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, November 24, 2017

Love, Death and Dhokha

The interaction between modernity and the Bhil Adivasis has not been a very happy one historically. Even though over the years, with the broadening of the reach of liberal democracy and the market in India and the benefits of affirmative action, things have improved to some extent for some of the Adivasis, the large majority continue to eke out a very precarious existence on the margins.  Two stories that unfolded over the past few months underline this.
The first story is about a young boy and girl who are studying in class twelve. Their parents had sent them, when they were very young, to study in a government residential co-education school in Ratlam district. The boy was a Barela Adivasi from Dewas district and the girl a Bhil Adivasi from Jhabua district. This particular school is famous because it offers fairly good education as compared to other government schools and is free. Many of its students have later landed good government jobs and so it is sought after. The parents of the boy and girl too thought their wards would go on to make good in life and so put them in this school even though it was far away from their homes. However, the boy and girl, who were studying in the same class, fell in love and decided to bunk school and elope.
Then all hell broke loose. The Bhils of Jhabua have a long standing custom that if a boy elopes with a girl then his family has to pay a hefty penalty to the girl's family many times the customary bride price. Over the years the bride price in Jhabua has increased tremendously as the Adivasis migrate to Gujarat to work as construction labourers and sharecroppers and earn in lakhs of rupees annually. The girl's father complained to the police and registered a criminal case against the boy of having abducted and raped his daughter. As both the girl and the boy were minors, the case went to the juvenile court. The boy's father came to know only after the police from Jhabua came searching in his village with the police from the local police station. The boy and the girl were living in Indore, meanwhile working as construction labourers. The father of the boy then went searching along with the police and handed over the boy and the girl to the latter. The boy was sent to a children's remand home after being produced in the juvenile court and the girl was sent to her father's home.
The father of the girl then placed a demand of Rs 5 lakhs with the father of the boy as a combination of penalty and bride price to settle the case. The father of the boy said that the bride price in Dewas in his community was only Rs 12,000 and he would at the most pay a penalty of Rs 8,000. All this was going on via phone as neither of the parents dared to visit each other fearing violence. Given the wide gap between the demand and the payment proposition obviously no agreement could be reached. The father of the girl then threatened to make his daughter give evidence against the boy and have him convicted. However, this was complicated by the fact that the girl once again ran away and phoned the boy to meet her in Indore and then they once again began to live together and work as construction workers. The father of the boy then became a little more intransigent and told the father of the girl that he could do what he wanted but there was no question of paying lakhs of rupees to him.
This is when I came into the scene. The father of the girl approached Lakshman Singh who is an activist with the Lok Jagriti Manch in Jhabua to resolve the issue and he got in touch with me over phone asking me to intervene in the matter since the boy's father was a member of the Adivasi Morcha Sangathan in Dewas with which I am associated. I told him I would have to get the details before I could be of any help. Once I got the details it became clear to me that the dispute was with regard to the money to be given as bride price cum penalty. I told Lakshman that the matter could be settled only if the girl's father agreed to the much lower bride price cum penalty of around Rs 20,000 or so which was a just amount and there was no way in which lakhs of rupees could be paid. I also told him that since the matter was a sensitive one in which the complaint was that a minor girl had been abducted and raped there was no way in which we could formally intervene and it should be resolved between the girl's father and boy's father and the boy and girl. Finally after a lot of heated exchanges between the boy's father and girl's father over the phone over a few weeks, the matter was resolved with the girl denying her complaint in court and the boy was acquitted. The boy's father, still fearing violence from the girl's family, did not visit Jhabua and sent the boy with Rs 15,000 to settle the matter!!! The girl going against her father and wishing to live with the boy turned the scales in the latter's favour.
The above story was about love, which is a major aspect of Bhil Adivasi culture, and the Dhokha or betrayal is by the modern economic and legal systems which create distortions in how this love plays out in reality. Adivasis traditionally marry once they reach adolescence, though with modern education there has been a brake on this as boys and girls who are pursuing their studies, delay getting married. Not always though as in the present case. The boy and girl in this case are still pursuing their studies and will give their twelfth board examination this year but they decided to take time off to elope in the meanwhile and are now living together after a small interlude of forced separation. There are many such cases where the girls' families, influenced by market forces, demand huge sums of money as bride price cum penalty and file police cases to force the boy's family to pay up. The boy lands up in the children's remand home, being a minor and eventually in most cases the matter is resolved with an agreement about the bride price cum penalty. In only a very few cases is the relationship broken up. If it had not been for the market forces making them greedy, the Bhil Adivasis in Jhabua would not have used the legal system to try and extort money from the boys' families.
The next story is about an unnatural death and once again betrayal by the modern system. A woman who is an active member of the Adivasi Shakti Sangathan  was bitten by a poisonous snake in her home. This snake had been there in her home for the past week or so eating the chicken that she was raising. Instead of killing the snake, the woman and her husband used to place incense sticks before its hole and ask it to leave!! Obviously it did not leave and one morning it bit the woman while she was giving feed to the chicken which were covered in a basket.
The woman raised a hue and cry and immediately her husband and neighbours came and killed the snake and then took her to a traditional medicine man. The medicine man said that he would not be able to treat her and she was rushed to the government community health centre in Udainagar nearby. There was no anti snake venom injection in stock in the health centre and none were available in any of the many drug stores nearby. The doctor at the health centre referred to the woman to the bigger hospital in Indore. However, the woman died while in transit to Indore which is about 50 kms away.
The Udainagar area is a snake prone area and there are quite a few cases of snake bites with some of them being of lethal snakes like cobras and kraits. Our farm in Pandutalav also has quite a few snakes which surface from time to time and we have had to kill a few of the more dangerous kind. In this case the woman and her husband decided not to kill the snake or chase it away and instead relied on beseeching it with incense sticks. Eventually, when the snake bit her the woman could not be saved because the people did not know the basics of first aid in case of snake bite, which involves tying a tight tourniquet above the bite to prevent the venomous blood from circulating and making an incision on the bite to suck the blood out using the anus of a chicken. Secondly the government health system and the private drug stores do not stock anti snake venom despite the area being prone to snake bite deaths. Thus, once again there is a betrayal by the modern system of the poor Adivasis. The market will obviously not provide for the Adivasis who do not have the money to pay for its services and so in the absence of proper public health services which do not cover even basic medical problems, let alone specialised ones like snake bites, the Adivasis are left to their own devices.
There are two NGOs working in the area. One is ours and another is a fairly big one. Both these NGOs do health work and spread awareness of the procedures to be adopted in medical emergencies. Yet the woman could not be saved.

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