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, July 21, 2017

Chronicles of Constructive Time!!

The late Shankar Guha Niyogi, one of the founder activists of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, had coined the phrase "Sangharsh aur Nirman" which meant struggle and constructive action. He said that just engaging in action for rights and political power was not enough as mass organisations must also take part in constructive activities in the sphere of education, health and livelihoods to give practical shape to their alternative vision of development. Guha Niyogi was a phenomenal leader and so he succeeded in enthusing his colleagues in the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha to do a high level of both Sangharsh and Nirman simultaneously. Inspired by him we too tried to do the same among the Bhil Adivasis in western Madhya Pradesh. However, not being of the same calibre as Guha Niyogi we invariably ended up doing more of struggle and so constructive activities took a back seat.
Then in 2001 things changed drastically. Our mobilisation for Adivasi self rule in Udainagar Tehsil of Dewas district which had gained considerable strength and had resulted in village councils effectively running their affairs on their own, sidelining the government, was brutally crushed by the State through heavy police action in which four of our colleagues were killed in police firing and scores of us were jailed. After coming out from jail after a couple of months, I found that not only was the organisation in a shambles due to the heavy repression but that all the main activists, including I, had dozens of criminal cases foisted on us which we would have to fight in the courts. Since my Adivasi colleagues obviously didn't have the resources to fight these cases on their own, it fell to me to mobilise the huge funds required to fight so many criminal cases involving so many people. So I had to give up mass mobilisation work altogether and busy myself with doing research consultancy projects to earn money to fight the cases and also read statute books and case law to bolster up our defence in court. After a few years, from 2005 onwards, many new laws were enacted like Right to Information Act, Forest Rights Act, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act and the like which gave people rights for which they had to go to jail earlier. Indeed it was the earlier political agitations across India that resulted in the enactment of these progressive laws. So a whole new field of activity to implement these laws was opened up. This is when my Adivasi colleagues suggested that we should activate an NGO named Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra that we had registered long back in 1987 but which we had never used for development work except in the early stages because we were too busy fighting for rights and going to jail and which was consequently lying dormant. So from 2007 onwards we began work with gusto in constructive activities in the spheres of education, health and forest, soil and water conservation apart from the implementation of the progressive laws. Thus instead of Sangharsh, Nirman became our buzz word.
The world of NGOism through which Nirman has to be carried out is such, that it is very important to write about the constructive activities being done and publicise them in order to gain visibility and garner the considerable funds required for the development work. So I began writing profusely about our work but getting it published was not easy. Newspapers and Journals most often either rejected my writings or demanded that I make substantial changes which were not to my liking. This is when a friend, who is a blogger, suggested that I should start blogging about our work. That is how this blog came into existence in 2007. It proved to be a great move because I was able to write and publish about our work on this blog and broadcast it to the world without having to wait for long periods to see it published and then face either rejection or drastic editing. This also helped us to get in touch with many people around the world and exchange ideas with them and so enrich our work. We took up new fields of activity, the most important being climate change mitigation and reproductive health work.
In the sphere of climate change mitigation we not only do a lot of work in rural areas but also our office in the city of Indore is designed to be as environment friendly as possible and provide us with enough opportunities of doing hard productive manual labour while staying in the city. One such project of ours is recycling urban waste from our office to rural farms. In our office cum residence in Indore all the green waste from the kitchen and the ground and terrace gardens is composted in a tank on the roof. Then every year before the monsoons this composted waste is taken out and transported to farms in the villages to enrich the soil there. This activity is highly labour intensive and so helps in keeping one fit, especially taking out the compost from the tank on the roof and taking it down to the ground for transport to the farm as shown below.
In all this time since 2001 I have not taken part in any mass political action at the grassroots against the many perfidies of the Indian state and the ruling class and so have not been incarcerated like earlier and neither have I been part of any wider political mobilisation. I have just fought and won the criminal cases against us and a few public interest litigations. Most of the time being spent in many constructive activities like the one above in Indore and its neighbouring areas and doing research. I even managed to do a Phd in environmental planning in this period based on the water resource management work that we do!! That was an education in itself because the world of academic research has its own rules which do not tally with the rules of grassroots activist work!!
 All the while I have written about our work in this blog and with this the 500th post I complete ten years of blogging. Before this I had written a book "Recovering the Lost Tongue" on the two decades of activism among the Bhils upto 2001 and dubbed it as the chronicles of savoured time as a counter to the title of the author Malcom Muggeridge's autobiography - "Chronicles of Wasted Time". This is because I had savoured a new anarchist and happy life among the Bhils vastly different from the one that I had led earlier. The writing in this blog I now dub as chronicles of constructive time because I have over the past decade done hugely personally satisfying work in pursuing alternative development models.


infinityTObeyond said...

Rahul I am in awe of what you are doing . I hope many people will take your clue and be inspired.

Rahul Banerjee said...

One does what one can in an increasingly difficult world.

Nandini Oza's Blog said...

I am very happy you finally explain the perilous path of an activist slapped with many criminal cases along with colleagues for which you were left with no choice but to earn to meet the various costs of fighting in inefficient Indian courts not in favour of the marginalised.

Rahul Banerjee said...

Dear Nandini only an activist like you will understand this dilemma that has put paid to people's movements emerging as a viable challenge to the centralised injustice that has stifled the lives of the masses.