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, February 24, 2017

Spring Comes with the Waft of Love

According to one of the many legends associated with the festival of MahaShivratri or the Great Night of Lord Shiva, this is the night on which Shiva and the Goddess Parvati got married. Yet another legend says that this is the night on which Shiva performed his cosmic dance. Both together provide a peg on which to hang a tale about love, marriage and merrymaking among the Bhils as that is what I am more knowledgeable about than the stories about Shiva.
The Bhil adivasis are among the most romantic of people; they start falling in love early in life. The Bhils' main claim to cultural fame is their colourful Bhagoria festival, which takes place just  a week before the Hindu festival of Holi in spring and is just round the corner. The Bhil festival is celebrated by turns in the market villages or towns on the market day of that particular village or town. The festival has been filmed a number of times. Primarily a celebration of the kharif harvests, it is also associated with the custom of teenaged boys and girls eloping from the festival to lead a married life and it is followed by a spring and summer of marriages before the monsoons and sowing time. Thus there is much singing and dancing during this festival by youth decked in colourful attire.

Marriage for the Bhils remains a loose arrangement to bring up progeny, and countless pre-marital affairs between boys and girls and extra marital affairs between men and women add spice to the humdrum of family life. As long as people don’t get caught in the act, everyone winks an eye at this side current of free sex that laces Bhili marital life. But once such liaisons become known, the Bhili society takes it upon itself to keep some semblance of order. What they do provides them with great entertainment. Apart from this, there are instances of forcible capture of girls and even married women by boys or men for marriage; cases of rape are rare because there is so much opportunity for free sex. Finally, there are the inevitable divorces. One of the enduring aspects of Bhili society that has survived the ravages of modern development is the role of the traditional community panchayat in resolving all kinds of disputes involving man-woman relationships.
All the parties involved, two, if it is just a matter of resolving the elopement of a couple and three, if it is a case of an extra marital affair or the carrying off of a betrothed or married woman or the desertion of one man by a woman for another or vice versa, get together to sort out the matter. They usually sit at a distance from each other, communicating through messengers who are called "vataars". This is a safety device to prevent direct confrontation between the opposing parties, which could become murderous considering that people often come armed with bows and arrows and guns to these panchayats. But this means that the vataars have to bear the brunt of the abuses and taunts when they go from one side to the other with proposals for a solution, which are wild at the start with, before they reach more realistic levels through bargaining. That is why there is a saying in Bhilali that the behinds of buffaloes and vataars regularly get taken!

The Bhils also have a system of arranged marriages to keep the youth under control and prevent the onset of unbridled sexual and marital anarchy. So even though the custom of a girl running away with a boy to get married is quite common and has social sanction, in such instances the boy's family has to pay a premium over the prevailing rate of bride price. The bride prices are negotiable and keep increasing with time. In case of extra and pre-marital affairs, the boy or man has to pay a fine, which again is negotiable, depending on the seriousness of the offence and the prestige of the offended family. So the whole business of settling romantic disputes is a highly entertaining affair, what with all the people hearing the colourful evidence, the hyperbolic demands for money and the choice epithets that are traded back and forth. There are times when the settling of these disputes requires quite a few sittings. A kind of "politics of honour" is also involved in these matters, which sometimes makes these disputes take on major political overtones between sets of villages.
However, in one village in Alirajpur, whose whereabouts I will not disclose, extra-marital affairs were the rule rather than the exception. Almost every week, the people of the village could be seen sitting down to resolve these disputes, which invariably ended in someone or the other being made to pay a nominal fine. Now the person who had been cuckolded was not satisfied with just this paltry fine; so he would look for an opportunity to have an affair with the offending person's wife or unmarried sister. He would usually succeed, once again prompting the need for a panchayat in which it would be his turn to be fined. It would carry on like this in a form of sexual vendetta. Appetite whetted, these fellows would try to have affairs with the wives or unmarried sisters of other men. In this way the entire village would remain involved in a sleazy game of “cuckold my neighbour.” Old age was no bar.  There was a man in his fifties who continuously had affairs with other women in the village and was regularly fined, but his wife always remained true to him, not even once falling prey to the numerous advances that must have been made to her. When his Sati Savitri wife died, this man married a second time. His second wife was young and an easy prey for the other men who had been on the lookout to take their revenge. Despite all the old fellow did to prevent it, one enterprising man soon cuckolded him. To ensure that the old fellow was well and truly floored, this man nicked his own neck with a dharia, a kind of machete and then lodged a false complaint in the police station along with a hefty bribe that the old man had attempted to murder him and got him into jail. There was an air of celebration in the village as at last the old man had been castled in style; no one went to bail the old fox out.
Despite the depredations of modern development which have adversely affected their livelihoods, the Bhils have retained their freewheeling romantic ways and their love for song and dance and it is heartlifting to watch them live life with gay abandon amidst their hardships. 

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