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, April 10, 2017

Individuals Count for Very Little!!

Two people are shot dead in an encounter by the Police in a remote rural area and it is given out that they are Maoists, revolutionaries who are trying to overthrow the Indian State through an armed struggle, who were trying to escape from police custody with the help of their comrades. One of the two killed, comes from the upper class English educated elite who has given up his privileges to fight for the oppressed classes and so there is a hue and cry in the media and parliament leading to the case being transferred to the federal investigating agency. The case is given for investigation to an officer who is a rarity, an honest and diligent man and this leads to his uncovering the complex reality behind the killings. Activist, researcher and author Shashank Kela, in this his first novella, "The Other Man", uses this main plot tied in with a few other subplots as a microcosm to depict the larger reality of governance in India and the futility of lone battles fought for justice in a generally sordid milieu.
While one of the two killed is a well known Maoist, the other man is only a lawyer who fights the cases of some arrested Maoists and is not one himself. He also fights generally for justice and against corruption, especially in the mining sector, which not only devastates the local environment but also is the source of huge corruption due to the nexus between politicians and corporations. The investigations by the officer reveal that it is the activities of this other man which are more worrisome for the powers that be than that of the Maoists who are content to let mining go on as long as they get their share from the proceeds. Yet neither the investigating officer nor this other man are in the end able to do much to change things for the better.
Written in very good English, liberally strewn with enticing imagery, quaint vocabulary ( I had to look up the dictionary for the meanings of a few words) and pleasing idioms, the novella is a very tight read from beginning to climax and then anticlimax. While one is riveted to the actions of the protagonist investigating officer, the author cleverly uses his investigations to reveal the courage and persistence of the other man who has been killed trying to fight for justice. There is some philosophising along the way that isn't really necessary and it detracts somewhat from the quality of the novella as a work of pure fiction but the author justifies it in an afterword as an acknowledgement of his debt to other authors whom he admires.
The great take away for me as an anarchist was the way in which the novella realistically portrays the fact that individual efforts to fight for justice against the increasingly powerful and malevolent centralised systems of our times, while brave and commendable, are futile in the end and so must always be fought as battles for lost causes without much expectation of success. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Fire is Extinguished!!

The Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana has been launched with great hype across the country and there are a number of beneficiaries in the Bhil homeland in western Madhya Pradesh also. Initially the beneficiary women had to deposit some amount for getting the Liquid Petroleum Gas cylinder and stove but later even that was done away with and everything was given free. So there were many Bhil women who were for the first time cooking on gas stoves and were thus freed from the ill effects of smoke and greater waste heat that they have to suffer when cooking on wood stoves.
However, the problems soon started as they do with most government schemes which do not address the deeper social and economic aspects of the many problems that beset our country. The gas cylinders have to be taken for exchange with a refill to the town or market village where there is a distributing agency. This depending on the terrain may be anything from ten to thirty kilometers away. Moreover, the price of a refill cyclinder is now Rs 817. Therefore, if one factors in the price of the petrol spent on carting the cylinder by motorcycle and the time spent in going for the refill then the effective immediate cost is Rs 900 per cylinder. Of course Rs 300 of this will be deposited in the woman's bank account as a subsidy but that will happen only after some time. Since, in most cases in rural areas in the Bhil homeland, the money for the immediate payment and also the time and labour involved in getting the refill cylinder all have to come from the men, they are generally reluctant to give these resources to their women and say that it would be better if they continued to use wood stoves instead!!
There is also the problem of garnering Rs 900 every twenty days or so. Since Bhil homes have a lot of cooking to do, a cylinder lasts only about twenty days. Time and labour expended by women for home work like fetching water and fuel wood have no monetary value and so they are "free" as compared to cash which has to be earned through labour for money by both men and women. Thus, even if women have found cooking on gas stoves a relief, they find it easier to collect fire wood and suffer the smoke and heat of wood stoves rather than spend their hard earned money on gas refills.
So the old malevolent combination of patriarchy and poverty has put paid to the Ujjwala scheme in the Bhil homeland where mostly the gas stoves and empty cylinders are lying idle except for a few homes which have sufficient money incomes and assertive women to get the refills done. So the cooking gas fires that the Prime Minister so enthusiastically lit are extinguished for now in the Bhil homeland!!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Dangerous Mix of Patriarchy and Development

A Bhilala Adivasi girl from Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh, whose name I am withholding for obvious reasons, was sent for marriage to Jodhpur district of Rajasthan on the Pakistan-India border. She was not agreeable to the marriage but her parents forced her because they were paid Rs Three Lakhs by a tout who is in the business of getting girls for grooms in Rajasthan. After the tout took her to Jodhpur, the tout there told her that she would be sent a further 200 kilometers north to Haryana. The girl was tenth pass and also had a lot of guts so she slipped out of the house while the touts and others were discussing the modalities and asked her way to the Village Head's house and told him of her plight. The Village Head was a decent person and he immediately called the police emergency number and told the girl to stay without fear in his house. The police arrived promptly after that and arrested both the touts and took the girl to a women's home. The parents were contacted and told to come to Jodhpur on the pretext that some problem had cropped up with the marriage. When they came they too were arrested. Finally others had to come from Dewas and the parents were let off after returning the money but the two touts were charged for abduction and trafficking.
This is not the only case as there have been at least fifty such cases over the past few years, and in one case a girl who tried to escape by jumping from the second floor balcony was severely injured with her pelvis and legs broken. This is a peculiar situation that has arisen because of female foeticide on a huge scale in western Rajasthan and Haryana which has led to a shortage of brides. Despite the strict provisions of the Prevention and Control of Prenatal Diagnostic Tests, these tests are being conducted and female foetuses aborted on a large scale.
The Bhil and Bhilala Adivasis, thankfully do not resort to female foeticide even though their society too is highly patriarchal. So there are many marriageable girls among the Bhils and touts from Rajasthan have fanned out their tentacles wide and netted these girls by paying huge amounts of money. The Bhils, who have been at the receiving end of the ills of modern development are barely able to make ends meet with their marginal agriculture and migrant labour. Therefore, for some families selling their girls for a hefty sum comes as a bonanza and they jump at the opportunity without any concern for the girls' welfare.
Thus there is a dangerous mix of patriarchy and modern development at play here which is jeopardising the lives of Bhil girls. Indeed this practice of selling girls is there in the slums of Indore also where too Dalit and Adivasi girls are being sold for marriage and for sex work in distant areas.  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Teach Your Children Well

Subhadra and I are both field workers and articulate thinkers and speakers at the same time. So our home is always a hotbed of social change activity and hot debate. Our son has grown up in this milieu and so we never thought it necessary to specially sit with him to inculcate our values. However, now that he is in high school, we find that the words of the famous song by the folk group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY) have come true - "feed them on your dreams, the one they pick, the one you'll know by, don't you ever ask them why, if they told you, you will cry"!! Our son has rejected our dreams and decided to go in for a mainstream career instead. That is why I now feel that possibly we should have tried to tell him in a more systematic way about why we are doing what we are doing as activists.
I mention this as a preamble to contextualise my review of a thin but very important booklet written by Suresh Ediga consisting of stories that he told his daughter and son at bedtime. Suresh makes his living as a software professional in the United States of America but is at the same time an activist involved in social issues not only in America but also in India and especially in Andhra Pradesh from where he originally hails. He started off informally telling stories about the various social issues which he champions to his children at bed time and later made it into a regular activity. These story telling sessions are not one way but interactive, so that his children too ask piercing questions that help to clear the thinking process of the story teller and the listeners. In the context of our son's preference for the mainstream, I feel that Suresh's initiative is a very good one as it makes thinking and debate around social issues a regular feature of growing up for children and may help them to better counter the problems of mainstream development.
 All the issues discussed in these bedtime stories are very relevant and they have been discussed in a very readable way. What impressed me most is that the booklet begins with the story of the Bhopal Gas Disaster. This disaster encompasses within itself all that has gone wrong with development in India. Whether it is the unsustainable chemical agriculture for which pesticides were being manufactured in the factory or the lax monitoring of the safety measures in the factory, or the way in which the culprits of the disaster were allowed to go scot free, or the heart rending machinations of the government and the courts to deprive the affected people from getting justice or the stark reality that the environment around the factory has not been cleaned up more than three decades after the disaster. Anyone reading the details of the Bhopal disaster and its continuing aftermath will know how rotten is the State in India. I was a little surprised, however, that Suresh, despite his extensive engagement with alleviating the sad plight of farmers in this country has not included a story on that issue.
The booklet is more important for the process it describes than the stories themselves. In these times of the internet the stories and many others on such issues can easily be collated but what is important is the diligence and patience with which Suresh has related these stories to his children and engaged in debates with them. The need for such pro-active parenting to inculcate an understanding of the serious problems of our times was driven home to me today by the aftermath of the Supreme Court judgment of day before yesterday banning the sale and registration of Bharat Emission Standards III (BSIII) vehicles from the 1st of April 2017. Even though the auto companies argued that they have an inventory of around eight lakhs of these vehicles of the value of Rs 12000 crores with their dealers from past manufacture and they should be allowed to dispose of this, the court said that the health of the people is more important than the profit of the auto companies and refused to budge. The result was that the auto companies arranged for sale of their vehicles that were there with their dealers at hefty discounts yesterday and also made arrangements that they would be registered and given the number by today which is the last day for such registration to take place. As a result there were huge crowds in front of the auto dealers throughout the country and all their stock of BSIII vehicles was purchased. Where is the environmental consciousness among the people of this country? Whether it is the auto makers or the people who went to buy the heavily discounted vehicles, the mentality that spurred both is to save or make a quick buck but not save the environment. 
Unless there is a drastic change in mindsets of the new generations to come, more disasters even deadlier than Bhopal will strike sooner or later and so it is necessary to follow the excellent example that Suresh has set to ensure that our children are able to avert such a tragedy.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Right to Privacy Goes for a Toss!!

The Supreme Court today sent the Right to Privacy for a toss!! While hearing a bunch of petitions challenging the introduction of Aadhar, the biometric identification system being administered by the Unique Identity Authority of India (UIDAI) and the slow but sure way in which the Government was making it mandatory for all citizens, the three judge bench of the court said that the matter of Aadhar violating the right to privacy could only be resolved by a seven judge constitution bench now that the Government had brought in legislation that overruled the earlier order of the five judge bench. However, the court refused to set up one immediately or give an early date to decide whether to stay the implementation of Aadhar pending the disposal of the current petitions.

The main concern is that the registration under Aadhar has now been outsourced to private parties, some of which are multinationals that have close links with the American intelligence establishment and so there is a real danger of the biometric data being stolen in the process of being uploaded to the UIDAI server. Since the Supreme Court itself has mandated that Aadhar will be mandatory for having mobile telephone numbers in another order and the Government in its latest Finance Act 2017 has made it mandatory for the income tax permanent account number (PAN) and income tax returns to be linked to Aadhar, as also bank accounts, these crucial data will now be prey for hackers or even those who can deliberately set up a parallel server to skim off the data while it is being uploaded. Even those who are taking a person's core biometric data for verification of his identity can easily store them in their systems without anyone being the wiser. Thus, there is genuine concern regarding the safety of digital transactions that use the Aadhar authentication process. At a higher libertarian level there is the question of surveillance by the Government of the activities of citizens.
The Supreme Court of course said orally that Aadhar cannot be made mandatory for the disbursal of welfare benefits. However, this is a weak oral statement in the face of clear contempt by the Government of the written order passed by it in this regard earlier. Moreover, if Aadhar becomes mandatory for having bank accounts, filing of tax returns and for having mobile telephone numbers, then it is of little use to say that for getting welfare benefits one need not have Aadhar because one won't be able to receive these benefits without a bank account that is linked to Aadhar!!
The Government is saying that on the one hand there are the terrorists who use both mobile phones and bank accounts obtained with fake identity and address proofs to further their nefarious designs and on the other there are the equally nefarious tax evaders and black money generators and it thinks it will be able to snare these people with Aadhar. The Supreme court by taking an ambivalent attitude regarding the right to privacy by not constituting the seven judge constitution bench and not giving a stay on the implementation of Aadhar has given the Government the leeway to bring in legislation that makes Aadhar mandatory and so the huge power of the state has thus been enhanced even further vis a vis the citizen.
As a diehard anarchist I had held out against registration under Aadhar till now. But today's observations of the Supreme Court made me go and register!! The reason is another arbitrary act of the Government that unfortunately no one has challenged in court so far. Whenever, any person earns more than Rs 30,000 for some service then the person paying for the service has to deduct 10 per cent and deposit it as income tax in the payee's PAN. Thus, regardless of whether one's total income at the end of a financial year is taxable or not, if one is a freelance service provider, then every time one provides a service worth more than Rs 30,000, tax gets deducted to the tune of 10 per cent. It is only after income tax returns are filed at the end of the financial year, that one can show that one's net taxable income after deduction of expenses incurred in the provision of the services is in a bracket that is to be taxed at less than 10 per cent and so claim a refund. Thus, filing of income tax returns, having a PAN and having a bank account and a mobile number to receive important messages related to this work are all necessary if one is to claim one's income tax refund which is money that was deducted from one's income in an unjustified manner earlier. The only way to ensure that I do get my income tax refund this year is to have an Aadhar number and in future I will need it to continue having a PAN, mobile phone and a bank account for all of which I will have to submit my Aadhar number. Indeed the law also states that if one does not file one's income tax returns despite having taxable income then one is liable to pay a fine and bear imprisonment. Thus, just legal activism against Aadhar won't do as one will have to give up one's tax refunds and go to jail in protest by not filing income tax refunds if one is to fight hard against Aadhar and for one's right to privacy. Only a beggar who survives on day to day cash doles or a militant or terrorist who operates outside the state system, can in the present circumstances avoid having an Aadhar number.    

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Great Kuki Rebellion 1917-19

The tribes peoples in India have waged some of the most militant battles against the British throughout the subcontinent but mostly they are little publicised. This year happens to be the centenary of the Great Kuki rebellion in what is currently the State of Manipur. Here is an abridged version of an excellent write up to commemorate this great uprising by Donn Morgan Kipgen. 

The Great Kuki Rebellion of 1917-1919 was a defining event not only for the Kukis but for all Manipuris as well. It was the finest hour of the Kuki nation, because of the fact that the military juggernaut of the mighty British Empire was kept at bay for full two years by bands of Kuki warriors. The British troops were ambushed, harassed, picked off, booby-trapped, and tormented at will by the tenacious Kukis in the hill areas like Apache or Sioux Indians. The image of the British Raj and her much vaunted army was shattered. The British realised that they could be defeated as well by a sturdy, resilient and martial race called the Kukis in the foothills of the lower Himalayas. 
The British threw in all their resources for a quick subjugation of the ill-equipped hillsmen but it took a full two years with the greatest of difficulties logistically imaginable to finally bring an end to a rebellion of great significance unheard of since the First War of Independence of 1857. The heavy price paid by the Crown was best recorded in 'The History of Assam Rifles' by the then Director General, WJ Shakespeare who himself was directly involved in the overall military operations, thus: "It (the Kuki Rebellion) therefore grew into the largest series of military operations conducted on this side of India since the old (full-scale) Expeditionary days of Generals Penn Symonds and Tregear in the late (eighteen) eighties, or the futile Abor Expedition of the 1911-12, eclipsing them all in casualties and arduousness of active service".
Nothing could be truer than this description. However, what Col. Shakespeare failed to mention was the fact that the Great Kuki Rebellion of 1917-19 was the longest, largest, costliest military operation in the whole of India since the First War of Independence of 1857. It was also an absolute logistical nightmare for field commanders and inexperienced officers; that was exactly why 2000 fully armed soldiers, later on reinforced by over 5000 soldiers including Burma military armed police, took two full years, which was an eternity for the mighty Britishers vis-a-vis the size and status of the enemy, to subdue about 2000 Kuki militiamen with just about 1500 one-shot muskets and a 100 or so mountain guns but without adequate gunpowder and extra parts.
The sight of tenacious Kuki warriors picking out targets and stealth ambushes and resorting to scorch earth tactics would have been a demoralizing reminiscence of the Napoleon's Grand Armee' harassed and tormented by the Russians to the field observers in the first part of the rebellion. It was the first armed jungle 'Guerrilla Warfare' faced and experienced by the British army in British India, a modern day equivalent of the Shivaji's Marathas and the Spanish rebels (which the great all-conquering Napoleon dubbed 'his Spanish Ulcer'). The Kuki warriors were undoubtedly the Crown's ulcers, which remained unremedied for two years during the height of her glorious days. The skirmishes were sharp and bloody. For young British officers, even field commanders, it was baptism by fire, a real live battle and an agonizingly unforgettable experience, which put them in good stead 20 years later. The hard-earned lessons learned by those young officers and infantrymen barely out of their teens who eventually experienced the perils and miseries not taught, nor even acknowledged at the Sandhurst, nor instructed even at the West point for that matter, were nearly forgotten over the decades of peace.
The ingenious and most enterprising military tactics and finer points of guerrilla warfare learned from the resilient Kuki warriors over two years period and successfully improvised by the British field officers and operational commanders was finally put to maximum use after the Burma Retreat (1942) whey they, and the Americans too, were routed and overran by the Japanese Imperial Army in South East Asia in just too months period. The junior young officers and all ranks who suffered tactical setbacks at the hands of the Kuki militiamen during the height of the Great Kuki Rebellion and who also learned the 'art' of maximizing the most minimum resources perfected so successfully by the Kuki provisional army in so many stunning occasions were the senior field officer and operational commanders in mainland Europe and North Africa.
Desperate situation calls for desperate measures. Veterans of the Kuki Rebellion of 1917-19 were summoned by Lord Archibald Wavel along will the legendary Brig. Wingate (later on Maj Gen Orde Wingate of Burma fame) to train British (chindits) and Americans officers (Kachin Rangers) in the jungles of Assam and Manipur hills, especially the war operational areas of the Kuki Rebellion, to confront the much lesser forces of the jungle warfare experts Japanese Imperial Army on their own ground and in their own chosen conditions. The Chindits and the American Kachin Rangers successfully tormented and demoralized the much larger Japanese ground forces in small numbers of not more than 30-35 specially trained real commandos. Like the small band (15-20) Kuki warriors who were excellent shots, the chindits and the American Rangers knew that the less the number, the lesser the targets (from enemies), the swifter the tactical retreats, the more the operations and the more the division of resources. The Kukis had always attacked in small numbers with stunning outputs, spreading their warriors to greater logistical field of operations, thereby totally confusing the war office at home as to the real number of the Kuki militiamen, and therein successfully stretching the limited resources and manpower.
The Kukis rebels would snared unwary British columns into a narrow pass or battle-field in the hilly areas and cut loose the netted big stones and boulders along the slope, thereby surprising them with deadly enterprising tactics, and then also cutting off the only small route for a retreat and reinforcement(s) from the British command Hqtrs. After pinning down the army column with death and injuries all around, the Kuki rebels peppered them with a remarkably well-directed volleys of incessant gunshots. On other occasions, the unwary British columns were most often than not 'welcomed' with home-made canons, mountain guns, with full of shrapnel. Therefore, a Kuki musket section would pick them off methodically from vantage positions with maximum 'returns', these Kuki warriors were arguably the first regular snipers in the history of Manipur.
The Kuki marksmen never wasted even an ounce of gun power and bullets. One of the two most remarkable military tactics was that the Kuki rebels would always target the British and Indian officers and they preferred to cause serious injuries to the enemies so as to demoralize leaderless troops who invariably would remained confused and undecided. And then to seriously wound the infantrymen with less soldiers ready to combat, for the injured needed to be tended and carried around. A dead soldier can be left behind buried but an injured cannot be abandoned. Moreover, the more the wounded or injured the slower the pace of their movement. The idea was that if you killed 20 soldiers out of 50, the rest 30 would come running down one's neck but to injure even 10 soldiers would mean only 10 men could run after the ambushers. Another deviously successful tactic, which was put to good use by the American Kachin Rangers during WW (II), was to put sharpened stakes planted under cover on either side of the road or jungle route, so when the Kuki rebels sent volleys of shots at the British troops, the soldier would automatically dive on either side of the road (nullah), with indescribable effects. Because of this, the Kukis were the only nation, which was not defeated outrightly in open battlefield militarily by the great British Empire. All the Kuki leaders/commanders were treacherously invited to capitulate with a promised general amnesty, with a dire threat that all Kuki men, women and children and their settlements would be destroyed mercilessly. However, they were all tried as war criminals and ruthlessly sentenced to long years of rigorous imprisonment.
The war was brought to an end on 20th May, 1919. Though the Britishers won the war, the Kuki nation, with its sheer courage, tenacity and resilience, could and did claim full moral victory. In this great Kuki Rebellion of 1917-19, honours were even. The Kukis were subdued during and in their finest moment in history.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Exorcising the Maths Demon!!

Yesterday I found lying on our dining table the Mathematics Books for Class Twelve produced by the National Centre for Educational Research and Training which are prescribed for students who have opted to take mathematics as one of their subjects under the Central Board of Secondary Education. Our son has just entered class twelve and so he had got the books.
I picked them up and began reading them. They are of a very high standard no doubt but they made me wonder about their relevance for the future lives of the vast majority of students who would be reading them!! For instance, I myself read these at one time when I was in school, and a little more of this kind of arcane mathematics, in engineering college, but later on in life I have used very little of this. Even, engineers who are in the business of using their engineering education, use very little of this as most are in managerial roles that do not require this kind of arcane mathematics.
However, millions of students every year study this tough mathematics, even though they have no aptitude for it, just because they have to do it if they want to study engineering. Consequently, most of them do not do well in the subject and this continues into their college education with them later becoming bad engineers or not pursuing engineering as a career. In fact only those who would like to pursue research in science and engineering need a good foundation in this kind of mathematics. Since only a miniscule proportion of students at the school level eventually pursue a career in research, it is a huge waste of time and resources, both of the nation and the students, in teaching a much larger number this kind of mathematics. Moreover, the need to select a few students from the millions aspiring to get into elite engineering and science colleges leads to the teaching of the solution of even more arcane mathematical problems that are served up in competitive examinations making life more of a hell for the students. Unless one loves to do mathematics, this kind of study is bound to be a useless burden as it is for most students. Those who have prepared these books are all obviously in love with their mathematics but if such narcissistic love for the subject results in the foisting of tough mathematics on students who not only do not have any such love for the subject but end up hating it by the time they are done with it, then something is deeply wrong. Especially since this obsession with maths of a few has led to a situation wherein physical human labour is increasingly becoming redundant.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Life Drunk to The Lees

I found myself on the dais today in a function with the District Collector of Indore!! As an anarchist I shun going on the dais and almost never with Government officials or politicians. That this happened today is because of an extraordinary personality, the anniversary of whose untimely passing away was being commemorated.

Saeed Khan, was an anarchist to the core and despite being part of an organisation he was always in confrontation with it. He was a journalist of the Hindustan Times, Indore edition, which has now wound up and he believed in staying close to the ground. So much so that he did not own any motorised vehicle and moved around on foot and public transport even though he had an Iphone in his pocket which he used to surf the world at a drop of the hat. I was invited to speak a few words about him in today's commemoration and that is how I landed up on the dais. The commemoration event had been well advertised on FB and Twitter and reading this, the District Collector of Indore too came uninvited and was called up to the dais and that is how we were together there.
The Collector said that in his earlier stint as the Municipal Commissioner in Indore, he had been accosted on many occasions by Saeed who was then diligently pursuing all the misplanning and malimplementation that was manifesting itself in the development of Indore city. He said, that in Saeed, for the first time he met a journalist who did deep research on his stories and would fearlessly flay administrative inefficiency. He also said that normally he is continually invited to chair or take part in various public meetings by organisations and had to refuse them most of the time but this is the first time in his thirteen year career as an administrator that he was attending a meeting like this uninvited simply because he couldn't get over the fact that Saeed was not there anymore and he wanted to share his respect for him.
Saeed's brother, who also is a journalist in Bhopal, set off the reminiscences by going back to their childhood and saying that their father who too had been a journalist had told them that as a journalist one must write simply so that people could understand, truthfully so that the powerful would shake in fear and down to earth so that the concerns of the poor were addressed. Saeed followed this advice to a tee and he lived a life that enabled him to do this, with friends and acquaintances. He was also self effacing and never allowed his name to be published with his reports which always went as from an HT Correspondent. Yet it was easy to recognise his pieces because he had a beautiful humorous style of writing. The humour often was self deprecating but also had sharp satire of those he was critiquing. Given his seniority he was offered promotions which would have taken him to other cities but he refused them because he said he wanted to remain a street reporter in his beloved Indore.
As an anarchist I shun a lot of things including media spotlight. The only times previously I had got covered by the media is when I fell foul of the State doing some organising at the grassroots and went to jail!! Saeed changed all that. He found me out through his researches and then said that he wanted to do stories on the work that we do among the Adivasis. He wouldn't take no for an answer and that is how we became fast friends and I hit the front page of the Hindustan Times and later even other dailies more often!! He then used my contacts to ferret out many other grassroots workers in the region and did stories on their work and thus brought to the mainstream media the struggles of the marginalised which would otherwise never have reached the limelight. However, he was not the follower of any received ideology. He would ask searching questions to all of us at the grassroots and especially question dogma. He was an activist like us but preferred to fight for justice through his journalism.
There was a Palestinian gentleman at the meet who too had been found out by Saeed in many of his travels along the streets of Indore. The gentleman said that in the first meeting Saeed had impressed him with his knowledge of the Palestinian struggle and he even knew more about it than him!! He said that Muslims in India are generally a backward lot and not very knowledgeable about things and in that respect Saeed was an exception in that he knew a lot not only about India but about the world at large. He too spoke about Saeed's Iphone. Whenever there was some argument about a fact, out came the Iphone and Saeed would do a search to get the truth!!
Unfortunately, Saeed was afflicted with cancer and it was detected in the final stages when there was not much that could be done. Nevertheless despite the pain and the huge expenses involved in the treatment, Saeed never lost his desire to live or his sense of humour. Till the very end he was researching for stories that would never see the light of day. On one of my last visits to see him in Gurgaon just a few weeks before his death last year, I was astonished to see the high spirits he was in and while I was feeling the tears welling up within me, I couldn't help but laugh along with him at the many jokes he cracked.
As he lived, so he approached death with a critical mind. His illness was such that it cost quite a few lakhs to treat and he obviously didn't have that kind of money. Citizens, friends, politicians and even the Government came forward to pool money but Saeed initially protested saying that this was unfair but he was overruled. He questioned the absolutely worthless public health system in this country which was not providing care for even basic ailments and so putting a heavy burden on people to pay for costly private health services.
We have lost a true man, who could in the words of the poet Tennyson, verily have said about himself -
"I Can not rest from travel: I will drink 
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd 
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those 
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when 
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades 
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name; 
For always roaming with a hungry heart 
Much have I seen and known

Friday, March 17, 2017

Women's Empowerment through Backyard Poultry Farming

 Nilesh Desai and his NGO Sampark have brought about a small revolution in Jhabua district by facilitating Bhil Adivasi Women to become successful backyard poultry farmers in association with The Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed).  This video shows how vaccinating poultry has empowered Bhil women. The video was recorded in an area that educates poultry keepers about a vaccine that protects against the highly contagious and lethal poultry disease – Newcastle Disease (ND) called Ranikhet disease locally. The disease can kill up to 80-90% of a flock.
The vaccination project has seen an increase in the number of female entrepreneurs in the region since vaccination began. Dhani Bai, an ND vaccinator and poultry keeper, has started a business as a tailor through her income selling vaccinated poultry. She also pays for her children’s education and all household financial decisions are made jointly by her and her husband.
Surti Bai Puniya Parmar of Saad Village has 2 hectares of land in which her family of five produces cotton, soyabean, moong, maize and vegetables. She owns a buffalo, two bullocks and three goats. 

When the project started she had five hens. In October 2013 she came into contact with Sampark. She took part in every activity of the project as follows –
1.      She participated in training workshops and learnt vaccination, deworming, first aid and maintenance of records in the meetings of the group for extension of poultry farming. She followed each and every guideline, due to which chickens didn’t get infected through this disease and their growth rate increased so that now she has 80 – 100 desi hen.
2.      She learnt how to make chicken feed supplements with the help of local ingredients and fed them to the chicken. As a result the hens which used to produce eggs three times per year on an average, now produce 4-5 times per year on an average.
3.      Surati Bai had decided to start a poultry farm with the local breed of Kadaknath chicken. She constructed her own 7 m x 10m  shed with  Bamboo and wood, purchased 400 chicks of Kadaknath from Krishi Vigyan Kendra and started the poultry farm in August 2014. These chicken were maintained and provided with proper vaccine, de-wormed and given first aid from time to time with the help of Murgi Sakhis with minimum expenditure as only food supplements made of local ingredients was provided. Out of 400 chicken, 20 died during transportation  and after 4 months 380 chicken had grown up to be hens of 1 - 1.5 kg. Each of these were sold for Rs 600.
4.      This tremendous success has inspired her to increase the size of her shed so as to rear 1000 chicken. Other poultry farmers of the village and nearby areas have also been enthused by her example to take up systematic poultry farming. 

The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186. The World Economic Forum currently ranks India as 87 out of 144 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index, which considers economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, political empowerment. India’s ranking has improved from 98th place out of 115 countries in 2006. Thus, this vaccination project has made a significant contribution in women's empowerment towards reducing this vast gender gap. SAMPARK has sold 1 million doses of the ND vaccine. The vaccine costs roughly US 3 cents per dose once a quarter. The cheapness of the vaccine and the effectiveness of the women's groups that have spread the vaccination process has resulted in the programme expanding to 330 villages benefiting 30,000 households who are engaged in backyard poultry as diseases and mortality of the birds were drastically reduced. The success of the programme in increasing the incomes of the households was also reflected in their willingness to pay for the services of the vaccinators and dewormers and so they too were able to earn enhanced incomes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Congress is Hoist with its own Petard

 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 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. There would thus have been scope for a thousand schools of thought and practice to contend and bring to fruition a much more vibrant and diverse democratic culture than had obtained in British India. Instead the first past the post system was adopted after independence 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 Congress party which could get 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 in India at bay, was retained after independence giving the Congress an undue monopoly of power in the crucial first decade and a half of governance under the leadership of Nehru.
The first elections to the Lok Sabha held in 1951 saw the Congress winning just forty five percent of the total valid votes, which in turn were only sixty one percent of the total electorate but as much as seventy five percent of the seats. Similarly in the second elections in 1957 the Congress won forty eight percent of the total valid votes, which were sixty four percent of the total electorate and seventy five percent of the seats. In the third general elections of 1962 the Congress won forty five percent of the total valid votes which were fifty five percent of the total electorate and got seventy three percent of the seats. The second largest party by way of votes won in all these three elections was the Socialist Party but due to the fact that their support base was spread much thinner than the Congress' they could not win seats in proportion to their votes. In 1951 the Socialists got ten and a half percent of the total valid votes but only two and a half percent of the seats. This is to be contrasted with the Communist Party of India, which won only three and a half percent of the votes and a similar percentage of the seats because their mass base was of a concentrated nature. Similarly in 1957 the Socialists once again got ten and a half percent of the votes but only three and a half percent of the seats while the Communists got nearly nine percent of the votes and five and a half percent of the seats. In the 1962 elections the two separate Socialist Parties together got nine and a half percent of the votes and only three and a half percent of the seats while the Communists got almost ten percent of the votes and five and a half percent of the seats. Thus a clever and unnatural choice of electoral system gave the Congress party thumping majorities to do as it pleased with little effective parliamentary opposition to its policies.
However, now the tables have been turned and the Congress is hoist with its own petard. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Narendra Modi has swept to power in the most populous state of India, Uttar Pradesh with a two thirds majority of seats despite getting only forty percent of the valid votes polled which are in turn sixty percent of the total electorate. The party has also won handsomely in Uttarakhand and is making a bid to form Governments in Goa and Manipur with the help of horse trading of law makers which is another dubious strategy of the Congress that the BJP has happily lapped up. In Uttar Pradesh, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress have together got fifty percent of the valid votes polled which would have given them a landslide victory if they had had a pre poll alliance but since all these parties are now fiefdoms of megalomaniac leaders, this did not transpire and a more shrewd megalomaniac from the BJP swept the polls in terms of seats instead. Indeed the BJP looks a much more democratic party compared to the Samajwadi Party or the Congress, both of which are controlled by political dynasties. Over and above this, if one ignores the temporary blip caused by the demonetisation fiasco, Narendra Modi has delivered much better and cleaner governance including far reaching welfare measures in his almost three years as Prime Minister than the Congress had done in its last stint at the centre and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh.

Under the circumstances, in terms of vote percentages, there is not much reason for celebration on the part of the BJP or dudgeon and disheartenment on the part of the losers. Even if the BJP continues to win more elections in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and wins those elections also, it is unlikely that its voting percentage is going to increase much. In fact the likelihood is that with time the ills of being in power too long are going to affect its performance sooner or later like it did for the Congress and the Samajwadi party, given the fact that development policies in this country are generally dictated by the capitalists to their advantage, leaving the masses out in the cold. So much so, that even the erstwhile Socialists and Communists have also become lackeys of capitalists when they have been in power. The Communists in fact are further hamstrung by the fact that they are still clinging on to the obsolete views and practices of Lenin, Stalin and Mao, which are anyway so arcane that they have never been properly explained to the Indian masses. Therefore, with time the BJP too will bite the dust as it is unlikely that it will be able to retain its vote share without improving the lot of the masses. One major positive outcome of the BJP's continuance in power would be the ridding of the Congress of its dynastic Gandhi family rule!! Whereas a Congress Free India is not really a desirable in the present milieu, a Gandhi free Congress certainly is. Though, that also may not happen if the Congress and other parties decide to team up before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and so prevent the fragmentation of the non-BJP votes across the country and especially in the cow belt.

Interestingly Bhimrao Ambedkar's political party, The All India Scheduled Castes Federation, also failed to do well at the hustings in the first elections in 1951 with the great man himself losing from Bombay City North constituency despite having done so much for the Dalits. This is relevant today because in the Manipur elections, Irom Sharmila's party too flopped badly with Sharmila herself getting only ninety votes and the Aam Aadmi Party bit the dust in Goa totally and got only twenty seats in Punjab. The liberals, leftists and anarchists have all been carping because of the victory of the BJP and the loss of the Aam Aadmi Party and Sharmila and some are even blaming the masses for voting as they did. However, as long as the first past the post system is in place, voters will either not vote because they consider it a waste of time to vote for any party or if they vote, they will do so for candidates who they think are likely to win and form a stable government and not for those who are fighting for a more people friendly dispensation but are lacking in mass support. So as long as proportional representation is not introduced in India, there is little chance of individuals or parties fighting for true people oriented development, making any headway in electoral politics. However, there is no need for disillusionment and fear but instead more commitment is needed to pursue grassroots activism which is increasingly becoming a rarity with time.