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.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Give Me Red!!

The other day a conversation with some activists prompted me to wonder as to what is the most important aspect about the social change work that we do among the Adivasis and Dalits here in Madhya Pradesh, since its large scale societal impact is close to zero!! After some thought I came to the conclusion that it is respect for the views of those we work with. Even if an idea for some programme comes from us activists, we never implement it without first sounding it out with others with whom we are working. Therefore, what little impact is there at the local level is due not a little to the fact that the participants in the programme have a major say in its design and implementation. This applies to both mass organisational and developmental work.
When we launched the gynaecological health camps for women in the slums of Indore, the first thing we did was to conduct detailed discussions with the women as to what their problems were and what they were doing to address them. Initially we were a bit apprehensive as to whether the women would open up and come to the camps for clinical examination. Many women eventually didn't. This led us to spend more time in discussions with the women to gain their confidence. These discussions have led to very good insights into how society works.
One example that is striking is that of the management of menstrual hygiene. This is a problem area mainly because of the patriarchal taboos surrounding it. Women in India, mostly use cloth during the menstrual period and then wash and dry the cloth in the shade for reuse. They have to dry it in the shade because it cannot be dried in the open under the sun because it is against the patriarchal norm that anything to do with menstruation is dirty and should be kept private. for poor women in urban areas this has become a serious problem because of lack of space which results in lack of privacy. Matters have been further compounded by the unavailability of cotton cloth for use during the periods. Earlier women used to tear old sarees to use as menstrual cloth. However, cotton clothing has become expensive and so in most cases poor urban women wear only clothes made from synthetic materials which cannot be used for menstrual purposes because they do not absorb the menstrual blood.
There is a school of opinion that favours the use of sanitary napkins by poor women and it is suggested that the Government should reduce the taxes on these, as they are now categorised as luxury items and also subsidise their price. There are also many innovations for making sanitary pads which are much cheaper. In fact under the Integrated Child Development Programme, subsidised sanitary napkins are being supplied to adolescent girls and women from the Anganwaris or child care centres. However, the problem of disposal of the used napkins still remains for poor urban women due to the patriarchal taboo. The subsidised napkins are few and far between because they have been supplied only to a few women and most others will have to buy the expensive ones from the market which is difficult given their poverty.
So even today, cloth washed, dried and reused remains the most favoured option for poor women. Given this fact a solution has emerged in Indore. In the slums in which these poor women reside, the small shops sell red pieces of thick felt cloth as shown below which are used by the women during their periods. These cloth pieces have good absorbent qualities and are cheap to buy. Three pieces of cloth are sold for Rs 20 and they last for six months. A larger piece of cloth with strings at the end also is available at Rs 30 for three pieces for use by those women who do not wear panties and have to tie the cloth. They can be washed and hung out to dry outside also because of their deep red colour which camouflages the blood stains. Though most women still dry them in the shade there are some who dry them in the sun.
What is most intriguing is that a demand from poor women for a suitable solution to their menstrual hygiene management problems has been provided by the market in a very cost effective manner and not by the government or NGOs which are pushing them to use sanitary napkins. Initially we too had thought that we would help the women in the slums to form self help groups and provide them with sanitary napkin making machines so that cheap sanitary napkins could be made available to them. The NGO Goonj also prepares sanitary napkins from the used cloth that it collects for distribution to poor women. However, in both these cases a lot of management is involved whereas in the market solution of providing red felt cloth the problem has been solved at the individual level.


The Locksmith said...

Low cost sanitary napkin making machine. Is this something your NGO can buy and run? I can help fund it.

Rahul Banerjee said...

Thanks for the offer but the red felt cloth solution is much better and cheaper!!