, he came away from there after just ten days finding the atmosphere there claustrophobic and instead came and joined the Tagore Society of Rural Development set up by the legendary Pannalal Dasgupta who himself had become a Gandhian after first being an armed revolutionary prior to independence. After some time Meghnath ditched Pannalalbabu and joined the militant left movement in Palamau in Jharkhand for Adivasi rights in the early 1980s. However, after a few jail stints he became disillusioned with this also towards the late 1980s and took up training for film making in Delhi. I met him for the first time when he came to Alirajpur to help with the organisation of the struggle against the Sardar Sarovar dam in 1989. I was in Adivasi dress and holding forth in Bhilali before a large gathering and his first comment to one of the others who had come with him was that the Adivasis in Alirajpur were very articulate given the way I was speaking!!
This was the beginning of a long friendship that has become deeper with the passage of time. Meghnad is a great singer and joker in addition to being a die hard activist. During the classic Sangharsh Yatra to stop the Sardar Sarovar dam in 1991, by some quirk he was assigned the task of ensuring security for Medha Patkar by the coordinating committee of the Yatra but Medha didn't know this. So he stuck close behind Medha wherever she went, even during press conferences, posing like the security commandoes who protect VIPs!! Medha commented to others that she could not understand what had come over Meghnath that he was hankering after publicity by sticking close to her when she was giving interviews to the audiovisual media!! He later sat on a 21 day fast with Medha at the Yatra. When I asked him how he, being a Marxist, had returned to his early Gandhism and agreed to sit on a fast, he replied that he had grabbed this opportunity to atone for all his sins!!
Anyway, from the mid 1990s after a short stint in indigenous soil and water conservation in Palamau he has been settled in Ranchi and has been engaged in documentary film making. He along with his associate Biju Toppo has made many films which have won many awards including two Golden Lotuses for best documentaries in two categories in the National Film Awards in 2010. He has just finished a fabulous biographical film of the great Adivasi activist and scholar Late Dr Ramdayal Munda which is not just a biography of the great man but a chronicle of the identity movement of the Jharkhandi Adivasis which finally resulted in the creation of the state of Jharkhand in 2000. He said that Jaypal Singh Munda had played as important a role for the Adivasis of India during the independence movement and later as Ambedkar had for the Dalits. However, while the Dalits had worked hard to curate the work of Ambedkar and build on it, the Adivasis of Jharkhand had done nothing to do the same for Jaipal Singh and there was next to nothing to commemorate his efforts. Meghnath said that he did not want the same fate to befall Ramdayal Munda and so had put his heart into this film and was also preparing to launch into another film on Adivasi religions which Dr Munda had started before he suddenly succumbed to cancer.
Meghnath was at his singing and joking best and we had quite a few laughs in between first class songs and it was really nice to see this man who had gone through so much trouble in his life in all his roles living with so much joie-de-vivre even in his mid-sixties. Unlike Xavier earlier in the day, Meghnath refused to be despondent about the overwhelming power of capitalism and said that the key was to go on fighting it as best as one could in joy, wine and song!! All in all it was a very heart warming trip in which I met three stalwarts of the social sector who are all past 60 and yet going strong and that has pumped a lot of energy into me to at least emulate them.

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