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.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Modern Development Reaches the Interior

On a recent visit to Alirajpur, I succeeded in driving my 20 year old Maruti 800 all the way to Bhitada village on the banks of the River Narmada. Primarily because a macadamised road is now under construction to this village situated deep inside the Vindhya hill ranges bordering the Narmada and the cutting of the road has been completed upto the village while macadamisation has taken place till the village before it under the Prime Minister's Village Road Scheme. Accompanying me on this ride were two old comrades in arms, Roopsingh and Guthia, with whom I waged many a battle in the initial years in the 1980s and early 1990s for the rights of the Adivasis of Alirajpur and with whom I had earlier made the trips up hill and down dale to Bhitada on foot as that used to be the only means of reaching the village then. In Bhitada we met up with another old warhorse, Kahariya, and together we reached the Narmada River to take a photo of ourselves enjoying the fruits of modern development.
The river in Bhitada earlier had a distinctive character as there were rock outcrops over which it cascaded providing a natural ladder for a special breed of very tasty fish, Moini, to climb up. Bhitada was famous for this fish and the villagers used to catch it with bamboo traps called Murrhia, placed strategically in the channels that led to the rock outcrops. All that became history with the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam and the conversion of the flowing river into a reservoir. So the Moini fish vanished but other fish small and big and crocodiles are now flourishing in the river. On the way to Bhitada we had met a young man from Attha village who visited the village everyday to buy fish caught there and then sell it at a premium in his own village. He had purchased a huge fish of the carp variety weighing 16 kgs at a price of Rs 70 a kg which he would sell in Attha at Rs 100 a kg.
 We had gone to Bhitada mainly to see and photograph the traditional water harvesting system called Paat. This is a system in which the water from a stream is diverted through a wier on the side and then into a channel that has a lesser gradient than the stream itself. So after a distance of about a kilometer or so it is at a height compared to the stream and reaches the agricultural fields of the farmers as shown below.
The channel later has to negotiate gullies that come and connect with the stream and also scrape past sheer rock walls so extensive stone bunds have to be built to carry the channel across to the farms as shown below.
Thus, the paat system is a community run one in which all the households that are going to benefit from the water have contribute time and labour to keep it running. Earlier, this system, which uses gravity to channel the water to the farms and so is ecologically sustainable as there is no use of fossil fuel energy, used to be there in many villages in Alirajpur. However, with the supply of cheap subsidised electricity this system has fallen into disuse in other places and now is extant only in Bhitada where there is still no electricity. But with the road having reached Bhitada the time is not far when electricity will also and then the paat system here too will decay.
The purpose of this visit of mine to Alirajpur was to assess the community work done for soil and water conservation with funds provided by the organisation I4FARMERS. A few months back this organisation which consists of people residing in the United States of America who are keen on addressing the problems of agriculture generally and Indian Agriculture in particular, started a new programme of recognising the efforts of farmers in practising sustainable agriculture. As part of this Guthia and his wife Chagdi were selected for their exemplary work in soil and water conservation on their farm. However, since it is the policy of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath not to award its members individually as whatever they have achieved would not be possible without the support of the KMCS and the Adivasi community, so the award money was spent on doin community soil and water conservation work. As part of this a team of ten households worked together on each other's farms for ten days constructing stone bunds to conserve soil. Guthia and Chagdi used their turn to reinforce one such mega sized bund they had constructed earlier. This bund due to its size needs to be reinforced every year with more stone bunding prior to the rains as shown below.
 However, the tragedy is that their paat is no more. The river flowing through Attha village, Kara, is a perennial one because of the extensive soil, water and forest conservation work that has been done by the KMCS members over the past three decades. Earlier, the farmers used to draw water from the river through the paat. But now since cheap subsidised electricity is available they instead draw water with electric pumps. The farmers have dug temporary wells into the river bed into which they sink their submersible pumps and draw huge amounts of water for flood irrigation throughout the year. So the flow of the surface water in the river has reduced to a trickle not sufficient for diversion into a paat channel. Guthia and the other farmers of course are very pleased as he now cultivates throughout the year and not really concerned about the much higher use of fossil fuel energy that this involves. Anyway since soil conservation still is a labour intensive activity on these hilly farms that work at least is still being done by this community and some other families also took part in making new bunds on their farms.
The whole vista in these villages has changed dramatically due to yet another development scheme of the Government. The Prime Minister's and the Chief Minister's Residence Scheme under which beneficiaries are given grants of one and a half lakh rupees to build brick and concrete houses. One village Gendra, on the way from Attha to Bhitada has become unrecognisable as the road there is lined with a series of pucca brick and concrete buildings where it used to be dotted with the traditional wooden tiled roof huts which have vanished.
One of the young boys of the village was getting married and in this too the impact of modern technology was visible. Earlier in such marriages the traditional drums and pipes used to be played without any amplification whatsoever. But now new electronic high decibel music systems have come into vogue and they blare their stuff throughout the night to which their frenzied dancing and then the bridegroom's party packs itself into a series of motor vehicles and goes off for the marriage to the bride's village instead of going by foot as was the custom earlier.
Two wheelers and four wheelers have become common currency in the area. I still remember that in the 1980s we had to get our wheat milled into flour in the market village of Umrali and then walk 16 kilometers up hill and down dale to reach our village with the load as in the villages there were only hand milling stones. Sometimes when our flour ran out we had to mill our flour by hand!! The people of Bhitada are greatly thrilled that the macadamised road to their village will become a reality within a few months. There are already two farmers who have bought four wheelers which carry the villagers and their produce to market. They are eagerly waiting for electricity to arrive. Thus, the ecological footprint of these simple farmers has shot up considerably with modern development having come to their villages finally after all these years.
Fossil fuel energy certainly increases productivity and makes life easier and so is always welcomed. However, it is possible to produce energy sustainably in a decentralised manner also. Unfortunately our highly centralised systems controlled by powerful corporations provide subsidies for centralised production of energy and externalise its social and environmental costs instead of promoting decentralised and sustainable production of energy. So three decades of community work in sustainable development by the KMCS stands sidelined due to the aggressive push of centralised energy and transport systems into this once remote area that has seen exemplary soil, water and forest conservation work.

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