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, June 19, 2017

The Vanishing Skills

Six months of rigorous work later, the Women and Environment Centre of Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti is finally up and ready for operations in Pandutalav village. It has been built with a combination of modern and traditional Bhil Adivasi technologies with the latter prevailing over the former as can be seen below.
The main obstacle to making the building totally traditional was the lack of timber. So a traditional timber house was bought from an Adivasi family but a large part of the timber columns had rotted below the ground. So eventually the walls had to be built of brick, stone and cement and that is how modern construction came in. However, the layout and design is still the same as the original house that was bought and the wooden beams and columns inside the building which take the central roof load have been exquisitely carved with traditional motifs as shown below.
The timber work including the carving has been done by traditional Adivasi carpenters and one of them, Dharasingh, is shown below putting final touches to the timber structure of the verandah.
The roofing is mostly of local tiles called nalia which have been made by local potters and also some Mangalore tiles. They require special skills for placement on the bamboo and timber support structure and once again there are specialists who do this work as shown below.
Finally, the flooring of the building is with a mud and cow dung mix which too requires special skills to apply and Budibai along with her team of women has accomplished this work.
Given the fact that Adivasis live at subsistence levels and use natural resources minimally, they have traditionally developed building technologies that are cheap and local resource based albeit labour intensive. They are also adapted to the climate. The nalia tiles used in the main building roof are arranged is such a way that they provide an air cushion and so in summers the houses remain cool and in winters they remain warm and so there is no need for costly ventilation and heating.
Unfortunately these traditional technologies and the skills required for their application are gradually vanishing as the much more expensive modern technologies are being promoted by the Government through its housing schemes that provide grants to the poor for building their homes. These schemes compulsorily mandate the use of bricks, cement and steel while at the same time not providing enough money for such construction. So Adivasis end up building small houses of cement and steel that are extremely hot and cold in summer and winter respectively and also do not have enough space for living and farming activities. Many of the Adivasis of the area who came to see the building expressed surprise that it had been built in the traditional style considering the fact that Majlis had enough financial resources to build a cement and steel box!! Little do they realise that the six months of hard work to build the centre have been an extremely rewarding experience for Subhadra and I. We realised how very skillful the Adivasis are and how hard working. We worked along with them whenever time permitted and could not help but deprecate the fact that our modern skills fetch us much much more money than the traditional skills do for our Adivasi workers and craftsmen who built the centre and were much more skillful and hard working than us. Incidentally, we paid the statutory minimum wages for unskilled and skilled labour, which are much more than what these people get when working for others in the area.

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