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, October 3, 2017

Faithless In India

The Dalit Indian American author Sujatha Gidla in her book "Ants Among Elephants", describes a scene that is quintessential of India. Her book is a memoir of her early life in Telengana, where she was born, in which there are detailed descriptions of the Maoist movement at its inception of which her uncle was a founder. Once Charu Mazumdar, the renegade member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who broke away from that party to initiate the Maoist movement in West Bengal, came to Telengana to hold a meeting with the renegades there to spread the rebellion. Charu was already very ill and so in the remote hilly forested areas, he had not only to be carried on the shoulders of other comrades but also given rest from time to time. While he was so resting, these comrades withdrew to a distance and then said among themselves that Charu was communicating directly with Chairman Mao and he would soon arrange guns and other resources that would enable them to launch the revolution in India!! This is quintessentially India because it shows that here FAITH is king!! So even atheist revolutionaries rely on faith, in an ideology or a charismatic leader, to carry them through trying circumstances in the same way as the faithful rely on Gods.
Not that India does not have a tradition of faithlessness. Right from the ancient times, when there were the Charvaks, there have been atheists. While the Charvaks were materialists, Buddha and Mahavira were mystically inclined atheists. But the tradition of faith has been so powerful that it has completely overwhelmed the tradition of faithlessness and so both Buddhism and Jainism have become faiths converting Buddha and Mahavira into Gods.
Babaheb Ambedkar, perceptive as he was, understood this very well. He had first announced in 1935 that even though he was born one he would not die a Hindu. He realised, however, that the Dalits at large would not be able to discard their reliance on faith so easily. So he searched around for a religion that was at once fair and also provided a set of beliefs that people could hold on to. His searches led him to Buddhism, which he reinterpreted to the extent that he could compare it favourably with Marxism by reworking the teachings of the Buddha. Ambedkar heeded the advice of the Buddha regarding not blindly trusting received wisdom and instead testing it out in real life. Thus, he questioned the mystic aspects of Buddhism and much of the myth surrounding the Buddha and instead opted for an activist and rationalist Buddhism aimed at bringing about social peace rather than only the peace of mind of the individual. Consequently, for Ambedkar the concept of "Dukha" or sorrow became the exploitation of the poor and Nirvana became not a metaphysical state or attainment, but a real society founded in peace and justice. With time the rationalism of Ambedkar's Buddhism has receded and it has become a faith.
How then can one be faithless and yet be effective as a social activist in India? This was the question that I faced when I first began thinking about becoming an activist in college. I read the Upanishads and the Bhagvad Gita and liked much in them but felt uncomfortable with the assumption of a supreme spirit in them. I read Marx and again felt uncomfortable with the teleological idea that history would progress inexorably towards a stateless utopia. The French philosopher Sartre seared my existence with his ruthless analysis of the self deception that we human beings practice of thinking that we do not have the freedom to make choices for fear of the potential consequences of making a choice and deflect this responsibility of making a choice onto God or a charismatic leader. Something that he called "Bad Faith". Then, I read his contemporary Albert Camus' "Myth of Sisyphus" and it gave me the clue to being both faithless and effective.

In the aftermath of World War II, the Holocaust of the Jews and the inhuman excesses of the Stalinist dictatorship in the Soviet Union, Camus pondered over the futility of an "absurd" life that has to be lived under the mindless oppression of the faithful and their institutions, whether of the state and the church or of the political parties ostensibly fighting for liberation. Camus came to the conclusion that the faithless person, whom he called the absurd hero, would have to carry on an endless struggle against the power of the faithful in pursuit of human freedom. To this end, he reinterpreted the Hellenic myth of Sisyphus, who was cursed by Zeus to perpetually roll a rock up a hill as it rolled down again when he reached the top, in what is possibly the most eloquent philosophical statement in support of faithlessness ever - "At that subtle moment when man glances backward over this life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which becomes his fate, created by him, combined under his memory's eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling. I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy".
The struggle is important not the end. At once everything fell into place. I harked back to my early readings of the Upanishads and the Bhagvad Gita and reinterpreted some of the shlokas which had always inspired me. The obvious choice is of course the famous 47th verse of the second chapter of the Gita - "You have the right to work only but never to its fruits. Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction". Read alone without the rest of the faith baggage of the Gita this is a stern statement of faithless effectiveness!!! Similarly another famous Shloka, the first of the Isaponishad, can be slightly paraphrased to remove its faith baggage and yield a gem of faithless effectiveness - "This entire universe is dependent upon primordial nature. Partake of whatever is given to you by nature and do not crave the wealth of others". While the verse from the Gita speaks of desireless work, the one from the Isaponishad speaks of desireless consumption!!! 
Later, I came to read about  the Greek philosopher Diogenes. He not only inveighed against the Gods and received wisdom but also more importantly stressed that human beings should lead a life of hard labour in harmony with nature and not accumulate property. Thus Diogenes used to scrounge around, beg and because private property had no sanctity for him, even steal to get food and shout out at the better-heeled citizens of Athens for living in luxury. His aversion to anything private extended even to his body and so he would bathe and masturbate in public!! He used to publicly say that the priests in the temple of Olympia were the "big thieves" and the rulers and the philosophers who went there to ask them to supplicate the Gods on their behalf were the "little thieves". This behaviour of his led the people of Athens to call him a "kunikos" or dog and this is how his philosophical tradition has come to be called "Cynicism".  Diogenes went an important step further in denying the paramount power of the state. Diogenes not only refused to acknowledge the power of the state he also berated people for owing allegiance to some state or other. He declared that he was a free citizen of the Cosmos meaning the whole of nature and the whole of the human race. So Diogenes can be said to be the first conscious atheistic environmental anarchist. 
 There are a whole host of colourful stories woven around this iconoclastic philosopher. On one occasion Diogenes was washing lettuce to prepare a meal when Plato came along and told him that if he had paid court to the ruler Dionysius he would not have had to wash lettuces. To this Diogenes replied that if Plato had washed lettuces then he would not have had to pay court to the ruler! On another occasion Alexander the Great came and stood next to where he was sun bathing in the street and said to him, "I am Alexander the Great ask any boon of me". Diogenes is reported to have said "I am Diogenes the Dog please get out of my sunlight". He once went round the streets with a lighted lantern in broad daylight and when people asked him why he was doing this he replied that he was searching for one true human being. His disciple Epicurus is credited with this question and answer sequence negating the existence of God - "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?" 
Thus, one can live and work faithlessly in a country where most people are faithful, both those who believe in God and those who believe in grand theories of emancipation!!! However, this drastically changes the way one works for social and economic justice. Throughout my three decades as an activist, I have never sold dreams to anyone. I have always said that there is no guarantee that we will achieve whatever we have set out to do. Sometimes we gain some small victories but largely we have not been able to reform the unjust nature of centralised human society. So while Samson was eyeless in Gaza and relied on his faith, I am faithless in India and rely on my eye for rational action!!


MANJIRA said...

Great Piece

Anusha Chaitanya said...

I think your interpretation of the line from Bhagvad Gita is in line with Brahminical thinking though you claim to be faithless and it is quite in contrast to the interpretation of the same line by Kancha Ilaiah who talks about it in relation to Dalitbahujan philosophy. Please see the following extract from Why I am Not a Hindu by Kancha Ilaiah

"There is a simple sentence that repeatedly expresses the philosophy of Dalitbahujans. That simple sentence is rekkaaditeegaani bukkaadadu ('unless the hand works the mouth cannot eat'). This philosophical sentence is not speaking in terms of the hand that holds the bow and arrow as Rama did, or the hand that holds the chakram as Vishnu and Krishna did. It speaks about the hand that holds the plough to furrow the land and the hand that holds the seeds to seed those furrows and the hand that ensures that the plants grow out of those furrows and nurses them till they yield fruits.

Do these toiling people know that the Bhagavad Gita, one of the Hindu texts, has a philosophy which is the exact opposite? Do they know that the text also speaks its philosophy in one poetic stanza, but what is that philosophical stanza? 'You have the right to work but not to the fruits.' I too would not have understood the meaning of this stanza if a foreigner had not translated the Gita into English. It is our people's misfortune that the priest who extract dakshina from them on every occasion that he visits them, never tells them about this sentence contained in the philosophy of the Other. It establishes an ideology which says that our masses must work, but they must not aspire to enjoy the fruits of that work. Where ought those fruits to go? The Hindu system established a network of institutions to siphon the fruits
of people's work into Hindu families who treat the work as mean and dirty. Apart from the institution of priests that extracts the fruits of Dalitbahujan work without even letting the masses come in touch with the divine spirit, there is that institution of vaisya vyaapaaram (Baniya business) that must be undertaken only by the Baniyas. It is through this institution of vaisya vyaapaaram that the labour of the Dalitbahujans gets exploited."

Rahul Banerjee said...

Ofcourse the verse is brahminical when read as part of the Gita!! That is why i entered the caveat that it should be read alone without the dubious baggage of the rest of the Gita which says that the fruits of work should be dedicated to God. Nice interpretation by Ilaiah. Actually, the verse has provided me with a lot of strength in the days when i was a spritual practitioner so i still retain a fondness for it. Similarly the ishopanishad verse is also brahminical but once again i love it immensely. There are many verses in the vedas, the nasadiya sukta of the rig veda for example, which are gems when read alone. So even when trashing the vedas, gita etc generally, i prefer to reinterpret and rework these gems in an atheistic anarchist form!!

Rahul Banerjee said...

Incidentally if you read the whole post you will see that my faithlessness is based more on the philosophy of Sartre, Camus, Diogenes and Epicurus and not on this verse which i have only reinterpreted!!

Rahul Banerjee said...

Finally as my wife Subhadra never fails to remind me a brahmin man will never cease to be brahminical and patriarchal. Thus, despite having read and appreciated rosa luxemburg, simone de beauvoir, angela davis and gerda lerner i dont mention any of them in this post and only quote men!!

Rahul Banerjee said...

Therefore, more important than critiqueing this post of mine for its inherent brahminism, is to critique it for its inherent patriarchy!! Anyway thanks for taking the trouble to read and critique the post.