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.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Between the Devil and the The Deep Blue Sea

The recent Bihar assembly elections have shown the deep extent to which politics in this country has moved to the right of the political spectrum. The parliamentary left parties, which fought as a united front, could manage only 3 of the 240 seats and 4 per cent of the total votes polled. A situation that leaves the masses between the devil of the far right and the deep blue sea of the centre right. Even though the centre right is certainly much better than the scary domination of the far right, which latter has gone overboard with its sectarian agenda since coming to power at the centre, it does not have any solution for the problems of the masses arising from a destructive capitalist development model that is devastating both the population and the environment and especially agriculture which still is the mainstay of the livelihoods of close to 65 per cent of the people of this country. This is because the left in this country, whether parliamentary, revolutionary or new in nature and including people like us who are part of the anarcho-environmentalist fringe, has not distinguished itself in recent years and has failed to project any alternative that seems meaningful and viable to the masses.
While the parliamentary left, which by far has had and still has the biggest mass support among all left entities, has contented itself to play the game by the rules determined by the capitalists, the revolutionary left has followed the obsolete and impractical Maoist path, the new left has remained confined to theoretical debate and the anarcho-environmentalist left has concentrated on mainly opposing displacement in isolated project affected areas in a fire fighting mode with larger alliance building processes of only a rudimentary nature. Even though the anarcho-environmentalists have a vision of an alternative developmental model and society, they do not have the resources to carry out pilot implementation of this model so as to convince a large enough section of the masses to join them in the fight to pose a credible challenge to the current development model.
There are many aspects of this domination of capitalism, which has made the left irrelevant in this country, that have to be considered if a viable challenge has to emerge to it in the future. But what seems to me to be the major problem is the reality of the huge casualisation of employment and seasonal or circular migration. Today, Bhil adivasis from Alirajpur can be found as far afield as Chennai and Kashmir as labourers in industry, services and agriculture, while the dalits from Chennai and Muslims from Kashmir can be found similarly labouring in Madhya Pradesh. The only rigorous econometric estimate based on data from government surveys done in 2009 by Deshingkar and Akter on circular migration, puts the number of such migrants at the national level at 100 million people and their contribution to the GDP at 10 per cent. The authors say that this is a conservative estimate and the actual numbers are more but even if we were to take this number it would mean that around 15 per cent of the population in the working age group of 15 to 59 years is engaged in circular migration. Given that the work participation rate is less than 100 per cent mainly due to many women not being part of the workforce the proportion of circular migrants to the active labour force is likely to be close to 25 per cent. Along with this casualisation of employment has increased and about 95 per cent of the workforce are either daily wage workers or in insecure employment. Thus, trade unionism which constitutes the basic institutional framework for mobilising the workers has been severely affected because it is difficult to get workers in sufficient numbers in any work place and due to insecurity of livelihoods they are unable to make any contributions from their earnings to sustain this institutional framework for securing their rights as labourers. In fact trade unions of workers with secure employment in the organised sector too are continually threatened with irrelevance because managements are outsourcing more and more functions to contractors and also using automation and computerisation to reduce the number of permanent workers.
Thus, conscious mass bases supported by robust autonomous resource bases are difficult to build up. How will the full time activists of such organisations sustain themselves at a time when both the costs of living and of organisation have become astronomical. The parliamentary left which had the most militant trade unions has been attenuated by this situation and even more so due to the stoppage of the funds it used to receive from the erstwhile Soviet Union. The revolutionary left has found it difficult to withstand the increased armed actions of the State against it and has lost much of its rural base and is equally strapped for numbers and resources. The new left who are mostly academics in government universities are finding that their secure jobs may come on the line if they become overly radical. That leaves us in the anarcho-environmentalist fringe who have always struggled for resources and have had to rely on funding from NGOs and institutional donors, often of a dubious nature. So not only is there an attrition in the number of the older generation of activists or their effectiveness has been reduced but a newer generation of activists is not coming forward in sufficient numbers to carry on the fight at the ground level. There doesn't seem to be any solution in sight and those of us who are still in the field are mostly marking time.   

Thursday, November 19, 2015

In Search of the Roots of Violence

The very perceptive William Shakespeare had tellingly said that the "Devil can cite scripture for his purpose". Even though he was pointing out the use of scripture by unscrupulous people to justify their evil acts, this quote also underlines the fact that scriptures of various religions throughout the world except possibly Buddhism and Jainism, mostly written in the ancient or medieval ages, are a mixed bag containing both high spiritual and ethical advice and also gross materially harmful and even murderous pronouncements. There is justification for mayhem and murder in these scriptures and so throughout history wars have been fought and people have been killed for material gains and these black deeds have been justified by quoting scripture. In fact killings have also been justified on the authority of secular ideologies like Marxism!! However, it must be emphasised that the root cause behind wars and murders are material interests of one kind or other and scriptures or ideologies are there for justifying them only!!!
Thus, it is not surprising that Islamic scripture too has its fair share of murderous advice which has been relied on by Muslims to both wage war and kill people throughout history in tandem with the followers of other religions who have quoted their own violent scripture. Buddhists too have engaged in war and murder despite not having scriptures justifying them. So it is rather sad that Islam is being singled out as being a religion that promotes violence just because some Muslims are waging war and resorting to violence against civilians presently, when the roots of violence lie elsewhere.
Yet another English literary great, Samuel Johnson, famously said that "Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels". While religious fervour is an age old phenomenon, patriotism is a product of the industrial revolution and the evolution of the nation state to secure local markets for capitalists from foreign competition in the seventeenth century. Since Johnson was a conservative and a proponent of capitalism, he must have been hinting like Shakespeare at the misuse of patriotism for ulterior motives and not questioning the concept itself. Thus, nationalism and patriotism like religious scriptures and secular ideologies have been used frequently to wage wars, commit genocides and in the modern world, undertake terrorism against civilians to mask the real purpose of such violence which is to make material gains of one kind or another.
Wars and violence have been a significant part and parcel of history and from the sixteenth century onwards the mainstay of colonialism and later capitalism. Post the World War II, the military industrial complex has been the biggest sector of the global economy and the production of arms and ammunitions and the expenditure on the armed forces and police, which are all subsidies to the rich to power their control of the economy, far exceed spending on the social sector. Indeed, widespread hunger and disease, which are a direct result of this cynical increase in the expenditure on arms and wars leading to lesser and lesser expenditure on food and health for the masses, are the biggest killers in the world today and so an even worse form of violence than wars. When there is so much State and Corporate sponsored violence, it is a little naive to expect that there will not be any non-state or rogue state violence!! As terrorists and rogue states cannot match up to the violence of the neo-imperialist states led by the USA, which incidentally has been the biggest killer of people since its inception beginning with the decimation of the indigenous people of the Americas, these bit players have resorted to violence against civilians who are a much softer target. The emergence of the financial sector as the dominant sector in the global economy has only aggravated matters further by forcing austerity on the one hand and casualisation of employment on the other on the masses and pushing some of the youth towards terrorism. Indeed terrorism is in the final analysis funded by some state agency or other so that there is ostensibly a reason for greater funding of the mainstream military and police even further!!! Its a vicious circle of spiralling violence and injustice from which there is not likely to be any let up.
Finally one can't get to the bottom of this whole business of violence without dwelling on the role of the media and academia. These too are controlled by the capitalists and are dens of scoundrels hysterically mouthing xenophobic and religiophobic balderdash that only fuels further violence. The capitalist thrust for never ending profits has made the ruling classes insane and since they control the minds of the masses through the media and academia, we are all going mad!!!     

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What it takes to Clean India

Ever since Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, in his maiden independence day speech on August 15th last year announced that he would like to see India squeaky clean by 2019, which happens to be the sesquicentenary of the birth of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who was possibly the first votary of a clean and sanitised India, there has been a great hullabaloo throughout the country on actualising this wish of the Prime Minister. But like Gandhi and many others before him, Modi too hasn't really addressed with sincerity the herculean problems in the path of making India clean, especially in rural areas. In fact even the international agencies like the World Bank and the United Nations not to speak of the moribund Public Health Engineering departments at the Centre and the States and various national and international NGOs active in the Water Supply and Sanitation (WSS) sector in this country have skirted the difficulty of this problem to save on costs and have gone around designing and implementing practically unworkable and environmentally unsustainable WSS Services.
Even though I have designed and implemented a workable and environmentally sustainable water supply and sanitation system in our office in the city of Indore and also studied this problem in detail as part of my Phd, I had never grappled with the problem at a larger scale and so was not aware of the various practical intricacies involved in its solution especially in rural areas. An opportunity arose this year when it was decided to construct toilets and bathrooms in the Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala residential school for Adivasi boys and girls that our organisation runs in the village of Kakrana on the banks of the River Narmada in Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh. There were only three toilets for the girls and women on the campus earlier but given the huge adverse health effects of open defecation in close proximity to the school by more than a hundred boys and men it was decided to construct fifteen bathrooms and fifteen toilets. Detailed below is the saga of the successful implementation of this WSS project and how it has been an immense learning exercise for all those involved, including a so called expert like I!!!
The biggest problem with toilets in rural areas that is generally brushed under the carpet and overlooked is water supply. Toilets across the country are being built in the hundreds of thousands since the clarion call given by Modi but in most of these, there is either no or inadequate provision for water supply. Consequently, toilets across the country and especially public toilets, stink to high heaven and most private toilets built in rural homes remain unused. In rural areas where households have to bring water from a distance from tanks, streams, public wells or hand pumps for their drinking and cooking use, it requires great motivation on their part to get say fifteen more buckets or so for a five member household for bathing, flushing and keeping the toilets and bathrooms clean instead of bathing and defecating in the open. Even if they were to get these fifteen buckets of water, it would give rise to the problem of disposal of the waste water of almost equal proportions. Dry pit latrines without proper treatment of the sewage, which are promoted by policy makers across the world, as a consequence, to get round the high cost implications of providing adequate water supply to the toilets and treating the waste water properly, give rise to both a foul stench and contamination of the ground and surface water. Thus, Modi's Clean India campaign has mostly led to the construction of stinking toilets which are either not being used or if used are then contributing to greater pollution of the ground water than in the case of open defecation.
The enormity of this problem was brought home to us in the construction of fifteen pairs of toilets and bathrooms in the Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala in Kakrana in two blocks of ten and five units for boys and girls respectively as shown below.

The quality of construction of the toilets and bathrooms was fairly good with brick and cement mortar, vitrified tiles, UPVC pipes and brass and ceramic fittings as shown in the picture below.

The campus has a hand pump in which there is inserted a two phase submersible pump of one horsepower (HP). Initially after the toilets and bathrooms were constructed they were fitted with two numbers of one thousand litre tanks in addition to the one thousand litre tank that was already there for the three toilets built earlier. These tanks were connected to the submersible pump. However, this total of three thousand litres of water supply proved totally inadequate for servicing fifteen bathrooms and eighteen toilets. The tanks would empty out within a few minutes during the morning hours of heavy use and then filling them up again and again was a big problem. Later during the day the tanks would remain empty and so the children would have to cart water in buckets from the handpump to the toilets over a distance of over a hundred metres which is a labourious exercise. Given this water shortage the toilets began to stink badly and became a potential health hazard. Moreover, the three septic tanks for treating the sewage were also improperly designed and the outflow from them was collecting near the tanks and creating a stinking pool of dirty water that was contaminating both surface and ground water. One of the septic tanks had even cracked due to improper design and construction that left one of the brick walls of the tank exposed without a retaining support, as a result of an inadequate understanding of the topography and soil quality of the area on the part of the mason who constructed it, adding to the problems.
To rectify the situation it was decided to build a ten thousand litre concrete tank on top of the highest hillock in the campus so as to provide enough water storage for the present and future needs of the school at all points as shown in the picture below.

This then brought us up against a new problem of filling this tank with water. The one HP submersible pump could deliver water at a very slow rate to this tank which is at a height of about 20 metres above the hand pump. Matters were compounded by the fact that the voltage of the electricity supply was low and often fell to 160 Volts or so instead of the standard 240. Ideally the Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board should be providing 240 Volt three phase AC supply to rural areas so that farmers can run pumps of 3 HP and upwards for irrigation purposes. However, the reality in most remote areas of the state is, that the supply is in two phases of low voltage of about 160 Volts with the third phase remaining even less at 20 to 30 volts and effectively non-functional for running pumps. That is why throughout rural areas in the state, two phase capacitor driven 1 or 2 HP pumps have become popular. However, given the low voltage there is a limit to the head up to which these pumps can raise water. The submersible pump of 1 HP took eight hours to fill up the hill top tank and often when the voltage became very low it would stop pumping altogether.
Given the uncertainty of electric supply we installed a 5 HP diesel generator and this improved the delivery of water by the pump but this was an expensive option that could be adopted only in emergencies when there was no electricity supply at all due to load shedding and not regularly. To solve this problem it was decided to lift water from an open well shown below that was there in the campus which was being used only for irrigating the two vegetable farms in the campus. The submersible pump in the hand pump was to be used henceforth only for drinking water purposes.
The problem was that this open well too had a 1 HP pump on it and unlike submersible pumps these pumps have less power and so it could not push water up to the hill top tank located at a distance of 250 metres and height of 25 metres from the well. First we replaced this pump with a 2 HP pump from Kirloskar Brothers but that too did not work. We then chose a 2 HP pump from another company and that also failed to work. Finally, a third pump from yet another company was able to lift water up to the hilltop tank, thus solving the problem temporarily. There was a small hiccup as the weight of all the water in the pipeline proved too much for the plastic foot valve that we had put at the end of the suction pipe and it went kaput!! We then replaced it with a more robust foot valve. Currently the water level in the well is very high and just 2 metres below ground level. But as summer approaches and the water level goes down it is likely that the pump will not be able to lift water to the hill top tank. Therefore, in future we will have to make a further investment in replacing the 1 HP submersible pump in the hand pump with a 2 HP one.
The bigger problem was regarding the disposal and reuse of waste water. Huge amounts of waste water were being generated from the bathrooms and toilets and these were being released untreated into the surface and ground near the septic tanks and were polluting the water sources of the school and also other farmers nearby in the village. First the cracked septic tank was repaired with reinforcement and supported by a retaining wall to ensure that it did not crack again as shown below.

Then a water treatment system was put in place to clean the water flowing out of the septic tanks. This consisted of plastic 200 litre drums laid horizontally filled successively with brick crush, sand and charcoal as shown below. Though the use of these three purifiers is well established, it is the first time in India that they have been put into a horizontal drum assembly to reduce the costs involved in water treatment. Since space is not a constraint, this is a very cheap and effective system.

The water from the septic tanks enters this system of tanks and gets purified while passing through them to reach a Biological Oxygen Demand level less than the 30 mg/litre value for release into the soil prescribed by the Central Public Health and Environmental Health Organisation. However, instead of releasing this water into the soil it is being collected in a tank and recycled to flush the toilets thus saving considerably on the use of potable water for this purpose as shown below. The waste water consequently flows in a closed loop repeatedly after being treated. The excess treated waste water is used for gardening and plantation purposes. There is a vigrorous soil and water conservation and plantation exercise going on in the school to improve both water and biomass availability so as to eventually make the campus energy sufficient also.
So now the toilets in the school are being used regularly, they are not stinking and the waste water is not polluting the environment resulting in a sanitised atmosphere conducive to good health. A very happy resolution of the exasperating and persistent problem of cleaning India in a remote corner of its vast expanse. However, this has not been achieved without considerable difficulty. Kakrana is situated in hilly terrain 45 kms distant from the nearest town of Kukshi where all the hardware, cement, steel, sanitary fittings and pumps are available on sale. There are no competent, masons, plumbers and electricians available in Kakrana and so they have had to be brought from Indore and Ahmedabad all of three hundred kilometres away to implement the project. Consequently the average cost per a unit consisting of a bathroom and toilet has worked out to be a whopping Rs 70,000. The Government, international agencies and NGOs on the other hand want to build these units for Rs 20,000 by skimping on the costs of water supply and waste water treatment and that is why they end up making a royal mess of the whole exercise and India remains as unclean as ever. We had initially budgeted for Rs 40,000 per each bathroom and toilet unit but due to the complexities of the problem, eventually the cost escalated. Even now there is a need for a further investment of about Rs 5000 per unit to replace the submersible pump in summer. Even if we economise on the use of vitrified tiles, ceramic and brass fittings and quality of construction there is no way in which the cost can be less than Rs 50,000 per bathroom and toilet unit at current prices. This is something that no poor rural household will be able to afford and so it must be borne by the Government if it wants to see a clean India. Like in the case of education, so also in the case of sanitation and water supply, the investment is easily recovered through greater productivity of individuals.
 Incidentally this is a decentralised system and so the cost is comparatively low. If the same system were to be designed for the whole village of Kakrana then the cost would go up considerably because centralisation in the case of WSS leads to higher per unit costs.  This is in fact the main reason why in metropolitan cities like Mumbai and Delhi water supply is inadequate and waste water is mostly being released untreated into the soil and water bodies resulting in these cities having stinking rivers that are biologically dead flowing through them. So the only way to a clean India is to implement decentralised WSS systems combined with water harvesting like the one in Kakrana not only in rural areas but also in the cities and towns.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Women Raising Their Voices

"Thanks to Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS), I have been able to return to my home from which I had been chased away by my Father-in-law and am now earning my living through tailoring and am very happy", says Raisa, who is a twenty three year old Bhilala tribal woman from Umrali village.

Raisa, her husband Balwant Davar and their one and a half year old daughter had been chased out of their home by Balwant's father Bhaisingh and elder brother Rakesh, after falsely alleging that they were not doing enough work in the farm.  Actually,Bhaisingh is a drunkard and Raisa, who is both educated and an accomplished tailor who earns her living independently, had objected to his drinking and abusive behaviour and this made him very angry. He chased Raisa and Balwant away from the home and prevented them from farming the land also.

Raisa and Balwant had to run away with their infant daughter to her father's home in Badi Vaigalgaon.  Raisa came to the office of the KMCS in Alirajpur with her problem. Raisa was taken to the Counselling Centre in the office of the Superintendent of Police in Alirajpur. A preliminary complaint was registered under the Domestic Violence prevention Act and notice was issued to Bhaisingh and Rakesh. The officer at the counselling centre explained the strict provisions of the Domestic Violence Act to Bhaisingh and Rakesh who were unaware about it and told them that if they persisted in their unjust behaviour with Raisa they would be indicted and put into jail as the offence was non-bailable. This brought them to their senses and they agreed to let Raisa and Balwant come back to their house and also gave them their share of the land to farm. Raisa says, " I came to know about the power of the Domestic Violence Act from KMCS and raised my voice in protest against the injustice being perpetrated by my in laws. It has worked wonders and now I am happily living in my home and earning a good living through tailoring and farming in Umrali which being a market village provides a good clientele. "
This vignette illustrates how important it is for women not only to know the law about their rights and also raise their voices in protest. Bhil society is highly patriarchal and women have traditionally been oppressed. While the unlettered women earlier used to bear this oppression silently, educated and independently earning women like Raisa do not take things lying down anymore. However, since the society is ranged against them, they find it difficult to secure their rights. This is where the role of an organisation like KMCS assumes importance given the abysmally low level of awareness among women about their rights and the protection that they have been given under laws like the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and that relating to inheritance of ancestral property. Not only must women raise their voices against patriarchy but they must do so in an organised manner.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Dangers of Raising your Voice

Uttar Pradesh's Greater Noida Area next to the national capital of Delhi seems to have become the hotbed of rights violations. Close on the heels of the lynching by a mob last week of a Muslim man in Bisada village on the basis of a falsely spread rumour that he was eating cow's meat, comes the news of the beating and stripping of a Dalit family, including women and children and their public parading in the nude by a police officer in Dankaur village because they were demanding that a report be filed about a theft that had taken place in their house. In the first case the police did nothing to intervene and stop the mob from killing the Muslim man and in the second the police itself was involved in committing atrocities against a Dalit family (There are reports that the Dalits stripped themselves in protest and were not stripped by the police but even in that case it shows that there was authoritarian high handedness against which they were raising their voices). Both cases have now become causes celebres and are the subject of much discussion in the country. A few eminent literary personages have even returned their literary awards in protest at this culture of stifling dissent that is gaining in strength with many incidents of public murder and police high handedness against minority and under privileged communities and also outspoken intellectuals from the majority community. The hardcore Hindu majoritarians like Sakshi Maharaj have come out with aggressive statements that they will kill and be killed to stop beef eating and the venerable Mohan Bhagwat has demanded a review of the policy of reservations which provides some benefits to the Dalits in an otherwise hostile social milieu.
Especially with regard to the consumption of cow's meat, which is banned in many states of this country, there is now almost a paranoia among the Hindus. So much so that the Bhil tribe and some Dalits in Alirajpur who earlier used to eat cow's meat have now had to desist from doing so. Even in the 1980s the Bhils used to kill cows and eat their meat albeit surreptitiously in the jungles. One Dalit caste were scavengers of sorts and had the responsibility of skinning dead cattle and buffaloes. They would come to Bhilala Adivasi's house when a cow or buffalo died and skin it. They would then take, the hides and the bones which are sold for various uses and also the meat which they would eat. However, with time the eating of cow's meat has stopped altogether as has the killing of cows and also their skinning.
West Bengal, where I grew up, is one of the few states in India where cow slaughter and the eating of cow's meat is not banned and so as a young teenager I used to enjoy eating beef rolls in the famous Nizam's restaurant near New Market after seeing a film in one of the nearby cinemas. So on many occasions I joined the Bhils and Dalits in eating beef in Alirajpur also. I remember that as a young teenaged boy, along with some friends, I had witnessed a rally by some Hindu organisation demanding the banning of cow slaughter in Bengal in which the rallyists were shouting the slogan - " The cow is our mother". To this we vociferously replied that the rallyists needn't shout that out as it was visible from their visages!! Now things have changed drastically and it has become dangerous and even fatal to eat beef or talk about doing so. Even Nizam's in Kolkata gave up serving beef for some time though they have now started doing so again. The BJP Government has also stepped up the surveillance of the India-Banlgadesh border to stop the smuggling of cattle to Bangladesh where beef is eaten freely and there is supply shortage internally. The Home Minister, not only exhorted the Border Security Force to be extra vigilant about stopping cattle smuggling but also said that there should be an effort to reform the Banglaseshis and wean them away from eating cow's meat!!!
The many fears that were expressed when the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power with an absolute majority last year, about the impending attacks by Hindu majoritarian organisations on the plurality and freedom of expression and beliefs in this country, are coming out to be true. Ministers of the Government, law makers and the leaders of many of these organisations are continually harping on an aggressive sectarianisation of the culture of this country.
Dalits and Muslims have always been at the receiving end of many kinds of injustices and atrocities even in the best of times. However, the situation now is very dangerous as the Hindu majoritarian organisations have taken it on themselves to foment trouble and they don't baulk at anything to spread murder and mayhem. These attacks on beef eaters who are mainly Muslims and Dalits will almost certainly be followed by other attacks on these communities and a general attempt to strait jacket society into a mould that is authoritarian.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Raise Your Voice!!

Every year on October 16th I participate in Blog Action Day when bloggers across the world post in their blogs on a common theme related to human rights. This year the theme is "Raise Your Voice". It is well known that in a large majority of countries, including the developed one, people are suffering rights violations and especially so in some strife torn countries. There are many people who have to suffer great atrocities when they raise their voices against injustice. Many are being murdered and maimed and many more are in prison. This year the blog action will focus on the plight of these dissenters and protestors who have been subjected to atrocities for daring to give expression to their feelings and thoughts. Like earlier years all my posts leading up to Blog Action Day will focus on the denial of freedom of expression.
I start with a post on the way in which Stalin the all powerful erstwhile ruler of the Soviet Union clamped down on freedom of expression in particular and freedoms in general. Even though stories of Stalin's brutality were rife all over the world even when he was ruling, the gory details were never known from official records. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, gradually the archives of the various government departments were opened up to public scrutiny. Thus, the records of the NKVD or the People's Commissariat of Internal Security, the papers of Stalin's office and that of the Politbureau of the Communist Party have now become open and many resesarchers have accessed these and written new histories based on the material they have discovered in these archives. One of these is a new biography of Stalin written by Simon Montefiore which I have just finished reading.
The NKVD, right from the time of its inception under Lenin when it had a different name, was diabolically used by the Bolsheviks to clamp down on freedom of expression and also other freedoms of the people of the Soviet Union and especially those politicians both within and without the Bolshevik party who opposed the dominant line. There was little to differentiate it from the secret police of the earlier Tsar known as OKHRANA, apart from the fact that it was now the repressive organ of a workers' state!!! Torture and extra judicial killings were a common practice. Once Stalin had established his supremacy within the Bolshevik party by the mid 1930s by banishing Trotsky and subduing his supporters with the help of Zinoviev and Kamenev, the close associates of Lenin, he began systematically to undermine these very associates. All the Bolshevik leaders beginning from Lenin downwards had scant respect for human rights and merrily ordered executions with or without trials but they could not imagine that Stalin would play this game against them.
Stalin cooked up some story or other about his compatriots being involved in anti party activities and then asked the NKVD to collect evidence in support. This involved rounding up people close to the associate and torturing them till they confessed to being involved in conspiracies which had been hatched by the associates Stalin was targeting. In this way beginning with Zinoviev and Kamenev, during the Show Trials of 1936-38 hundreds of senior Bolsheviks were accused of anti party activities and executed and their families deported to Siberia to work as slave labour alongside peasants and workers in the millions who were also being deported for their resistance to the dictatorial rule of the Bolsheviks. Later, bureaucrats, technocrats and military personnel were also executed or deported in this manner and through the NKVD, Stalin established a reign of terror in the Soviet Union and cemented his authority. Even though the scale of these killings subsided by the early 1940s, this process of cooking up stories and falsely implicating people became a staple of Stalin's administration and devoured many of his close associates right up to his death at the ripe age of seventy four in 1953. Sometimes as in the case of Alexei Kuznetsov in 1950, Stalin chose to turn on those he had hand picked earlier to groom as his successors. In Kuznetsov's case, his crime was that he tried to emerge as a power centre and began going through the files of the Show Trials of 1936-38 kept in the records of the NKVD which had by then been renamed the MVD and which was under his supervision.
Freedom of expression is the key to a just society and powerful centralised states have always tried to curb this right and this trend continues to this day even if it is not in as crude and overt a manner as practised by Stalin. There are NKVDs of some sort or other everywhere and wide spread surveillance of those who dare to protest. Therefore, it is essential that we raise our voices against curbs on the freedom of expression.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Can Parliamentary Leftism Deliver?

First we had the Syriza coming to power through the ballot in Greece on a far left platform and now we have Jeremy Corbyn being elected leader of the Labour Party in England on an equally far left platform following the resignation of Ed Miliband who failed to win the recent elections in U.K. on a relatively lesser leftist platform. Given the fact that historically parliamentary left parties have not been able to stand up to the powerful Corporate entities that control the world, what are the chances of their being able to do so now. Especially as it is much easier for Corporations to shift their production and administration out of a particular country at the drop of a hat without much dislocation and leave the Government and the people in the lurch.
The Syriza in Greece for instance could not stick to its far left platform because the Government it ran very soon found itself broke after coming to power. Anticipating the popular mood and the very real likelihood of the left coming to power through the ballot, the corporates shifted their money out of the country before the elections and business which generates tax revenues came down to a trickle. The choice was either to bow to the demands of the creditors or isolate the country from the global economy and bear the extreme hardships entailed in doing so. Used to a comfortable lifestyle, the majority of the Greeks were not prepared for this latter course and so even though they had initially voted the left to power on an anti-austerity platform, when push came to shove they did not have the guts to cock a snook at the might of global capitalism and face the consequences.
The Labour Party in England has been trying to rebuild its traditional socialist platform again after the pro-capitalist stance that it had acquired under Blair and Brown earlier seemed to make it more and more a clone of the Conservatives. Ed Miliband, the earlier leader before Corbyn, had led a fairly leftist campaign for the U.K. parliamentary elections in May this year and was undone in the end by being wiped out in Scotland by the Scottish Nationalist Party. The difference in terms of vote share between Labour and Conservatives was not much - just 6.5 per cent with the latter getting only 36.9 per cent of the votes polled whereas those who did not vote constituted a whopping 33.9 per cent meaning that only 24.4 per cent of the electorate voted for the Conservatives and 20.1 per cent of the electorate voted for Labour. Since 50 per cent of the Labour party members voted for Corbyn's left platform one may safely assume that 10 per cent of the U. K. electorate or less are likely to be active votaries of such a left platform. Meaning that even though many people may be critical of the way in which the Corporates are squeezing their livelihoods, they are not really convinced that a socialist blueprint will solve their livelihood problems in a sustainable manner.
Corbyn celebrated his victory by going to a pub and singing the Labour Party anthem "Red Flag" with his supporters as shown below. The Red Flag is a panegyric to the heroism of the workers throughout the world who have fought and laid down their lives but while being heart rousing it contains little to convince the populace at large to lay down their lives for the socialist cause. What Corbyn will have to do is make the general populace believe that it will indeed be possible to tax the rich, preventing tax avoidance and evasion by them, cut down on military expenditure, especially the maintenance of a nuclear deterrent and nationalise British rail without making its running a burden on the exchequer given that nationalisation will immediately hike up the wage bill.
 Contract labour, small businesses and self employment have become  the order of the day throughout the world and very much so in the U.K. Many Government services, including the National Health Service run through outsourcing. Moreover, most of the people are under the spell of consumerism and aspire for the luxurious lives that the rich lead. Under the circumstances just slogan shouting and the singing of revolutionary songs will not do. Corbyn will have to get down to the drawing board and work out in graphic detail how exactly he is going to implement all that he has said and yet keep the British economy floating in the face of trenchant opposition from local and global capital. That is a credible plan catering for all aspects of the economy and society from the micro to the macro with responsibilities and resources at each level has to be mapped out if Labour has to get votes from people including from the large section that is not voting.
The unholy trinity of the Military-Industrial-Financial Complex which controls the world today has already begun planning in earnest to thwart Corbyn!!! It must be remembered that after being taken by surprise in the initial years by the victory of the Bolshevik party in Russia in 1917, capitalism has worked hard to stymie the possibility of further such revolutions and the post revolutionary socialist states in Russia and China too have later morphed into capitalist ones not a little due to the machinations of the Capitalists. Though, initially capitalists made some concessions to the working classes and agreed to welfare measures and better working conditions funded by the imperial and neo-imperial exploitation of the third world, later they used technology to roll back these concessions and so emasculated the parliamentary left and trade unionism from the late 1980s onwards. Today the Corporate entities are hugely powerful and devious, controlling the economy, universities and the media with a well chalked out plan. Any battle against them will involve being ready to bear huge hardships and commitment to change from the masses which are not there at present.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Revolution Betrayed!!!

The other day I met up with some old comrades at a meeting. We were all at one time either Marxists of one form or the other or in agreement with some of the basic tenets of Marxism and considered the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia to have been a game changer. All of us had since moved away from Marxism and Communist parties for various reasons. However, while I had later become a conscious anarchist and so had come to the conclusion that the spirit of the October Revolution had been betrayed by the Bolshevik Party (The Russian Social Democratic Party had two factions, one was called the Bolshevik or majority faction and the other the Menshevik or minority faction) and Lenin in particular, the others still considered Lenin and his contribution to be game changing. In the debate that ensued, I was surprised to find that the others were not even aware of the results of the huge archival research that has been done post the opening up of the Soviet archives in 1989 which reveal the sinister way in which the Bolshevik party suppressed Soviet democracy after it seized power following the revolution. This kind of refusal to face up to the reality of deviation from the goal of establishing true people's power is one of the main reasons for the marginalisation of the left all over the world.
There is one special aspect of the first decade after the revolution that needs to be discussed in detail as it holds great importance for any future mobilisation. This is the relationship of the centralised party with the organs of people's power - the Soviets or small factory councils and peasant councils. Contrary to what he wrote just before the revolution in "State and Revolution", Lenin summarily rejected the fundamental concept of "All Power to the Soviets" and instead concentrated all power in the Politbureau of the Bolshevik Party. Since the Party in 1917 had a very thin mass base restricted to the industrial areas of Petrograd and Moscow and almost no mobilisation among the peasants and since it was immediately faced with the counter revolutionary backlash from the ousted monarchists and bourgeois elements, in the initial years the Bolshevik Party was able to convince the industrial workers that the Soviet State could survive only by being run in an authoritarian militaristic way while fighting the Civil War. There was what was called "War Communism", in which grain, meat and vegetables was taken from the peasants in large quantities forcibly to fund the war and also to feed the cities. The workers in factories were made to toil hard and forbidden from striking work or from running their establishments by themselves.
However, once the Soviet State won the civil war by the end of 1920, the peasants and the workers became restive and demanded that true socialism based on grassroots soviet democracy in the factories and the farms should be implemented and the authoritarian control of the Bolshevik Politbureau eased and civil freedoms and rights allowed. The control of the heights of the economy should be with the Soviet State but the running of these establishments should be in the hands of factory councils or soviets. The main demands were -
free and secret elections to the Soviets, 
freedom of speech and press, 
the peasants' right to work their own land as they wished and 
the legalization of small scale private industry 
 The Bolsheviks would have none of this, however, and decided to crush the workers, soldiers and peasants who were making these demands. The strongest group that were in support of this democratisation of the Soviet State were the sailors at the naval base in Kronstadt near Petrograd. These sailors had played a crucial role in the victory of the October Revolution when it was their storming of the Winter Palace that finally led to the overthrow of the Conservative Government that had come to power after the February Revolution earlier following on the abdication of the Tsar. When the Bolshevik Party refused to accede to their demands the sailors of Kronstadt rose in rebellion and this led to a fight with the Soviet army ending in the massacre of the sailors who preferred to die rather than surrender and fought to the last as shown below.
Following this the Bolshevik Party tightened its authoritarian control over Russia even further but was faced with silent opposition from the workers and active revolt from the peasants who refused to give up their produce to the Soviet State. Given the fact that the Bolshevik Party still did not have a big enough mass following especially among the peasants in the country side it found that ruling by military repression alone over such a vast country, which was in reality an empire, would be very difficult. So, mainly at the behest of Lenin, a New Economic Policy was introduced in 1921. While the military control of society continued and civil freedoms and rights were denied, the NEP allowed peasants to sell their produce in markets and only a tax was levied on them. Small enterprise was also allowed but control of the major economic sectors of heavy industry, banking and transport and also military production were retained by the State. The State factories and services were run on a managerial system according to western industrial practices and workers were not allowed to unionise or form soviets. Thus, a form of State Capitalism came into play under the control of the Bolshevik Party.
This then brings up the crucial question regarding how post revolutionary states and societies should function. Especially when revolutions take place in backward countries and are immediately put under pressure by more developed imperialist countries who sponsor counter revolution. The revolution in Russia took place because the State had been weakened due to its participation in the imperialist World War I and it survived because this war had also weakened the winning imperialist powers to an extent where they were not able to provide enough support to the Russian counter revolutionaries. Contrary to the plan he had enunciated earlier for a truly democratic grassroots Soviet system, Lenin after the revolution immediately clamped down on civil liberties and continued with a repressive authoritarian system closely controlled by the Politbureau of the Bolshevik Party. Faced with revolt, he crushed the opposition, clamped down on debates within the party and initiated capitalist management of industries and the functioning of markets and small enterprise. It was clear that a big country like Russia cannot be ruled by a clique of people who still did not have enough power and resources and in one way or other the common people have to be given a say. Instead of allowing civil freedoms and rights, what the Bolsheviks did was to suppress them but allow private enterprise, peasant production and capitalist managerial control of workers in industries. By the time Lenin became terminally ill and finally died in 1924, the revolution had been betrayed and its emancipatory potential had been scotched. After 1928, when the Soviet State had become powerful enough, the New Economic Policy was withdrawn and Stalin, who had become the supreme leader, initiated a terror campaign against the peasants to collectivise and mechanise agriculture. From authoritarianism, Russia morphed into totalitarianism.
Often, when we work at the grassroots, even in our small organisations surrounded as we are by a hugely powerful Capitalist and Neo-imperialist system, the question of how to decide on our courses of action crops up and we have to choose between authoritarian or democratic decision making. I am happy to say that in Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath we always choose in favour of democracy even if on many occasions it leads us into trouble because the majority view of a situation turns out to be flawed in the end!!! Only if there is a firm belief in democracy at the grassroots and decentralised social, economic and political systems, are solutions to the serious problems that beset us at present likely to emerge.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The General Strike

The tremendous euphoria among the left parties in India over the huge response to the call of their trade unions for a nationwide strike on September 2nd recently has made me reflect on how much of a game changer it actually was. This, despite the fact that the striking workers in large numbers showed considerable militancy and faced police repression during the strike across the country as shown below.

Primarily my interest was piqued by the left parties and following them the media, categorising the strike as a "General Strike". Essentially because historically the term General Strike has a special significance and cannot be bandied about in the way it is these days mostly as an English translation of the "Bharat Bandh", calls for which are given quite frequently on various pretexts.
A general strike is one in which the vast majority of workers across most industries and government administration including the crucial ones of mining, power, heavy industries, transport and banking, refuse to work for an extended period of time in an industrialised economy, thus bringing production and services to a halt, in pursuance of their demands. For a strike to be so all pervasive and long, the demands have to be ones that fundamentally change the way the economy is to be run and cannot be just about higher wages and better working conditions alone because these cannot be ensured on a long term basis without fundamentally changing the relationship between the employees and employers and the role of the State as an arbiter between the two. There have been various views regarding the utility of General Strikes but since in the present case it is Marxist parties that have categorised the recent action as a general strike we will go by the Marxist views. The hard core Marxists who see little possibility of workers' emancipation in a capitalist economy, tend to see trade unionism in general and strikes in particular as a means to advance the cause of revolution to overthrow the capitalist order through a seizure of power. Marxists seek to use trade unionism and strikes to make workers politically aware and unite them in a bid to capture political power to usher in a class less society. Crucial to such seizure of power is rebellion by the army and the police which are the repressive organs of the State that keep the system of exploitation going. Thus, when a general strike reaches a peak, then the rank and file of the army and police too join the striking workers.
Obviously, what happened on September 2nd, impressive though it was in its spread and mobilisation, though not at all close to the participation of 150 million workers claimed by the left parties, was definitely not a general strike. In history there have only been two occasions when general strikes have been called with the intention of seizing political power and have gone on to do so. The first was the Paris Commune of 1871 which overthrew the Government of Adolphe Thiers and the second was the February Revolution of 1917 in Russia that overthrew the rule of Tsar Nicholas. In both cases the ruling State had been weakened by external aggression and the army and police had been politicised.
The situation today in India is a far cry from those two occasions. Not only is the Indian state and the capitalist class that controls it far stronger vis a vis the working class but the organised industrial, government and service sector workers are a labour aristocracy getting comparatively high wages that constitute a miniscule minority of the total number of workers in the country most of whom are in the rural areas. A large proportion of the toiling masses, both in urban and rural areas are in fact not workers in the strict sense of the term but extremely low earning self employed individuals in the artisanal, service, petty trade and agricultural sectors who lose their earnings if they strike work and will find it difficult to survive if they participate in a prolonged general strike. However, the most important difference is that there is no anti-statist politicisation of the armed and security forces whatsoever and the State uses them with impunity to crush any challenge to its hegemony. The left parties have themselves used the police to crush protests by the unorganised sector workers when in power in various states.
The serious problem with this farcical characterisation of a one day strike of a fraction of the working class of the country around a few economic issues and without any greater political ambition than the immediate goal of winning elections in a bourgeois democratic system, as a successful general strike, is that this closes the door to a practical programme for a more widespread mobilisation to usher in a socio-economically equitable and environmentally sustainable order. For instance the laudable demand for a minimum wage of Rs 15000 per month for unskilled workers is unlikely to be acceded to by the Government when in reality the average wage being earned currently by workers is around Rs 5000 per month. The Government itself does not pay the current legal minimum wage of Rs 7500 or so to many of its casual workers. If the Government tries to force this wage on the employers then there will be flight of capital from the country. So this demand can be met only if there is a prolonged strike that includes the huge number of agricultural workers, many of whom are migrant workers with little bargaining power and which includes a demand for the cooperativisation of all enterprises whether in the industrial or agricultural sectors based on environmentally sustainable technology and the management firmly in the hands of workers. Since managing cooperative enterprises with socio-economic equity and environmental sustainability as goals, whether in the agricultural, industrial or service sectors, in a global economy dominated by profit seeking corporations is not an easy proposition, this demand will seem a joke to the workers themselves unless there is prior sensitisation and mobilisation around this issue.
What is necessary first is a clear formulation of an alternative socio-economically equitable and environmentally sustainable system that can seem viable to the workers in all sectors and so enthuse them to fight for it. The workers who fought in the early twentieth century to bring about revolutions believed in the Marxist prognosis of a new socio-economic order controlled by them. However, Marxism, the way it has played out in the large countries of Russia and China, has failed to provide a viable alternative on a large scale even though Cuba to a certain extent has set up a fairly egalitarian and environmentally sustainable system especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 when it was left to fend for itself. Lenin, Stalin and Mao, in fact, turned their back on Marxism pretty soon and implemented distorted centralised systems that were oppressive rather than emancipatory towards workers. So there is no viable alternative model to present to the workers currently. The left parties or for that matter groups on the environmental fringe, like ours, do not have any such well worked out alternative to offer at the moment and nor are they trying to  make workers aware of the need for formulating one through collective thought and action. The left parties in India have largely clung to the path of winning elections within the liberal democratic constitution or waging armed struggles in fringe areas. We, of the new social movements, have also populated the fringe without being able to increase our mass bases and in fact are desperately trying to retain whatever mass support we have. There are many prolonged strikes and sit ins going on now in various parts of the country by both leftist trade unions and new social movements but they are not coalescing into real general strikes precisely because neither the leftist parties nor the new social movements have a convincing alternative to offer to the masses. So these numerous small strikes and also the recent nationwide strike will at the most put a tentative brake on the juggernaut of centralised profit seeking industrial development but will not be able to stop it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Fight For True Independence in Baiga Chak

Naresh Biswas of Nirman ( who is associated with the Baiga Mahapanchayat in Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh has written an excellent write up on their efforts to establish the habitat rights of the Baiga Adivasis under the Forest Rights Act -
The British had established the Baiga Reserve in the current Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh in 1890 spread over an area of 23000 hectares where the primitive Baiga tribe resided in seven villages to provide them with special protection to continue their "Bevar" or shifting cultivation, hunting and gathering based livelihoods. This came to be known in local parlance as the "Baiga Chak". However, after independence the situation of the Baigas instead of improving, deteriorated for the worse.
1. Dispossession and Resistance
The forest department instead of continuing with the British policy of providing special protection to the Baigas to live in their traditional manner began harassing them by preventing cultivation, hunting and gathering citing the restrictive provisions of the Indian Forest Act 1927 which the British had kept in abeyance in the Baiga Reserve. The forest department staff used to beat up the Baigas, destroy their standing crops, sieze their ploughs and bullocks and arrest them. Since they had no other livelihood option the Baigas would submit to such repression and still continue to cultivate their lands and live in constant fear.
Then, from 6th to 8th August 2000, a combined team of forest department staff and special armed police force raided the villages of Dhaba, Rajnisarai and Jilang and another village adjacent to the Baiga Chak named Gourakanhari and severely beat up the people and destroyed their standing crops. This repressive campaign so terrorised the Baigas that they refused to even speak about it let alone pick up the courage to complain at this blatant violation of their rights.

Nevertheless, a meeting was organised in the village Chara on 22nd September 2000 by the NGO Nirman to discuss this repressive action of the forest department staff in which along with the victims, people from other villages of Baiga Chak also participated. The people decided that the repression level had crossed all limits and the only way in which they could survive was to form an organisation to protest these atrocities. Thus was born the Baiga Mahapanchayat (Grand People's Assembly) as an umbrella organisation of the people of Baiga Chak.
A detailed complaint about the repressive action was submitted to various Government, Non-Government and media fora. After persistent mass agitation, the Baiga Mahapanchayat succeeded in getting the administration to conduct an inquiry into the repressive incident and the guilty forest department staff were transferred out of the Baiga Reserve. This was a big victory and it created a great excitement among the Baigas and considerably increased their courage. Instead of hiding in the forests as they used to do earlier when forest department staff used to come to their villages, they now confronted them en masse and spoke to them as equals.
Regular monthly meetings of the Mahapanchayat began to be held to sustain the organisation process and the enthusiasm and courage it had generated. These meetings stressed the need to assert their right to Bevar guaranteed by the British and also drew up plans to access the various public services that were to be provided by the Government but which were all absent in the area. The vanishing indigenous land races that are used in Bevar cultivation were also sought to be conserved and promoted through the "Beej Virasat Abhiyan" (Seed Heritage Campaign).

Then, in 2006 the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, popularly known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA) was enacted providing for legal title to the land that the Baigas were individually cultivating in the forest area and also community title to the forests for their livelihoods, religious and cultural needs. However, the big problem was that due to lack of literacy and not having any documentary proof of their cultivation, the Baigas could not apply properly for legal title and all their applications were rejected. After this the forest department staff once again began to raid the villages to dispossess the Baigas from their land in the same way as they had been doing earlier till 2000. The people of Gourakanhari village filed a petition in the High Court of Jabalpur and got a stay on their eviction and the Mahapanchayat used this to mobilise the people of Baigachak to organise to resist the forest department.
The Mahapanchayat pointed out to the administration that under Section 3.1.(e) of the FRA it had been clearly stated that - "Rights including community tenures of habitat and habitation for primitive tribal groups and pre-agricultural communities" are to be ensured in addition to the general rights provided to all Scheduled Tribes to cultivate and live in forests. These provisions were specifically detailed in Rule 12 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Rules 2007, which were further amended in 2012 to specifically mention the habitat rights of the primitive tribal groups and the procedure for their recognition. Thus, the Baigas being notified primitive tribes had special and stronger habitat rights in the forests in which they had lived for generations. Especially since the British had made special provisions for the people residing in the Baiga Chak to be able to live in accordance with their indigenous customs, religion and lifestyle.
However, there was some confusion as to what was meant by habitat rights as some people interpreted them as to mean just the right to reside in the forest in a habitation but not to cultivate land in it and access its resources for livelihoods, cultural and religious purposes. Subsequently, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs of the Government of India has clarified the confusion in this regard through its directive to Chief Secretaries of all States dated 23.04.2015 numbered 23011/16/2015/FRA which states that Community Forest Resources (CFR) will be recognised and managed by the Gram Sabha in accordance with the customary practices and livelihood needs and will include all the resources in the forest area. The working plans of the forest department have to be modified to accommodate the management plans drawn up by the Gram Sabha.
2. Establishment of Habitat Rights
During an informal meeting with the District Collector of Dindori on 26th November 2014, the subject of providing recognition to the habitat rights of the people of Baiga Chak was raised. The Collector said that there is a provision for habitat rights in the FRA, however, there were no guidelines as to how these rights were to be established. Then it was explained to the Collector that the British had established the Baiga Reserve in 1890 over an area of 23000 hectares and the people of seven villages had been given the right to practice Bevar cultivation in this area while those living outside the reserve did not have that right. The British delineated this area on a map and it was notified in the Mandla Gazetteer published in 1912 extending to an area of 36 square miles. Many different anthropological studies of the area also mention the existence of the Baiga Chak with its special rights for the inhabitants and the names of the villages. The villagers too possess documents stating that they are residents of the Baiga Reserve.
These documents state that the seven villages of the Baiga Chak are - Ajgar, Dhaba, Jilang, Silpidi, Dhurkuta, Rajnisarai and Lamotha. However, presently the number of villages are more possibly because more people have come and settled in the reserve over the past century and more since the notification of the area. The present situation is given in Table 1 below.
Table 1: Villages in Baiga Reserve of Dindori District of Madhya Pradesh
Gram Panchayat
Revenue Villages/Gram Sabhas within the Baiga Reserve
Hamlets in the Villages/Gram Sabhas
Jamuntola, Tendutola
Bhoulatola, Chhapra




The tribal residents of the Baiga Chak have preserved the bio-diversity of the area by practising their nature friendly Bevar cultivation and animal husbandry and so under the provisions of the FRA they are entitled to get habitat rights.  Rule 12.1 of the FRA Rules 2012 specifies the following regarding claim settlement of primitive tribal groups -
(d) ensure that the claim from member of a primitive tribal group or pre agricultural community for determination of their rights to habitat, which may either be through their community or traditional community institution, are verified when such communities or their representatives are present; and
(e) prepare a map delineating the area of each claim indicating recognizable landmarks.
(f) delineate the customary boundaries of the community forest resource with other members of the Gram Sabha including elders who are well versed with such boundaries and customary access;
(g) prepare a community forest resource map with recognizable land marks and through substantial evidence as enumerated in sub-rule (2) of rule 13 and thereafter, such community forest resource claim shall be approved by a resolution of the Gram Sabha passed by a simple majority.
The Collector accepted that the process of habitat right settlement could be begun on the basis of the documents provided in accordance with the aforementioned rules. After the documents regarding the special status of the Baiga Chak were submitted, a workshop was organised to discuss the process with the community leaders of the Baiga Chak.
3. Workshop on Habitat Rights
The District Collector organised the workshop on 8th January 2015 to ascertain the status of forest and habitat rights in Dindori. Forest Department Staff of the district from the lowest to the highest, a Government trainer on Forest Rights Act from Bhopal, Baiga leaders, Chairpersons of the Forest Protection Committees, the leaders of the Baiga dancing troupes, Principals of schools and members of the Baiga Mahapanchayat were the participants in this workshop. The forest department staff and the leaders of the forest protection committees spoke against the settlement of habitat rights saying that this would lead to the forests being destroyed by over exploitation. The trainer from Bhopal did not know anything about habitat rights for primitive tribal groups and said that these meant only the provision of rights to habitation and not to the control of Community Forest Resources. The members of the Baiga Mahapanchayat spoke at length about their forest based livelihoods, the diversity of the traditional Bevar cultivation and its produce in terms of food and nutrition, the food and nutrition security that this provides and the spiritual relationship of the Baigas with the forests. They also said that the leaders of the Baigas that had been invited to the workshop were not the traditional leaders but ones who had been forced on their community by various Government departments. The traditional leaders referred to in the FRA as the arbiters of rights in the villages are the Mukaddams and Dewans. As a consequence of this detailed presentation by the Mahapanchayat it was decided that a campaign would be conducted to have discussions in the seven villages of the Baiga Chak with the traditional leaders, Sarpanches and the Chairpersons and Secretaries of the Forest Rights Committees.
4. Mukaddam Awareness Campaign
The opposition of the leaders of the Forest Protection Committees set up by the forest department to the establishment of habitat rights led the Baiga Mahapanchayat to initiate a campaign to raise the awareness of the traditional Baiga leaders, the Mukaddams, regarding the provisions of the FRA regarding the special role they have in settling habitat rights. Each village in the Baiga Chak has its own community organisation which is headed by a leader who is variously known as the Mukaddam, Dewan or Samarth. Small disputes within the community and various other social matters are decided by these leaders in consultation with other elders. They also play an important role in the conduct of various social and religious events. The community meetings that are held to decide on disputes and social events are called "Jati Samaj". The awareness campaign was conducted in each village of the Baiga Chak to make these leaders and the community in general aware of the provisions of the FRA so that they would be able to competently place the demand for habitat rights before the District Collector and other government officers.

5. Forest Food and Indigenous Seed Festival
The Baiga Mahapanchayat in association with the NGO Nirman organised a Forest Food and Indigenous Seed Festival on 9th April 2015 in village Bhoulatola. The District Collector was invited along with other government officers so that they could understand the forest based livelihoods of the Baigas and its basic conservationist ethic. Many different kinds of seeds, fruits, herbs, medicinal plants and grasses were on display. The various agricultural implements, cultural artifacts and musical instruments that are used by the Baigas were also on display. The traditional Baiga leaders and men and women in large numbers had come to the festival. The District Collector stayed for four hours and had detailed discussions with the village leaders and the people. The traditional Baiga leaders submitted a written memorandum demanding the settlement of the habitat rights for the whole 23000 hectare area of Baiga Chak.
Following this the members of the Baiga Mahapanchayat and staff of Nirman remained in constant touch with the Collector providing various documents regarding the process of settlement of habitat rights. Initially it was decided to hold a combined Gram Sabha for the whole of Baiga Chak but after a close perusal of the FRA it was decided that the legal provision is for holding separate Gram Sabhas in each hamlet and so this was decided on.

6. Sample Habitat Mapping and Preparatory Workshop
Subsequently in a meeting with the Collector on 13th August 2015 it was decided that there would be a preparation workshop at the district level on 20th August followed by Gram Sabha meetings in all the seven villages of the Baiga Chak on 22nd August. It was also decided that a sample habitat mapping exercise would be conducted in one village prior to the Gram Sabhas and the procedure established in this sample exercise would be followed later also. This sample habitat mapping exercise was carried out in Dhurkuta village on 18th August. The District Project Officer along with two workers of Nirman and the Baiga leaders and people of the village conducted this exercise. The results of this mapping exercise were presented in the preparatory workshop. The traditional leaders of all the seven villages, forest department staff, revenue department staff and the Sarpanches and staff of Nirman all took part in the workshop. All the procedures to be followed in the Gram Sabhas were finalised and explained to the participants and Deputy Collector rank officers were designated as nodal officers for the conduct of the Gram Sabhas. The Collector decided to tour all the seven Gram Sabhas to oversee the process.
7. Gram Sabhas for Habitat Rights
The Gram Sabhas were held as per schedule on 22nd August 2015 in all the seven villages from 11 am onwards and they went on till 4 pm. The Collector chose to be present in the Gram Sabha at village Dhaba. The habitat mapping was done through participatory rural appraisal (PRA) method. The claim for habitat rights was presented and the Gram Sabha resolution accepting the claim was passed. In all seven villages the people and their traditional leaders held forth at length on the symbiotic relationship between forests and Baigas, the dependence of the latter on the forests for their livelihoods and food, the importance of Bevar cultivation and the spiritual connection of the Baigas with their forests which are home to their Gods and clan symbols. On the basis of this the people claimed their right to the entire forests.

Thus, a process that had started with an informal meeting on 26th November 2014 has culminated in the conduct of Gram Sabhas for securing habitat rights in the Baiga Chak. This was possible because the District Collector of Dindori Ms Chhavi Bhardwaj is a very sensitive officer committed to the proper implementation of the FRA. Our effort has been to facilitate the cooperation between the Baigas and the administration so as to benefit the former. Often, NGOs expend a lot of energy and resources in mobilising the people and conducting habitat mapping and Gram Sabhas but without the active involvement of the administration, ultimately nothing concrete is achieved in terms of securing legal title under the FRA. This is the important contribution of Nirman in this case in securing the cooperation of the administration to actualise the FRA. The Collector says, " If we can establish the habitat rights of the people in the Baiga Chak then in future nobody will be able to displace them for any project whatsoever." This will then be a historic achievement of the people of Baiga Chak and a first in Madhya Pradesh and only the second after Mendha Lekha village in Gadhchiroli district of Maharashtra where too the tribals have established their habitat rights. The Baiga Mahapanchayat and Nirman have together been able to organise the Gram Sabhas for habitat rights but there is still some way to go before the process is brought to its logical end with legal title to the forests with the Baigas and establishing true independence denied to them so far.