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.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Long and Winding Road To Justice Has lost a Militant Traveller

I came back yesterday after a particularly tiring two days in the field mostly out of wireless connectivity to learn with a wrench of the heart of the passing away of Srilata Swaminathan on 5th February 2017 from a brain haemorrhage followed by a heart attack at the age of 73. We have lost one of the most committed activists fighting for the rights of Bhil Adivasis. She was a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) Liberation Group and the national president of its women's wing. Yet she spent most of her activist life in the remote village of Ghantali in Banswara district of Rajasthan deep in the Bhil homeland. She had first gone there in 1978 to fight for the rights of the Adivasis to forests and a decent livelihood and stayed there ever since except when she fell seriously ill.
 I first heard of her in 1987 when she undertook a fast unto death in Banswara over the forest rights of the Bhil Adivasis which were being denied by the Forest Department. The Government caved in on that occasion and she broke her fast after a week or so. I had by then spent just two years in Alirajpur and was getting to know the deep problems of the Bhil Adivasis with regard to access to forests. The entire Bhil homeland stretching from Rajasthan to Maharashtra through Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh was beset with this problem and others related to the lack of proper development and exploitation by traders, moneylenders and Government officials. She was the pioneer of mass grassroots struggles against this injustice from the late 1970s and showed the way to many others who followed across the Bhil homeland in these four states.
In the early 1980s she fell seriously ill due to problems with her kidneys and by the late 1980s she was bedridden with edema and sores all over her body. She had used auto urine therapy for some time in the early 1980s to cure herself of amoebiasis after meeting the late Prime Minister Morarji Desai who practised this. She fell back on this again when allopathic treatment couldn't cure her and miraculously she recovered from her problems in 1989 and became her feisty self again.
Not only did she do her own organisation work in Ghantali and for the CPI(ML) all over India but she also provided support to other organisations fighting at the grassroots for Adivasi rights. She led a team of human rights activists to our area when the Madhya Pradesh Government cracked down on our organisation in 2001 killing four of our colleagues in police firing and sending scores of us to jail for long periods.
Today, throughout the Bhil Adivasi homeland there is a lot of political churn and the Adivasis have formed their own organisations to carve out an independent development path. This would not have been possible without the initial efforts made in the 1980s by Srilata to form grassroots mass movement, which led to many such organisations sprouting up. Obviously the early promise of a much more equitable socio-economic order that was there in the 1980s has not been realised but it is a long and winding road to justice and we have lost one of our militant co-travellers.

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