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, May 18, 2020

Invisible Labour

The passing of ordinances by a few states suspending the operation of labour laws in the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic has led to a hue and cry. However, except for permanent employees in Government enterprises and departments and in a few private establishments, labour laws are only there on paper for 98% of the industrial and service sector workforce in this country who are contractually employed. This is because these workers are invisible. They are not there on the official rolls of either the principal employers or the contractors and sub-contractors. The moment workers are registered officially, even if they are contract workers, they become eligible for various benefits under the labour laws which pushes up the cost of labour for the employers substantially. Beginning with having to pay statutory minimum wages, the employers have to provide provident fund contributions, health insurance, transport and housing allowances. They also have to ensure proper working conditions as per the provisions of the Factories Act which too have a cost.
The Prayas Centre for Labour Research and Action, in Ahmedabad, which along with its sister organisation, Majoor Adhikar Manch, works for the rights of workers in Gujarat, conducted a survey of workers in the industrial areas in Kadi and Kalol talukas near Ahmedabad. The results of the survey reveal that -
i. The firms in which the respondents of the survey work are mostly doing fairly well as far as growth in income, profit after tax and balance sheet is concerned but they are not giving the benefit of this growth to their workers in the form of fair wages and other facilities.
ii. Most of the workers are not being paid minimum wages, given statutory benefits.
iii. Most of the workers are employed on contract either by the company itself or by contractors without any formal agreement.
iv. Union formation is actively discouraged by the employers and the administration and police side with the management in cases of strikes. So, there is considerable fear among the respondents that their jobs will be taken away if they organise. This is despite the fact that they are aware that they are being exploited by being given almost half the wages as compared to what they need to lead a dignified life.
v. Women are mostly in packaging jobs and are paid less than men. They do not get maternity leave and other statutory gender benefits.
Thus, Arvind Mills, which is an internationally renowned large textile company with its plant in Santej in the Kalol industrial area in Gujarat near Ahmedabad with annual income in 2019 of Rs 6645 crores and a profit after tax of Rs 199 crores, officially reported that it has 7486 employees but in reality it employs more than 15000. A substantial number of those on the official rolls are mostly managerial and accounts staff who are crucial to the running of the factory and the company. The workers on the shop floor are on its unofficial rolls without any official agreement even though they have worked for more than a decade and so are not officially declared as its employees. There was a strike in 2015 at the Santej factory against the heavy work load for the employees and the low wages they were being paid in violation of the statutory minimum wage norms. The strike was resolved with an agreement to reduce the workload and increase wages. However, once work started again, the workers who led the strike were dismissed and the agreement dishonoured. These workers are fighting cases against their dismissal in the labour court while the workers who are still employed are labouring as before under adverse working conditions and being paid low wages.  This is the case with many other big companies like Hitachi, Torrent, Adani etc which have their plants in this area. This is the situation throughout the country.
This invisibility increases even more with the migrant labourers. They are kept in colonies within the factory premises and they are not allowed to mingle with the local population. Thus, the CLRA and MAM activists found it near impossible to talk to these workers. The migrant labourers have been brought in, not because there is a shortage of local labourers, but because they are prepared to work for lower wages and are unlikely to unionise given their lack of local roots. Thus, the huge migrant labour work force which according to some estimates is around 100 million across India is strategically used by the employers to keep wages depressed. A right to information application filed with the government labour department for data on the workers employed in the area drew a blank response as the department said that they do not have any records since the industrial establishments were not filing the reports that they are mandated to do under various laws. Even though the laws empower the government to regulate the employers so as to ensure that the rights of workers are not compromised yet such is the power of the employers that the labour department does not carry out its responsibilities. 
This is what Marx had described as primitive accumulation. The blatant exploitation of labour in the early phase of capitalist development when not much skills were required to run the machines and there were a huge number of serfs being displaced from agriculture. While later the advance in technology required skilled labour and they were able to unionise to get many labour rights, further advancement in technology has meant that the number of skilled workers required has gone down drastically and the workers required for other ancillary activities can be employed on contract. This has resulted in the bottom falling out of worker's unions and they have become powerless. So only a very few workers are in official employment in accordance with labour laws and a huge number are on contract and invisible. 
The imposition of the lockdown immediately jeopardised the livelihoods of all these contract workers. The employers could easily see that their cash flows would be stopped while even in lockdown many expenses would continue and so they not only stopped paying this vast contract work force but also did not pay their pending wages to conserve their resources. They do not give a fig for the workers in normal course so it is only to be expected that they will care even less for their plight in a situation of lockdown. Neither are Governments, either at the Centre or the States concerned because they too have been colluding with the employers to promote primitive accumulation. The Governments' cash flows too have been adversely affected as a consequence of the lockdown and so they too are least interested in providing for the workers. 
The migrant workers have become visible because they have started going back to their homes but the much larger local work force still remains invisible and in dire straits. They too are hungry and penniless but since they are at home they are not visible to the world at large nobody is bothered about them. So even though Governments have now begun to do a little bit for the migrant labour because they have become visible, they are still mum about the rest of the work force. 
In the wake of the suffering of the migrants trying to return,  many people have asked why they were not better provided for? But no one is asking why the much larger local labour force is not being better provided for. The answer is that neither the employers nor the government are bothered to provide for labour whether migrant or local as any show of sympathy will hike up labour costs in future and hinder primitive accumulation. There is no shortage of labour and so if some of them suffer and die it wont affect the labour supply as others, who are impoverished will replace them. 
This government, like earlier governments since independence has shown scant regard for the poor whether in rural areas or in urban areas. Even the MGNREGS which is hailed as the world's largest employment programme has from the beginning been under funded. It just provides the minimum required to keep people above starvation. That has been the bottom line for governments in this country - keep people from starving but don't give them too much that the cost of labour goes up. Therefore, the lockdown has not been badly managed as the bleeding hearts are saying, it has on the contrary been perfectly managed to ensure that favourable conditions for primitive accumulation continue to prevail. 

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Terror of the Law

A matter of grave concern is that human rights activists and journalists are now being  arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and civil liberties are being blatantly suppressed. All the three arms of the state - the legislature, the executive and the judiciary are bent on persisting with this draconian statute and so the protests against its misuse are not making any headway.
Terrorism is currently the biggest bogey word for global capitalism and has been for quite some time. Any armed struggle against a capitalist state, all states have been openly capitalist now since the disintegration of the USSR in 1991, is deemed to be a terrorist activity and can be suppressed using draconian laws that violate the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression, equality and of life and liberty. Most states have such draconian laws and India is no exception. Legitimacy for these draconian laws are derived from resolutions passed from time to time for the suppression of terrorism by the United Nations Security Council. So India too has the draconian UAPA which was initially enacted in 1967 but has been amended since in 2004, 2008, 2013 and most recently in 2019 to make it one of the most violative of the United Nations Universal Charter of Human Rights.
The main provisions are as follows -
1. Organisations and Individuals can be notified as unlawful and terrorist and their names put in a schedule and any persons associated with them are culpable. Even corresponding with them is an offence. If the names of persons are mentioned in the correspondence of these organisations and individuals then they too become culpable.
2. Apart from such activities as counterfeiting, bombing, murdering etc which are patently terrorist acts even rioting, inciting and spreading violence, enmity and religious disharmony are also considered to be unlawful activities.
3. Anticipatory bail is not available to the accused.
4. The quality of evidence required to incriminate people is not required to be of a high standard even if they may not stand scrutiny during trial. Such evidence is to be prima facie considered to be enough to arrest a person and then to deny her bail.
These provisions have been made to ensure that those accused of terrorism can be kept incarcerated for a long time.

However, the UAPA provides the executive with a handy tool to suppress legitimate democratic dissent also because any flimsy evidence can be concocted to implicate a protester even if she is not involved in terrorist activity. The bogey of terrorist violence makes the courts also acquiesce with this instead of making a distinction between democratic protests and terrorist activities. The fear of the courts, which has been expressed in many judgements on the issue, is that making such a distinction would dilute the stringency of the law and prevent its effective use against terrorists.
The spotlight came on this misuse of the UAPA when eleven people were arraigned under this Act for the violence that followed the Dalit celebration at Bhima Koregaon on January 2nd 2018. The police after investigations, instead of arraigning the Savarnas who had started the violence instead came up with the charge that the Maoists, who are engaged in an armed struggle to overthrow the state and are a banned organisation under the UAPA, had planned the violence. The police submitted a trail of emails to implicate eleven people across the country including lawyers and human rights activists, who they said were urban naxals who provided over ground support to the Maoists. Despite it being pointed out that the emails that have been purported to have been recovered from the computers of the accused do not have proper headers and addresses and so won't stand scrutiny during trial, the courts right up to the Supreme Court have refused to intervene either to quash these cases or to at least give bail, saying that the provisions of the UAPA are such that any evidence is to be prima facie accepted and can only be contested during trial. The submission of the accused activists, that support for an ideology without active involvement in waging a war against the state cannot be considered to be terrorist activity, has not found any resonance with the judges.
This effectively means that like in the case of earlier UAPA accused, these people will also have to spend anything from four to ten years in prison before being acquitted due to the bad quality of evidence. To date the conviction rate under this Act is less than 1% but invariably it takes a long time for the cases to be disposed mainly due to the dillydallying by the prosecution. After the Bhima Koregaon activists, those of the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti in Assam were incarcerated under the UAPA and then a few days ago three people associated with the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Bill in Delhi and three journalists in Kashmir have been implicated under UAPA. In all these cases in addition to various sections of the Indian Penal Code, the UAPA has also been slapped on the accused just to create an atmosphere of fear and dissuade others from protesting. This is a dangerous trend because the state can easily incarcerate protesters for long periods of time and thus kill all protests.
What is very disappointing is that the Supreme Court has refused to intervene to stop this blatant misuse of the law on the specious plea that any reading down of the provisions on bail would reduce its utility to fight terrorism and political armed insurgency. This terror of a law now hangs like a Damocles' sword on rights activists in this country.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Fighting for Habitat Rights in Abujhmarh

Naresh Biswas, a tribal rights activist who has been fighting for the grant of habitat rights to the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups under the Forest Rights Act writes about the obstacles to the process in Abujhmarh in south Chhattisgarh -
Abujhmarh in the extreme south of the state of Chhattisgarh has a unique geography of dense forests in a hilly area crisscrossed by rivers. Peopled by the Maria Adivasis it has become notorious as the stronghold of the Maoists who are conducting an armed struggle against the Indian State. These days Abujhmarh is in the news again as the Maria Adivasis, who are classified as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), are preparing to claim Habitat Rights under the provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act 2006. The statute, which is popularly known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA) in section 3 (1)(e), provides as follows - "In view of the differential vulnerability of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups among the forest dwellers, the District Level Committee should play a pro-active role in ensuring that all PVTGs receive habitat rights in consultation with the concerned PVTGs’ traditional institutions of these groups, after filing claims before the gram sabha.” Thus, in addition to individual and community rights, the PVTGs can claim habitat rights to a contiguous area they have been residing in for generations.
The first meeting in this regard was held on 23rd June 2019 in Narayanpur which is one of the district headquarters in the Abujhmarh area which is spread over the three districts of Narayanpur, Dantewara and Bijapur in the South Bastar region. I was also present in the meeting. I had been invited to speak about the process that had been adopted by the Baiga Adivasis in Dindori district who had successfully claimed the Habitat Rights for their area for the first time in the country as is detailed here. This was a civil society initiative and so the Narayanpur district administration did not give it any importance. However, later I had a discussion with the district administration on 7th August 2019 and after that a workshop on Habitat Rights was organised on 27th August 2019 in which the members of the District Level Forest Rights Committee and the Subdivisional Level Forest Rights Committees participated. A consultation followed on 14th September 2019 with the traditional Mukhia Majhis, Gaytas and Patels of the Abujhmaria Adivasis under the provisions of the FRA for habitat rights organised by the District Level Forest Rights Committee. I too was present in this consultation in which the Abujhmaria Adivasis passed a resolution to claim habitat rights.

The process of documentation, mapping and filing of claims for habitat rights was taken forward after this consultation by the district administration in association with the Abujhmaria Adivasi community. However, five months after this process had started suddenly the Maoists opposed this it. The Marh Divisional Committee of the Maoists published three pamphlets in Marhi and Hindi languages opposing the process of claiming Habitat Rights. They said that this was a fraud being committed by the Government to give the Adivasis only one or two acres and the rest would be given to capitalists to set up industries. This was a gross distortion of the provisions of the FRA which if properly implemented would give Maria Adivasis the habitat rights to the whole Abujhmarh area which covers 3905 square kilometers across 237 villages in 37 Gram Panchayats. This area has never been surveyed and so is not there in either the revenue or the forest department records.
The opposition to the Maria Adivasis claim to habitat rights over the whole of Abujhmarh comes not only from the Maoists but also local political leaders and the district administration. These latter want that the Adivasis should be given individual land holding rights and a process of mapping through satellite imagery has been started by IIT Roorkee to this end. These leaders who are not Maria Adivasis had to stop their demand for individual rights after the Abujhmaria Adivasis expressed their desire to claim habitat rights to the whole of Abujhmarh instead. Currently the Abujhmarias use their land under the direction of their traditional community leaders and so they are apprehensive of the process initiated by the Chhattisgarh Government on 30th August 2019 of declaring the whole of Abujhmarh a revenue area and giving individual and community rights to the Adivasis instead of habitat rights as is their right under FRA. Once the area becomes recorded as revenue land then its sale and purchase and transfer for industrial use will become possible and this is what the Government, local  non Maria Adivasi leaders and the district administration want.
The Abujhmarias, however want the area to be handed over to their traditional communities under habitat rights. The Abujhmarias practice slash and burn shifting cultivation which they call penda kheti. Because the area is hilly only about 1 percent of the land is suitable for settled agriculture and the rest is under shifting cultivation. The Government wants to put a stop to shifting cultivation and that is why it wants to settle the Abujhmarias in a permanent piece of land and claim the rest of the forests for itself. Since the population of the Abujhmarias is very low compared to the huge area of dense forests, their shifting cultivation does not affect it and instead it has been hailed as a very good means of maintaining the forests while also providing sustenance to the Adivasis. The Government of Madhya Pradesh had made a rule on 8th February 1991, before the state of Chhattisgarh was created in 2000, preventing entry of outsiders into Abujhmarh. Thus, even though there was not official survey of the area, the Abujhmarias had a clear idea of the extent of their traditional habitat. Thus, the state should assist the Abujhmaria Adivasis to prepare a map of their traditional habitat and grant them habitat rights in their area as per the provisions of the FRA.
The Ministry of Tribal Affairs (MoTA) Government of India had circulated guidelines for the implementation of habitat rights to the Governments of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha on 13th November 2014 but these Governments had ignored them and not done anything towards their implementation. These guidelines were sent again to the states by MoTA on 18th December 2019. A letter was also sent to the Chief Secretaries of all concerned states on 23rd April 2015 clarifying what was meant by habitat rights. A letter has also been sent to the Directors of the Tribal Research Institutes of all concerned states on 17th December 2019 asking them to provide research support for the implementation of habitat rights of PVTGs.
There are five PVTGs in Chhattisgarh. Apart from the Abujhmarias, there are the Pahari Korbas, Birhors, Baigas, and Kamars. However, in the absence of a standard set of guidelines for implementation of habitat rights, the district administrations concerned have not initiated the process of granting them to these PVTGs. The MoTA has constituted an expert committee on 21st February 2020 to draw up guidelines for the implementation of habitat rights in a simple manner by the concerned district administration. The first meeting of this expert committee was held on 16th March 2020 in Delhi. A team of this expert committee is scheduled to visit Abujhmarh in the near future. Thus, the moment is ripe for the grant of habitat rights to the Abujhmarias. Even though the MoTA is keen on the implementation of habitat rights the state governments and district administrations are not showing any enthusiasm for this. So apart from the Baiga Adivasis of Madhya Pradesh none of the other PVTGs have got habitat rights yet. Both the Maoists and the Government should cooperate and assist the Abujhmarias to get their habitat rights and so continue to maintain their forests and their agriculture in their traditional manner.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Children of the Earth

I have spent three and a half decades in Madhya Pradesh and travelled throughout the state and yet had never visited the easternmost part where the Baiga Adivasis reside in Mandla and Dindori districts. There are three tribes categorised "Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups" (PVTG) in Madhya Pradesh - Baigas in Mandla and Dindori districts, Sahariyas in Sheopur district and Bharias in Chhindwara district. The PVTGs are those tribes people who are the most removed from the modern economy and culture and are living in their distinct world which can be easily ravaged by unmoderated contact with the mainstream economy and culture. There are special provisions for these people. Therefore, when my friend Naresh Biswas, invited my wife Subhadra and I as resource persons to a training workshop among the Baiga Adivasis in Dindori we seized the opportunity to visit the area for the first time.
The eastern part of Madhya Pradesh also happens to be the source of India's longest west flowing and only non-Himalayan perennial river, the great Narmada. I have spent so much time by the banks of the Narmada in Alirajpur but apart from a brief visit to Amarkantak where it originates I have not seen the river in its upper stretches above Jabalpur. So along with the meeting with the Baigas we also relished the privilege of seeing and swimming in the Narmada. Even though I used to swim a lot in the Narmada at one time, ever since it has been dammed by the Sardar Sarovar dam it has become heavily populated with crocodiles and so one can't swim in the river in Alirajpur anymore where it has become a big reservoir. Therefore, the prospect of swimming in the river was an added attraction. The first sighting of the river was five kilometers downstream of Dindori where we had to cross it and it was somewhat of a shock as naturally the river was very narrow as opposed to the broad swath that we are used to in Alirajpur.
The flow in the river was less for the time of the year. Primarily because a lot of deforestation has taken place in the catchment over the years and the withdrawal of groundwater and surface water for agriculture has increased. With modern satellite imagery and computer models along with data of velocity, rainfall, evapo-transpiration, agricultural production, soil type, terrain, underlying hydro-geology and water extraction it is possible to fairly accurately determine the flow in the river. However, this data is mostly not there and what there is regarding the flow in the river is classified and not available to ordinary citizens. So there is no information in the public domain about the actual flow in the River Narmada as it is  kept secret by the Central Water Commission and the Narmada Control Authority.
Anyway we reached Dindori which is a small town of about 25000 people on the 18th of March. By this time the Covid 19 virus had made its presence felt in India with the first death having occurred in Karnataka on 13th March. So advisory had been given not to hold any gatherings. The workshop that we had gone to attend was to be held in a government agricultural research cum training centre. Thus, even though the workshop had been planned and permission got for it much earlier nevertheless it should have been called off. But since another training of the centre was going on, the principal of the centre allowed this workshop of Naresh's also to take place. So in those early days there was no social distancing practiced. However, Dindori is still safe even today without any cases even though our own city Indore is now a national hotspot with 200 cases.
I had been tasked with explaining global warming and its consequences to the Baiga farmers who had never heard of this before. So I did my best to try and explain the whole issue and ended up by saying that the Baigas being the children of the earth were doing everything right by using very little electricity and other forms of energy and also protecting the forests amidst which they reside. Apart from a few mobile phones and one or two motorcycles, the workshop participants had none of the energy guzzling appliances that we use. None of them had ever seen a laptop before participating in this workshop.
But why talk to the Baigas about global warming? Naresh Biswas has accomplished something unique. In the Scheduled Tribes and Other Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act 2006, which is popularly known as the Forest Rights Act, there is a special provision for PVTGs as follows -  "In view of the differential vulnerability of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups among the forest dwellers, the District Level Committee should play a pro-active role in ensuring that all PVTGs receive habitat rights in consultation with the concerned PVTGs’ traditional institutions of these groups, after filing claims before the gram sabha”. Since the PVTGs are in greater danger of being rendered destitute if their habitats are destroyed, this special provision has been made for them in addition to individual and community rights. Thus, while individual farmers can claim individual rights and village communities can claim community rights, an area of a set of villages where PVTGs reside and have resided for a long time can be claimed by these PVTGs as their habitat. Naresh Biswas along with the Baiga communities of Baiga Chak in Dindori initiated this process a few years back for the first time in India and after following the process of claims and verification involving the traditional Baiga community institutions and the administration, habitat rights were granted.
Even though Naresh had thereafter tried to replicate the process in other areas where PVTGs are living, notably in Bastar in Chhattisgarh, so far not much headway had been made. Now Naresh was trying to implement habitat rights in other areas of Dindori. This meeting was organised to initiate the process. In the meanwhile Naresh had decided that the contribution of the Baigas in mitigating climate change through their greater conservation of the forests after granting of habitat rights should also be highlighted. That is why this workshop was held to introduce the subject to the Baigas.

Baigas also practice sustainable agriculture. They do not use chemical fertilisers or high yielding varieties of hybrid seeds and neither do they use irrigation, relying completely on rainfed agriculture. In this way too they are champions in mitigating climate change. Subhadra had a discussion session with the participants explaining to them how their agriculture was very important in the context of global warming. Subhadra has taken a sample of her collection of indigenous seeds to compare with the seeds that the Baigas were sowing. A young scientist employed at the Government Research Centre also saw these seeds and was impressed. He asked for some of these seeds so that he too could grow them on the farm at the centre. Subhadra told him that he could get the seeds but he would have to pay Rs 650 for them. The scientist went to ask the principal and came back and said that the principal had said that Subhadra would have to make a formal request to the Centre and then that request would be processed in due course and the payment made after that but she would have to give the seeds then and there!! Subhadra obviously refused saying that if this is the bureaucratic way the centre works then it could continue to stew in its rot. In fact the training programme the centre was running for the farmers was on organic composting with the use of NADEP pits and vermi-compost pits. However, when we went to see the NADEP and vermi-compost pits we found them in disuse. This is the moribund state of  the Government Agricultural research and extension programme. The employees are wasting their time and public money and doing nothing. While people like Naresh, Subhadra and the Baigas who are actually doing worthwhile work in sustainable and equitable development are having to fend for themselves.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

We are All Fools

Which industry has seen phenomenal growth since World War 2? It is food. People have been encouraged to eat more and more as part of the general consumerist thrust to increase consumption. So the moment people's incomes have gone up they have begun consuming more food along with other things. The economy can grow only if we consume more. This is why we also have to eat more. Not just in quantity but also in variety. Our plates these days not only have more helpings but they also have more categories of food.
This is nowhere more so than in China. The phenomenal growth and prosperity that China has seen since the 1980s after it opened up its economy and became the world's manufacturing hub, have been accompanied with a corresponding increase in consumption. Not only that, China became the global hub for producing meat and exporting it and so huge meat farms were constructed. The Chinese always used to eat wild animals but the huge increase in prosperity led to an equally massive increase in the quantity and variety of wild animals that they consume.  Over a hundred varieties of wild animals are consumed by the Chinese. One adverse consequence of this over the past decade has been that virulent mutants of a virus that causes influenza, the corona virus, called zoonotic viruses, which reside in some of these wild animals like bats and pangolins, invade the humans who are eating their meat. Thus, there was the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus epidemic that originated in China and then spread around the world at the turn of the century killing 774 people. Then about a decade ago there was the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) zoonotic virus that originated from camels in Saudi Arabia. Another nation that had seen huge prosperity. Too much eating of camel meat resulted in the virus invading the humans and killing 858 people. Similarly, there was the Nipah virus, which comes from pigs, outbreak in 1999 in Malaysia which had a rerun in Kerala a couple of years back killing 20 odd people. A couple of years ago the zoonotic Ebola virus had a devastating run in western Africa killing 11,500 people. It is not only the rich who are eating more, even though, obviously they are consuming more than the less wealthy. So deeply has consumerism spread through society that even those with less money freak out once in a while on exotic and expensive food in the same way as almost everyone in society these days aspires to drive a motor car or stay in a luxury condominium. While it is difficult to do the latter, it is fairly easier to eat a one off exotic meal.
Another aspect of this emergence of China as the global manufacturing hub is that, cities have expanded displacing the rural people in its periphery and converting them into cheap labour in the same way as in the early years of capitalist development in England. A phenomenon that has been named by Marx as primitive accumulation as opposed to accumulation that takes place in established factories. The outsourcing of manufacturing work to China and other Asian and African countries is a manifestation of primitive accumulation as labour and other protective laws that prevent exploitation of workers are absent. These are the people who also work in the wet markets catching the wild animals and then selling their meat.
This transmission of these zoonotic viruses from animals to humans followed by human to human spread resulting in high fatalities did not disturb humans very much as they were quickly isolated and did not overly affect the developed economies of the west. So humans continued on their wayward ways increasing their consumption of wild animals, especially in China. Consequently, nature struck again. In November 2019 another mutant of the corona virus, which has now been named SARS Cov 2 and the disease as COVID 19 by the World Health Organisation (WHO), spread to humans in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province in Central China. China is generally secretive about such things and so the matter was kept under wraps for more than a month till the disease got out of hand. Primarily because unlike the earlier zoonotic viruses, COVID 19 is highly infectious like the original flu virus and also quite deceptive, remaining in the host without producing symptoms for long periods of time while the host went about infecting others. By the end of December 2019 matters had got out of hand in Wuhan and so China reported the matter to the WHO. Surprisingly, WHO instead of sending an expert team to Wuhan to assess the situation, accepted China's word that it had things under control and just recorded the information. The problem reached epidemic proportions by January end with huge increase in cases and deaths and so China locked down Hubei province which was the initial epicentre of the outbreak.
  The WHO, however, dithered. Even after China allowed its personnel to visit Wuhan and study the disease outbreak, it did not initially declare the situation to be a public health emergency of international concern. This despite the fact that cases of infection were being reported from all over the world by this time and it had become clear that the disease was much more infectious than those caused by the earlier zoonotic viruses even though its fatality rate was not as high as theirs. So even with a lower fatality rate, the immensely higher rate of infection would cause huge problems especially among the aged and those with comorbidities of other diseases like diabetes and heart malfunction, which too, incidentally, are related to over eating and consumerism. Finally, on January 31st 2020 the WHO did declare the COVID 19 crisis to be a public health emergency of international concern. International air travel began to be restricted and some screening and quarantining began to be done of air travellers at airports but since most passengers did not show any symptoms of the disease despite being infected they passed the screening test and went into their countries spreading the virus further. Despite clear indications that the disease had become an epidemic and was spreading fast throughout the globe, the WHO not only refused to declare it as such but on the contrary its Director General criticised people for spreading alarm and held meetings with Social Media platforms to curb posts that said that the virus would cause serious problems. Thus, Facebook set its algorithms to automatically censor any post with the words related to corona virus in them. Whereas the reality was that the virus was spreading across the globe surreptitiously very fast and by the end of February the number of new cases daily outside China had surpassed that in China.
The result of this dithering by the WHO was that mass congregations continued as usual in other countries and especially in Europe and the USA. The biggest mass congregations take place in sports events and especially football matches. Throughout the month of February the matches in various football leagues in Europe continued unabated with thousands of fans congregating in them and the virus had a field day surreptitiously propagating itself widely. Even though screening and quarantining of symptomatic cases was being done worldwide and so the overt spread of the disease was stalled for sometime, actually the disease was spreading very fast through the asymptomatic infected persons thus setting up the scene for a subsequent explosion. The WHO still advised against large scale travel and trade restrictions even though it upgraded the risk of global infections to very high from high.
The number of cases, deaths and the countries affected began to explode in the month of March and much belatedly the WHO finally declared the COVID 19 outbreak to be a pandemic on March 11th, a full one and a half months after China had locked down Hubei province. Governments across the world began stopping air travel and taking steps to prevent mass gatherings but by that time it had become too late and the asymptomatic infected people had spread far and wide and were beginning to display symptoms of the disease in a surge of new cases. Even the most developed country in the world, USA, is now staring at a scary 100,000 deaths by the time the virus has run its course. The main reason behind the WHO dilly dallying and Governments not taking more stringent measures to restrict air travel and trade is their fear that this would adversely affect the global economy and profit making. First consumerism is promoted to spur economic growth and when that has an adverse impact on nature and there is a corrective reaction from it, action to contain it is delayed for fear of impacting economic growth and profit making. A classic catch 22 situation if ever there was one. This is the vicious pathology of economic growth that has gripped human kind. Now the push back from nature in the form of the COVID 19 pandemic  has resulted in a steep decline in economic growth and a serious disruption of the global economy. Whereas, in earlier crises we had to contend mainly with demand recession, this time there will be disruption in both supply and demand as businesses will find it difficult to resume operations after a prolonged lockdown. Throughout the world the capitalists are clamouring for state bailouts as a result as they always do after becoming socialists in times of crises.
India too has been deficient in its response to the pandemic. Following, the global trend it too delayed the quarantining of foreign air travellers coming into the country and so the virus spread through the country and especially in the cities that had international airports like Mumbai, Kochi, Delhi, Ahmedabad and the like. So even though a stringent national lockdown was initiated from 25th March onwards, the disease is spreading continuously in a few hotspots in the country. Luckily most of the country is free from the virus and some areas like Kerala have succeeded in controlling its spread. Moreover, due to some unknown reason the level of infection and the death  rate in India are very low. Even though it has been argued that since the level of testing in India is low there is a possibility that many cases are going undetected, this may not necessarily be true.
The Worldometer data upto 19.4.20 midnight  for 26 countries which had more than 10000 cases (China is excluded because the testing data is not available for it) has been given in the scatter plot  below.

There is no clear relationship evident from the graph as the data points are scattered all over. The trend line that has been fitted shows an  inverse relationship that the more the testing done, the lesser is the case per test ratio or level of infection!! However, the level of fit of the trend line is very poor as it explains only 8.2% or the data. Thus, globally there is very little relationship between the level of testing and the level of infection and there is a small likelihood that with higher testing the the level of infection may show a decline.
Another saving grace seems to be that 80% of those who test positive for the virus are asymptomatic. That is they do not show any symptoms of the disease. The WHO has so far not found any evidence of asymptomatic transmission. That is unless the virus comes out of the body through droplets it will not spread and if there are no symptoms of cold then the virus cannot come out. It is when the asymptomatic person becomes symptomatic that the danger of spread begins and since in 80% of cases this does not happen so if the overall infection rate is low as it is in India.
This then brings us to the discussion of the lock down that has been imposed to control the pandemic. Due to the dilly dallying earlier the lockdown had to be imposed at short notice without taking into account the effect it would have in the immediate and long terms. The immediate effect was to jeopardise the livelihoods of the migrants who would not be able to sustain themselves without earnings and in the long term the economy and so employment would take a severe hit due to the stoppage of economic activities. The revenues of Governments both at the centre and in the states too would take a hit at a time when their financial health was anyway bad due to an under performing economy and the badly designed Goods and Services Tax. Even though the lockdown has been partially lifted now, nevertheless, since the main drivers of the economy like the cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad etc are still in the grip of the disease and likely to be in lockdown for an extended period the portents for the future are not good. This is more or less the situation across the world as production and employment have taken a serious hit. However, the western developed nations not only have social safety nets in place but they have also given stimulus packages of upto 10% of the GDP to tide businesses and citizens through this crisis. The Indian Government has just rearranged the budget numbers so far and not really offered any substantial stimulus either to businesses or to its poor citizens.
Coming back to the capitalist origins of this crisis it must be remembered that the various laws of conservation of energy and mass which form the basis of physics also govern economics. Unfortunately, the fools who guide modern economics and advocate unlimited growth fuelled by the urge to make profits, think that these conservation laws do not apply to their discipline. The greater tragedy is that we, the common people, have also fallen for this fraudulent economics and have been indulging ourselves in an orgy of consumerism unleashed by it. Nature has now sent a stern message calling out our foolishness. If we do not heed it then it has more sufferings in store for us in future.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Man of the Earth

In this time of pestilence and lockdown the sad news comes that Arjun is no more. A shocking reminder that people fighting for justice are not only rare to find but are also most vulnerable in this capitalistic world. I have known Arjun for three decades and his loss is going to hurt for some time. I first met him when he was with the Kashtkari Sangathana in Dahanu Taluka of Palghar district in Maharashtra.  The Kashtkari Sangathana along with the Bhoomi Sena had led militant mass movements of the Adivasis in Palghar district for their rights which remain a beacon for Adivasi mass mobilisation in post independence India. Originally hailing from Kerala, Arjun was an activist with the organisation in Dahanu then. Later, he became interested in organic farming as he felt that without a switch to organic agriculture it would not be possible to save farming and farmers in this country. Thus, began a new saga.
Organic farming has to be done as part of a community, ideally an Adivasi community. The problem was to get a suitable plot of land near to an Adivasi community which was owned by a non-Adivasi so that it could be transferred to Arjun's name. This proved to be a big problem. After much searching Arjun failed to get land in Palghar. Finally he found his piece of land in Pishwi village some 65 kms from Pune. However, there was a lot of work to do to improve the land quality as the soil was not very fertile and the terrain was also hilly. Being a true farmer he used to work on the farm himself along with the Adivasis he engaged to help him.
So it was a hard grind. In between another non-Adivasi realtor tried to encroach on his farm and he had to tackle him also harking back to his days as an activist with Kashtkari Sangathana. All this while commuting from Pune. This whole process took many years and in between he stayed in New Delhi along with his wife Mona Mehta and son Kabir. Mona too was initially a grassroots activist and later became a development researcher and consultant. While staying in Delhi Arjun became expert in playing the flute and also in cooking. He used to do both earlier also but now he went about these hobbies in a rigorous manner. He also spent some time during this period at the Adharshila Learning Centre in Sendhwa in Madhya Pradesh setting up an organic farm there and teaching the Adivasi students the basics of sustainable agriculture. After they shifted to Pune, Arjun took up cooking professionally and ran the popular Underground Kitchen. He used to cook exotic dishes on order and had a dedicated clientele.
Whenever I used to ask to see his farm in Pishwi he would tell me that it was not ready yet and that I should visit only when he had something to show. I finally managed to visit him two years back and it was a treat to see him display all the crops with pride. I stayed the night and was treated to his fabulous cooking. He was extremely happy as he had his big hounds also with him. The hounds would travel with him from Pune to Pishwi and back.
We were frequently in touch over Facebook and last year in March after seeing a post of mine about Subhadra's millet farming he got in touch with me for some seeds. That was our last interaction. After that he fell ill with heart problems but I did not get to know anything of it. He went through a major open heart surgery in December. However, he did not recover enough and yesterday he passed away from cardiac arrest.
Such a lively person who used to work so hard on his farm and yet he suffered from heart problems. All the years of struggle to find a suitable farm must have secretly taken a toll on him. So even after achieving peace with his farming he could not enjoy it for long and has had to make peace with his maker permanently.
He was always a down to earth person. Even as an activist he was not much given to theory even though he was very well read in revolutionary politics. As a farmer he was self taught and fought a doughty battle to turn the farm at Pishwi into a haven for sustainable agriculture. Despite his vast knowledge in the many fields in which he chose to work he was nevertheless a very humble person. He would give advice as a friend and co-learner and not as a top down teacher. We have lost a true Man of the Earth just when we needed him most. Farewell my dear friend.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

The Anatomy of a Betrayal

The constitution needs to be defended is the buzzword currently as we are faced with the onslaught of the Hindu majoritarian BJP Government on fundamental rights, especially that of the Muslim citizens. However, the constitution itself is fundamentally flawed and has provided the ruling dispensations, whether at the centre or the states, with enough leeway to trample the rights of citizens right from the time of independence and the present BJP government is only the latest in a long line of anti-people governments since independence.
The preamble starts by saying "We the People of India" were adopting and enacting the constitution in 1949 when actually it was a very small set of people indirectly elected from the provincial assemblies and nominated by the princely states that did so. The electorate that elected the members of the provincial assemblies too consisted of the propertied people who constituted just 13% of the total adult population and excluded the vast majority of the people. Consequently, 92 percent of the members were from the Hindu Savarna castes, mostly Brahmins, 5 percent were Muslims and 3 percent were Christians. There were only 2 Dalits, 1 Parsi, 1 Adivasi and 1 from the Other Backward Classes.
The result was that despite the grandiloquent wording of the preamble of securing justice, liberty, and equality for the people of India and promoting fraternity among them, the Constitution itself was so worded that it undermined the promises of the preamble seriously. We will analyse the Constitution in what follows to see how it betrayed the preamble and has brought us to the sorry pass we are in of being a nation of uneducated, unhealthy and poor people torn asunder by religious, caste, ethnic and gender violence.
First of all the Constitution that was adopted in 1949 was 65 percent a verbatim copy of the colonial Government of India Act of 1935 and so retained many of its repressive provisions even though it was repealed with the adoption of this constitution. So much so that the industrialist Ghanshyamdas Birla gloated - " We have embodied large portions of the 1935 Act, as finally passed, in the Constitution which we have framed ourselves and which shows that in the 1935 Act was cast the pattern of our future plans". The provisions of the Government of India Act which provided considerable power and protection to government servants vis a vis the citizens were retained in toto creating a very repressive executive that even today can trample the rights of citizens at will.
One especially handy provision was surreptitiously slipped in right at the end of the Constitution to ensure that the colonial scenario would continue. This was Article 372 of the Constitution which provided that all laws that were in force at the time of independence would continue to be so even after the adoption of the Constitution until they were amended or repealed. Thus, such grossly anti-people laws as the Indian Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code which had many provisions for incarcerating people who protested for their rights, the Indian Forest Act which had draconian provisions for harassing forest dwellers who are mostly Adivasis and the Land Acquisition Act which allowed for the easy displacement of people for various development projects were retained. This was in accordance with the Bombay Plan drawn up by industrialists led by J. R. D. Tata just before independence which envisaged the rapid development of basic infrastructure through heavy state spending garnered from exploitation of the labour of the masses and the vast natural resources. The plan specifically mentioned that the state must intervene to maintain law and order and restrict individual freedoms given the possibility of dissent from the masses against such a policy. So, Gandhi's plan of a bottom up village and community based economy was rejected in toto and a centralised trickle down economic model was adopted. As an activist who has spent close to four decades fighting for local self governance, forest rights and against involuntary displacement and been incarcerated innumerable times for my pains along with my co-fighters, I can vouch that these colonial laws, the impunity of the state officials and the trickle down eoncomic model have effectively scotched the struggles of the poor for their rights and livelihoods. 
Thus, the promise of liberty given in the preamble was effectively scotched, especially the right to a dignified life. In the first decade after independence there were massive mobilisations by peasants and workers seeking a better life, mostly led by the Communists and Socialists, throughout India, which were summarily suppressed by the use of anti-people laws. The Telengana peasant's struggle being the most important. People were displaced ruthlessly without rehabilitation and resettlement for projects like steel plants, power plants, dams and mines. People in the Northeast and in Kashmir who did not want to be part of the Indian Union were subjugated by armed force. 
The next and possibly even greater betrayal was that the crucial provisions of universal and free, quality public education and health were put in PART IV of the constitution on Directive Principles of State Policy which are non justiciable and not in PART III on Fundamental Rights, the violation of which can be challenged in the higher courts. This was a highly casteist and patriarchal step that deprived the vast majority of the people of India and especially girls and women from access to education and health. All the developed western countries and countries like Japan, China and Korea provide free and quality universal education and health services and this leads to a highly productive and and lesser population. In India's case, the lack of education and health for girls and women meant that child marriages continued and there was a population explosion. Consequently today we have a vast malnourished and uneducated population. Moreover, even if fundamental rights were violated, as for instance the right against exploitation, which was frequently violated even by the state, it was difficult to seek remedies for the poor because approaching the higher courts was hugely expensive and beyond their reach. In fact the whole judicial system is dysfunctional because the Government is the biggest litigant and unnecessarily clogs up the courts with cases and also does not provide enough magistrates and judges. Thus, even if aggrieved poor citizens manage to reach the courts, due to inordinate delays they are denied relief.  
Matters were compounded by putting the provision of dignified livelihoods also in the Directive Principles of State Policy. A trickle down policy of development was adopted which combined with an unjust displacement policy and neglect of the agricultural and small industry sectors meant that not only was there a burgeoning, uneducated and unhealthy population but there was not enough dynamism in the economy to provide them with livelihoods and so today we have the highest numbers of poor people on the earth at close to 500 million.
The next big betrayal was the excessive skewing of powers to the central government vis a vis the state governments and a complete neglect of local self government which last was once again relegated to the section on Directive Principles of State Policy. Moreover, article 356 of the Constitution was used to dismiss the democratically elected Communist Government of Kerala which was trying to implement land reforms. This was further compounded by the adoption of the first past the post system of elections instead of the proportional representation system. Ideally the Indian electoral system should have been based on proportional representation to accommodate the vast diversity in the socio-economic characteristics of the population. In this system political parties are allotted seats in the legislature and parliament in proportion to the votes that they get and so even small local parties who can get votes higher than a specified threshold can find representation in the legislature and parliament. A threshold voting percentage, as low as 3 per cent of the total valid votes polled is required to prevent frivolous legislative participation and too much fragmentation. Those parties getting this threshold vote will also be recompensed in proportion of the votes gained for the election campaign expenses on the production of proper bills.  There is thus scope for a thousand schools of thought to contend and bring to fruition a much more vibrant and diverse democratic culture than has obtained in India so far.
Instead the first past the post (FPTP) system was adopted in which the candidate getting the most number of the valid votes cast in a constituency is declared elected. This latter system was to the advantage of the Indian National Congress party at the time of independence as it got to rule unhampered on its own without the pulls and pressures of coalition governance that a system of proportional representation usually gives rise to and would certainly have in the diverse Indian context. So the first past the post electoral system of the British and American democracies, which the British had introduced to suit their own agenda of keeping the unruly masses at bay, was retained after independence giving the Congress an undue monopoly of power in the crucial first decade and a half of governance when the socialists and communists despite cumulatively winning about 20 percent of the votes, nevertheless got only about 5 percent of the seats. Thus, governance in India has been concentrated in the hands of a few, mainly the Savarnas and the vast majority have not been able to participate in it in any meaningful way. The promises of justice and equality given in the preamble too have thus been forfeited by the provisions of the Constitution proper.
The lack of education has meant that there is an over reliance on religion and superstition rather than reason and science among the population. Casteism, religious bigotry, patriarchy and superstition have held sway over the population and prevented the building up of communitarian cooperation against the ravages of capitalism. So the last promise of the preamble, fraternity, has also been belied by the Constitution proper.
Over the last seventy years the Constitution and the repressive colonial laws have been amended to a certain extent and many new progressive and people friendly laws have been enacted but the overall anti-people character of the overly centralised Indian state has remained intact and now it is in the control of a Hindu majoritarian party which wants to use its draconian powers to further strengthen its capitalist character by othering Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and Other Backward Classes. So while cherishing the preamble we have to trash the constitution because as Ambedkar had predicted, it has led to political democracy without social and economic democracy, which has resulted in a hollow republic still dominated by Savarnas steeped in casteism, patriarchy, superstition and bigotry. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Bottom Up Women's Mobilisation

Bagnan Mahila Bikash Cooperative Credit Society and its smaller sister organisation Bagnan Mahila Bikash Consumer Cooperative Society in Howrah district of West Bengal, together present a great example of bottom up women's mobilisation that has led to self empowerment without the usual NGOisation that is so evident elsewhere.
The journey started in the early 1990s when a Government school teacher Madhuri Ghosh was entrusted with conducting adult education programmes for women in Bagnan Block of Howrah district. She took her responsibility seriously and created a group of women and made them literate. The women said that they found this community space that had been created very good and wanted to continue with it because it provided them with an opportunity to share their problems and discuss them. Soon this evolved into a training centre where they learnt some skills like tailoring and food processing. Other groups were set up in this manner and with the help of the government scheme Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA), the women up scaled their groups. The groups then came together to form the consumer cooperative society to avail of various subsidies and other benefits.
A major change came when the women said that to run their small businesses they needed loans and for this they had to rely on usurious moneylenders and so they could not make headway as all their earnings would go in paying the high interests. So they suggested to Madhuri Ghosh that a savings and credit group should also be started. This soon took off and the women began saving rupees ten every month and once a corpus had been built up over a year the loaning also started. The model was a typical Self Help Group one where the group dynamics operates to ensure that proper loanees are selected and they then pay back the loans in time. Leveraging the mobilisation already done by the consumer cooperative society, the savings and credit associations grew by leaps and bounds and a credit cooperative society was formed.
Currently the credit cooperative society has a membership of 34,000 women and a total savings of Rs 40 crores. The cooperative pays the women about 7% on an average on their savings and charges them 13% on the loans advanced to them. Even though the difference between the two rates is only 6%, the cooperative still makes an annual profit of Rs 1 crore because the operating costs are low as there are no management overheads as the women themselves run the show at reasonable remunerations. There is almost no default though there are about 5% cases in which loans have to be rescheduled. It is run by the women themselves who are the members of the society under the leadership of Madhuri Ghosh and due to the low interest rates on loans the women have flourished in their businesses and improved their livelihoods.
The most important thing is that the organisations have generated funds from their own programmes without having to take grants like NGOs do. They now use the profits to carry out programmes such as renewable energy, sanitation and nutrition gardens. They efficiently deploy their resources in improving their systems. The software that they use for their banking purposes has been developed by them to suit their needs with the help of a software developer. The field staff who collect the savings and disburse the loans keep their records in handheld machines which are then downloaded into the software. This ensures both efficiency and security. So good is their software and operations that they have been adopted by other credit cooperative societies in West Bengal.

Monday, February 3, 2020

What Ails Indian Science

Indian Science is currently languishing. Nothing illustrates this better than this chart below.

This chart has been taken from a new book, "Pathology of Modern Indian Science", by Dr Rajiva Bhatnagar, a retired scientist of the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology under the Department of Atomic Energy, which analyses with facts and figures why Indian Science is currently in the doldrums and has been ever since independence. Clearly, over the past two decades while the number of patent applications from China have soared and far outnumber those from any other country including the USA, India has stagnated near the zero mark. 
The book puts the blame for this fairly and squarely on cronyism which started in the British colonial era itself and assumed cancerous proportions after independence. At the root of this cronyism is the selfish ambition of a few of the leaders of science in this country at the time of independence. 
Despite the reluctance of the British, scientific education and research took off with a bang in the initial years of the twentieth century due to the efforts of Jagdish Chandra Bose, Ashutosh Mukherjee and Prafulla Chandra Ray who, imbued with a nationalistic spirit, went to great trouble to not only conduct experiments but also set up institutions and universities which could nurture scientists. Consequently, by the 1920s Indian scientists had made a mark on the international scene and C V Raman became the first Asian scientist to get the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the scattering of light by a transparent medium. Others like Satyen Bose, D.M Bose and Meghnad Saha made lasting contributions to physics which have become part of its fundamental backbone.
However, from the 1930s onwards, cronyism and regionalism began to take hold of the scientists and instead of charting out a path that would lead to the greater expansion of science both in the universities and in the population in general the eminent scientists began to selfishly further their own interests. This was further compounded by the involvement of the Tatas in the development of science under the garb of philanthropy but actually for furthering commercial and financial interests of their own.
Matters deteriorated even further after independence instead of improving. Contrary to the worldwide practice of pursuing scientific research in universities, which results in a diverse and broad base of science through teaching and research, India chose to follow the Soviet model of setting up stand alone research institutions and centres of excellence and concentrated research funds on them to the neglect of the universities. These research institutions in turn were dominated by a few career minded people who themselves did little innovative science and also discouraged others from doing so. 
This resulted in a situation where the more talented researchers chose to leave the country and go abroad. Even those who remained in the country preferred to publish their research in foreign journals and so the discussion and dissemination of science in the country was further debilitated.
This book details all these developments in graphic detail with well researched data and narration of events many of which are not known to the common people. One very interesting revelation is why despite Raman getting the Nobel Prize for the Raman Effect subsequently so named in his honour, very little work on this important scientific discovery was later done in India and most of the later developments and applications of this were done in the west. The book has been written in the style of detective fiction and so the reader's attention is riveted on the narration to know what is to come next. 
It ends with an interesting analysis of the debilitating effect that religion has had on the development of science since christianity came to dominate, which led to the dark ages and extends it to the relationship between religion and science in modern India which has now come to a head with the present ruling dispensation. 

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Republic of Liquor and Consumerist Mobile Content

The Bhil Adivasis were always hard drinkers. That was the first thing that struck me when I first went to Alirajpur. However, what has changed significantly over the past three and a half decades is the source of the liquor. Earlier the only way to drink was to first distill liquor from Mahua flowers in a still improvised from pots and pans as shown below.
This is a laborious process as first the Mahua flowers have to be kept in water and fermented for two to three days and after that this distillation has to be done in a nearby stream over a few hours. At one go at the most a few bottles of liquor can be made. Thus, this round about and time consuming process resulted in a regulation of the amount of drinking that could be done as the Bhils had to work hard to produce their food also from their fields. So even though the Bhils are hard drinkers they could do so only intermittently.
However, things have changed drastically now. These days liquor made in commercial distilleries are available at the drop of a hat in shops even in remote villages. Moreover, the Bhils are no more dependent only on their subsistence agriculture but get good wages as construction labourers and sharecroppers in Gujarat and so have a considerable amount of money. So the consumption of alcohol has gone up by leaps and bounds. There is a law that prohibits the sale of liquor without a license. But these licences are sold by the Madhya Pradesh Government at a hefty premium and it earns Rs 13000 crores annually from this. It then looks the other way when the licensees sell through small shops more than the licensed amount to make profits after recovering the hefty premiums they have paid. There are bootleggers who convey this liquor to the small shops and these too are Adivasis. They have become very powerful people in their community. Obviously the excise department and police officials also earn a cut in the process.
Liquor, thus, influences grassroots politics in many adverse ways. First it keeps the masses sozzled and so they are least interested in any alternative politics for their own development. Second it generates funds which are used to fight elections from the local to the national level. Third the trade in liquor, being lucrative, has coopted many grassroots activists of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS) into it.
Consequently, when we had a night meeting recently in village Vakner when we went there to collect indigenous seeds, many of the people who came to attend it were sozzled and created a lot of trouble. Night meetings used to be the most potent means of political education and strategising in villages in the initial years of the KMCS. But now these meetings or any meetings for that matter have a good spattering of sozzled people in them who tend to disrupt them.
While the older generation is addicted to liquor, the younger generation is addicted to both liquor and mobile phones. They have the money also from doing migrant labour. So they are least bothered about political meetings and are happy to enjoy the pleasures of liquor and consumerist mobile content. The market and the state through liquor and mobile phones have effectively put paid to mass organisational work. The most disturbing phenomenon is that of the grassroots activists being corrupted by this. The KMCS used to have a host of village leaders who worked voluntarily with some support from the community. That is why only a few full time activists could mobilise people across hundreds of villages and a high level of political mobilisation used to take place on a shoestring budget. Not anymore.
Thus, the level of mobilisation has gone down and many of the grassroots activists have either become inactive or are into selling liquor. Some have used the power gained from selling liquor to become workers of the mainstream political parties. The night meeting that we had was disrupted by one of these also. Not only was he drunk but he also aggressively said that Adivasis were Hindus and so should work to ensure that the BJP comes back to power in Madhya Pradesh. When asked as to where he got the idea that Adivasis were Hindus he said that he regularly attended the meetings of the BJP where he was told that the Adivasis were the original followers of Ram Bhagwan!!
When we started the mobilisation work three and a half decades ago neither did we, the urban activists who provided the intellectual capital required to fight the state and the market, require much money nor did the grassroots Adivasi activists. However, now not only is much more money required by both but also the number of people prepared to fight on a shoestring is much less. The Republic today is one of liquor and mobile content both actively promoted by the State and Market and it is very difficult nay well nigh impossible to forge a mass movement for decentralised equitable and sustainable development.