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, March 5, 2018

Honest and Trustworthy

Ramaswamy and I took a ferry across the River Hooghly from Babughat in Kolkata to the directly opposite jetty of Ramkrishnapur in Howrah one afternoon recently. Our destination was the Talimi Haq School run by the NGO, Howrah City Pilot Project, that Ramaswamy had set up way back in 1998 along with a few other activists. Ramaswamy and I were fast friends in school and many are the times when we had been caught making mischief together and got six of the best on our bottoms from our teachers. We lost touch when he left the school after class seven but by serendipity we met again in the late 1980s when I went to the NGO Unnayan which was working on housing rights in Kolkata and found him working there. So our friendship renewed and I am especially indebted to him for having started me blogging. The powerful medium of my blog has helped me to spread the stories and struggles of the Bhil Adivasis far and wide in India and abroad. The other day someone told me that in a discussion on Indian anarchism, my blog was quoted as being one of the best places to learn about anarchist thought and action. Now that is something!!!
Anyway this post is not about Ramaswamy and I but about a truly inspiring personality who is currently running the Talimi Haq School or School for the right to education (THS).  The Howrah City Pilot Project was set up with the aim of rejuvenating the decaying slum areas in Howrah which were facing the brunt of the deindustrialisation taking place there as Jute Mills and foundries were closing down from the late 1980s onwards. As part of this the Talimi Haq School was set up primarily to provide educational and vocational training to the children resident in these slums and later it became a centre for vocational training for women also. From the beginning this organisation has run on a shoestring remaining true to its activist roots. The person who runs this school and has been associated with it right from its inception when she was in her teens, is Amina Khatun sitting in pink salwar kurta in the picture below.
I had heard a lot about her from Ramaswamy but that afternoon meeting her for the first time I realised why the THS is such a great institution. The school runs from 9 in the morning till 9 in the night as children, adolescent girls and women come in batch after batch throughout the day to learn and train and Amina is there all the time. Amina is so dedicated to her work that she has never married because she says that most men are no better than cats and dogs interested in only the bodies of women and not their minds, especially a militant feminist mind!! She stays in a mezzanine floor below the THS, which itself is on the first floor and the room she stays in just 6 feet by 4 feet by 4 feet in height. Her room has been named by Ramaswamy as the Kabutarkhana or pigeonhole!!
Amina is primarily an activist who has taken up many causes for the rights of the women and children of the slum in which the THS is situated - Priya Manna Basti. She said that currently with the Mills having closed down, the latest was the Howrah Jute Mill which was just across the road and the gentrification of the whole area as rich people from Kolkata have moved in, employment opportunities have gone down substantially. So most women are doing domestic help work for these richer households and the men are either driving rickshaws or working as loaders or construction workers and many of the younger ones are into crime. In her lengthy career Amina has also been a crime reporter for an Urdu paper for sometime but later found it too demanding to do both social work and journalism together and so chose to concentrate on the THS full time. However, her crime reporting brought her in contact with police officers and finally that seems to have helped.
There is a piece of land in Priya Manna Basti whose owner bequeathed it to the Howrah City Pilot Project so that it could build a proper center for the THS. But the men of the locality objected to this and laid claim to the land and went to court. However, in the end they could not prove their claims and so the land legally belongs to the HCPP. Nevertheless, the men continued to oppose the transfer of the land to HCPP and on one occasion assembled a thousand strong crowd to eject HCPP from even the rented accommodation in the basti. Amina stood her ground and gave her standard challenge that if there was any real man in the crowd and not just cats and dogs then they should come and throw her out. The crowd backed down and so the THS is still running. Now one of the officers who once used to know Amina as a crime reporter has become a high level police official of the area and he came to the office of THS one day. He phoned beforehand to say he was coming and Amina hurriedly rented two sofas from a tent house nearby to make arrangements to seat the high level policeman and his entourage. The officer came and saw the school and was impressed by the infrastructure and the training (the school has a complement of ten computers for training the women in software). He said that the school should be in bigger premises if it was to be more effective. So then Amina told him about the land problem. He immediately took it up, saw the papers, and is now working with the administration to see that possession of the land is given to HCPP and a proper school building is constructed on it. Activism does pay sometimes.
Amina and her assistant Vinod are the full timers who are running the school on pittances of salary, to the extent that Amina donated a substantial part of a fellowship that she once got to the school. Amina in Arabic means honest and trustworthy and this is what this fiery feminist is. Soldiering on valiantly to bring some sanity into the devastation that is being wrought among poor communities by capitalist development.

1 comment:

Varadarajan Seshamani said...

Wonderful to come across a note on one of the good people that exist everywhere, but are not written about.