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, December 24, 2018

The Lust for Life

Long years ago I made a tryst with destiny and arrived in Alirajpur district among the Bhil Adivasis to work as a grassroots activist to redeem the pledge!! The person who facilitated this was Khemraj Choudhary who had gone there in 1982 to work for the rights of the Bhil Adivasis and had already been beaten up by the Forest Department for doing so. Khemraj hails from a marginal farmer family in Rajasthan but pursued higher education and became a student activist while in college. After that he joined the Social Work and Research Centre, which has now become the Barefoot College, in Ajmer district of Rajasthan, as a social activist. He led campaigns against the enduring problem of caste oppression of Dalits while working for the Barefoot College. However, he wanted to take on greater challenges and so he left for Alirajpur because he had heard that the Bhil Adivasis living there were very oppressed. He began organising them to fight for their rights by living among them and doing farm and labour work. That's when I met him when I reached the Barefoot College in search of my mission and after hearing his description of the work he was doing decided to tag along with him and that is how my life among the Adivasis of western India was decided.
Khemraj moved out of Alirajpur in the late 1980s deciding to return to his village in Chittor and starting work there among the Adivasis who worked as labourers in the stone quarries. Since then he has taken up many a struggle of the Adivasis and Dalits in Chittor district including the famous Khat Campaign. The casteist oppression was such in the rural areas that Adivasis and Dalits could not sit on their cots in front of their houses and had to take off their shoes when they passed in front of the houses of the dominant castes. So Khemraj launched a mass movement to stop these abhorrent practices which was very successful.
Last month Subhadra and I went to Chittor to hold one of our reproductive health camps in Khemraj's area of work and that is how I met him again face to face after more than a decade. Things had changed for the worse in the meanwhile. A few months back he was diagnosed with colon cancer which had metastasised onto his liver. Luckily immediate chemotherapy has resulted in the cancer being contained and he is in good spirits again. However, the ravages of the chemotherapy are there to be seen and he has lost his earlier strength. Yet he continues even at the advanced age of 65 to go on his daily morning walk followed by the rounds of the villages to distribute clothes and money to destitute families like a real life Santa Claus. He has not only spent his whole adult life fighting for the rights of under privileged people but is now running a hostel for Adivasi and Dalit girls to educate them and prevent them from getting married as child marriage is rampant in Rajasthan.
However, our close encounters with the village scene in the course of organising the reproductive health camp showed to what extent people like Khemraj and activists in general are marginalised given the huge barriers to justice and equality in the society and the economy. Try as we might we could not get a gynaecologist for our health camp. All the gynaecologists in the town of Chittor area engaged in private practice including the ones serving in Government hospitals. They are busy in doing caesarian sections to deliver babies or in in vitro fertilisation to make it possible for childless couples to have babies. Eventually we had to rope in a general practitioner lady doctor who had some gynaecological experience and somehow hold the camp. Casteism too is rampant as the laboratory staff who came to collect the samples refused to eat in the Bhil Adivasi home in which we had organised the camp saying that he would be ostracised by his caste if he did so. As is usual, the camp revealed that the women are mostly anaemic and suffering from various gynaecological problems. What is even more disturbing is that a large number of women tested positive for chronic typhoid. The women go to private quacks and get a few tablets and injections which do not solve their problems apart from giving them temporary relief. Thus, casteism, patriarchy and class rule all combine to keep the Adivasis and Dalits downtrodden and Khemraj's and my life long missions haven't made much of a difference.
Khemraj soldiers on regardless. He said he had initially been very depressed to learn that he had cancer. However, the huge support that he got in the form of friends coming to help him with the treatment and other contributing financially, which resulted in the cancer abating fast has filled him with greater energy to carry on he says. When in college I had read the book "Lust for Life" written by Irving Stone on the life and work of the Dutch post impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh had battled mental problems to live life to the full and paint some exhilarating pictures like the famous one below that even today light up our lives. Khemraj too displays a similar lust for life

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