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, September 4, 2017

The Last Breakfast

One of the most heart wrenching pictures in recent years, from the point of view of mass people's movements for justice in this country, is this one below in which Medha Patkar is breaking the fast that she had launched to secure just rehabilitation for the remaining affected people of the Sardar Sarovar dam. She broke the fast not because she succeeded in her objective but because it had become clear that the Supreme Court of India would not stand by the movement for justice of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) anymore.
The NBA has launched many agitations and legal actions since 2000, when the Supreme Court  lifted the stay on the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam and allowed it to proceed on the condition that the affected persons must be rehabilitated in accordance with the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award. The actions, both at the ground level and in the High and Supreme Courts have mainly hinged on inadequate rehabilitation. Due to this the final installation and closure of the gates of the dam have been held back all these years. Finally in February this year the Supreme Court ordered that those landed people who had not been rehabilitated at all, around 700 families or so, would have to be given Rs 60 lakhs and the gates would be closed on July 31st.
This meant on the one hand that people like Bava Mahariya of Jalsindhi village and Surban of Kakrana village in Alirajpur district who had steadfastly refused to move from their village and not taken any compensation or land had Rs 60 lakhs deposited in their accounts while on the other thousands of landless people and those who had taken monetary compensation earlier for their land were left with very little apart from residential plots in inadequately developed resettlement colonies. The administration began issuing threats that people would be forcefully evacuated prior to July 31st if they did not move to the rehabilitation sites.
The NBA began mobilising these other people, who had not been compensated and rehabilitated properly, to resist their forcible displacement without adequate rehabilitation. Finally as the deadline of July 31st approached, Medha along with other displaced people began an indefinite fast to press for a just rehabilitation. The Government in its usual repressive way arrested the fasting activists after a few days and slapped criminal charges on them and put them into prison. Medha and others continued the fast inside the prison. In the meantime a petition was filed in the Supreme Court regarding the inadequacy of rehabilitation. However, the Supreme Court said that it had already decided the case and that complaints of inadequate rehabilitation if any should be filed individually by the concerned affected person in the High Court as no further public interest litigation would be entertained in the matter.
This closing of all doors finally forced the NBA to withdraw from the fast. The picture shows stalwarts of the mass movements of this country convincing Medha to break the fast in prison. The person offering the glass of juice is veteran Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Parikh who has fought most of the cases for the NBA and other public causes pro bono. A major such case is that against the illegal clinical trials being conducted by foreign and Indian pharmaceutical companies in this country and another is the landmark victory for the Dongria Kondhs in Niyamgiri against Vedanta's bauxite mining. The others in the picture are Dr Sunilam a veteran socialist and activist fighting for farmers' rights, Arundhati Dhuru formerly of the NBA and now a gender activist, Akhil Gogoi a firebrand farmer's rights activists from Assam, Vinit Tiwari, an activist of the Communist Party of India who is at the forefront of the struggle against communalism and veteran activists of the NBA. All these activists have fought and are continuing to fight diligently against the oppression and repression of the Indian state but they know that it is difficult to succeed. Primarily because the state and those who run it have no conscience. Stokely Carmichael, the Afro-American Black Power Activist of the 1960s, once famously remarked that passive resistance of the kind being practiced by Martin Luther King can succeed only if the oppressor has some conscience which can be triggered into compassion by actions such as sit ins and fasts but that the American State had no conscience. The Indian state too has no conscience. Even the judiciary which did show some conscience for seventeen long years, finally decided to switch it off.
That is why this picture is so disturbing because it spells out the helplessness of activists fighting for justice in the face of state impunity and oppression. Medha had to stay imprisoned for more than a week after this breaking of her fast as the police had slapped serious charges like abduction and attempt to murder on her for which she was refused bail by the lower judiciary and so had to approach the High Court. There was a time earlier when Medha and other activists of the NBA had refused bail on being arrested on trumped up criminal charges and had eventually been freed on personal bonds. However, with age the resilience of Medha had declined. Once the great Indian socialist, Ram Manohar Lohia, had said that the only way to break the impunity and power of the state was to fill its prisons to bursting point with activists. However, not only did Lohia and the socialists or the communists not succeed in this but later on the activists of the mass environmental movements too have not succeeded and so prisons still remain a major instrument of oppression in the hands of the state. So instead of masses of people courting arrest in protest against the injustice being meted out on the NBA, eventually Medha had to seek bail and get out of prison.
I was reminded by the helplessness which is the underlying theme of this photo, of the plight of another stalwart of the NBA, Khajan, of Anjanwara village. He fought on against the dam refusing to take rehabilitation until he was the only one left in his village. Then just a year before he finally gave in and accepted land in Gujarat with a broken heart. After three decades of opposition and fighting and many trips to prison he finally had to opt for rehabilitation. Its not just the NBA but most other mass movements of the oppressed that all have to succumb to the power of the state and the forces who control it.
This inability on the part of social movements to break the wall of state power is a major reason for their not being able to sustain mass mobilisation against it. Another is the inability to convince the masses to fight in a sustained manner for their rights in accordance with an alternative vision of development and society. Reading a detailed new biography of Stalin last year, I came across an interesting bit of information that the Bolshevik party in its grassroots meetings used to promise the workers that bringing about the revolution would automatically put an end to their misery and this acted as an inspiration for them!! Today unfortunately we cannot offer such a simplistic solution to the problems that the masses face and yet that is what most people want - a simple solution to their problems!!
The many Godmen and people like Modi still offer such simple solutions to the people and carry themselves off for some time on the strength of their charisma. A charlatan like Gurmeet Ram Rahim can motivate lakhs of Dalit and backward class supporters to fight a pitched battle against the state against his conviction for rape while another charlatan, Modi, can subject the whole population to the utmost inconvenience of demonetisation and remain their darling, whereas a person like Medha has to break her fast in a prison surrounded by a few forlorn activists. The charlatans are backed by the wealthy and powerful who rejoice in the way these charlatans are able to take the masses for a ride and keep them away from the activists of social movements who would want them to revolt against the power of the wealthy on shoestring budgets. It's a catch 22 situation wherein people demand simple solutions which we can't give and so we are not able to build up big mass movements which in turn reduces our ability to give any solutions whatsoever. 
This is possibly the last time that Medha at least will be breaking a fast undertaken for justice given her advancing age and the final closing of gates of the Sardar Sarovar dam. its been a long and gruelling journey after all from the first fast that she undertook in 2001 for all of 21 days during the Sangharsh Yatra which has taken a heavy toll on her health. The Last Supper of Christ and his disciples did not put an end to the social revolution initiated at that time by them and so we too must hope that this last break of fast by Medha will only mark a passing phase and we can look forward to a day when justice shall prevail. Woh Subah Kabhi to Ayegi!! 

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