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, August 7, 2017

Confronting The Intersectionality of Oppressions

The Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) is once again challenging the mendacity of the Indian State as it has done on so many occasions over the past three decades and as before it will succeed in holding the state accountable to a certain extent. However, this story is not so much about the tenacity of the NBA but about a person who is a shining example of one of its unique characteristics that has contributed to this tenacity. First let me talk of this unique characteristic of the NBA which has a lot to do with the character of its main leader Medha Patkar. Right from the start of the NBA three decades ago, Medha has been able to inspire young urban people to ditch their careers, for some time at least and sometimes permanently, and dedicate themselves to the struggle for justice of the NBA in particular and across the country in general. In fact the NBA has sustained itself for so long with so much energy and purpose because young people from the cities have continually come to man and woman the barricades. Given the complexities of conducting a mass struggle in the modern world against a ruthless and crooked state apparatus which is backed by the rapaciousness of global capitalism, it is not possible for the rural people in the valley alone to sustain the struggle and so tech savvy, english speaking youth have always been in demand and they have contributed their mite to keeping the fight going.
Meera Sanghamitra is one such young person. I saw her for the first time a few years back in a meeting organised by a human rights organisation in Indore and was immediately struck by her articulation and knowledge. What impressed me even more was that she is a transgender person. I had read about transgender activists who are fighting for their rights but this was the first time I was seeing one in flesh and blood holding forth with power and it was inspiring. Her presence was so powerful that it smashed the stereotypical picture in my mind of the trans-gender persons who routinely move around the town singing and clapping and asking for money on various festive occasions.

Meera is of course very active in defence of transgender rights also as will become clear by and by but her main work at that time was as an activist of the NBA fighting for the rights of the people who were to be displaced due to the Sardar Sarovar Dam being built in Gujarat.  The struggle had reached a stage where the many people in Madhya Pradesh had to be rehabilitated and for this they were fighting their individual cases in Grievance Redressal Authority. The Government continually tried to short change the affected people and so their cases had to be fought diligently and once they were awarded compensation then it had to be ensured that they did get this. Moreover, there was a big scam that was unearthed about false land registrations having been made by unscrupulous officials and lawyers to siphon off the rehabilitation money due to the affected people. Finally, there was the struggle against the sand mining mafia which was devastating  the river bed of the Narmada and its tributaries through indiscriminate extraction of sand with machines. Then, as always, there were the various mass protests that had to be organised in the valley, in Bhopal and in Delhi against the continuing efforts of the Government to cheat the affected people. Meera led all these activities with aplomb. It must be remembered that given the kind of society we have it is not easy for a transgender person to work as a normal person. That is why most transgender persons have got ghettoised into their own communities on the margins of society as has been powerfully portrayed by Arundhati Roy in her latest novel. Under the circumstances leading an active mass struggle with so many responsibilities is no mean feat. She has now moved on to being one of the national convenors of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) which is an umbrella organisation of several mass struggles going on across India against the depredations of modern anti-people development.
The immediate spur for this post, however, is a strong statement that Meera has recently made in defence of transgender rights. The other day the veteran Dalit activist from Maharashtra, Ramdas Athavale, who is a minister in the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government at the centre, said that trans-gender persons should not wear Sarees. He said this during a workshop to sensitise people about transgenders as part of the efforts to get enacted the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016 which is pending in parliament. This bill seeks to give a distinct identity to transgender persons and prevent discrimination against them. There are two important aspects of this statement that need to be discussed. The first is the patriarchal mindset that has made the minister think of transgenders as males who should not cross dress and sully the patriarchal sanctity that has been given to women with the saree being the traditional symbol of Indian womanhood. Almost certainly the minister also looks askance at women cross dressing and wearing jeans and tee shirts even though he may not have picked up the courage yet to make such a statement in line with his more patriarchal colleagues in the NDA. But the crucial point that Athavale has missed is that many transgender women feel they are women despite having male bodies and so prefer to dress as women.
The second aspect is more important as this statement shows that despite decades of struggle for Dalit rights, Athavale has little sensitivity for the feelings of another marginalised and oppressed community, that of transgenders. In recent years the intersectionality of oppressions has become the focus of activists. This is a term coined by American civil rights advocate KimberlĂ© Williams Crenshaw to describe overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.There are multiple oppressions and so for instance a poor black woman has to fight class, race and gender oppression while a rich white woman has to fight only gender oppression and may also be oppressing the black woman through the class and race privileges that she enjoys. Ideally true socio-economic change is possible when all the multiple oppressions are taken into account and an alliance forged to fight a common fight. Athavale had come in for criticism  from Dalit rights activists earlier for joining the NDA which is a Brahminical coalition inherently against the interests of the Dalits and now he has fallen foul of the transgender community with his uncalled for advice regarding how they should dress.

Meera normally does not wear a saree, preferring to dress in salwar kameez but to protest this outrageous statement from Athavale she has not only worn a saree but has taken a selfie of herself and posted it in Facebook. She is extremely busy now with various struggles of farmers in Andhra Pradesh and also drumming up support for the NBA but yet as a true intersectionalist she has stood up for the rights of her very own transgender people. Long years of fruitless struggle have injected iron into my soul but when I see young people like Meera holding up the torch so valiantly against the odds, I feel that despite all the many hurdles, the oppressed will one day certainly inherit the earth.


Dipak Dholakia said...

I had an opportunity to work with her once. Her knowledge of the subject under the discussion and leadership quality had impressed me. I wish her every success in her life.

Meera Sanghamitra said...

Dear Rahul bhai,

Unconditional Apologies for the inordinate delay in responding to this post ! During the week this write-up was posted, I was in Bangalore-Pune-Narmada and entirely missed it, in a deluge of posts after I returned to Hyd !

I am very moved and humbled at the kind of kind words you’ve showered on me, most of which I may not even deserve.. I infact feel even more guilty that such things are written about me, now that I am not there in Narmada physically ! :) - although I did visit the valley twice in the last two months for a couple of days.. I’d only say, as Aparna always rightly points out..It’s all about the Collective/s that we are part of that makes our lives rich, beautiful, dynamic, challenging, yet hopeful  …

Even with the Andolan, the strength was, as you know, because and because we had entire communities of people, we had the villagers and activists, who stood rock solid and, together, we could give a tough-time to the State, in multiple ways, although, as you say, it has always been an uphill battle…for the women, the adivasis and other farmers, landless, fisher people, potters, small traders..they continue to fight, fight back and fight forward with the same energy to this day, they continue to inspire all of us in the struggles against injustice and inequity – anywhere and everywhere..

As a transwoman, although it has not been and it still is not at all an easy battle for me, personally and politically, the fact that I am armed with certain ‘privileges’ and love, solidarity of all of you, enables me to do the little I can..

When I get some more time, I would like to respond on some of the substantive parts of this write up…esp. on the popular perceptions of trans people, the slow but definite changes, presence of persons of diverse genders in different walks of life, the need for diverse learnings and cross – learnings, even in spaces / amongst persons that are assumed to be “progressive” etc..

One always feels that ‘inter-sectionality’ and ‘solidarity’ should neither be limited to theories or strategies, but must be part of our core, non-negotiable values ..

Love and Light,

Rahul Banerjee said...

Reality is always complex and theory helps one in understanding it and taking action. Especially when it is a question of fighting for justice. While community mobilisation and cooperation obviously is the main driving power in the fight for justice, individuals too play an important role.