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, October 11, 2016

The Unpleasant Reality of Smallholder Agriculture

Subhadra's purchase of a one acre plot of farm land and subsequent practice of sustainable agriculture on it has brought us face to face with the stark reality of smallholder farming. The other day the farmer who stays next to Subhadra's land and looks after it phoned to say that the spate of late rains had caused the groundnuts to start germinating in the soil and it was necessary to take them out immediately. Subhadra was away and so I had to rush to the farm from Indore. With difficulty I was able to get two farm hands as this being the busy season every one was occupied. However, since we pay Rs 200 per day which is slightly more than the statutory minimum wage for agricultural labourers and this is much more than the Rs 120 that other farmers pay we generally manage to find farm hands. For two days along with the two farm hands I first uprooted the groundnut plants and then separated the groundnuts from the plants.
But this was not enough as the groundnuts were wet and needed to be dried as otherwise they would germinate or get infected with fungus. Since it was raining continuously, the groundnuts could not be dried on the farm. So I carted the groundnuts in my car to Indore, cleared up the guest room in our house and spread the groundnuts on the floor on a jute sheet and put on the fan!! For two days our whole house smelt of groundnuts as they dried under the fan till the rains continued. After that I put them to dry in the sun on our roof. However, this required a constant vigil next to the drying groundnuts because of the threat of squirrels and birds which would come to eat the groundnuts if there was no one around. I had been in the middle of writing a research report for an assignment that I was doing when the groundnut emergency had arisen. So while keeping my vigil on the groundnut I worked on my laptop to finish the report!!
Eventually after three days of drying in the sun, the groundnut was finally dry enough to be stored. In the process the groundnut shells that were either empty from inside or had small nuts, shrivelled up completely and I could separate them. So in the end we had only about thirty kilograms of good groundnut after all this effort. If my initial two days of labour only are counted along with that of the farm hands we hired then the total cost of taking out the groundnuts from the farm at Rs 200 per day per worker was Rs 1200. Whereas the wholesale price of groundnuts in the market that farmers are getting is only Rs 30 per kilogram and so the return in the market for the 30 kilograms would be Rs 900. If we add the cost of preparing the soil and sowing the groundnut, weeding it and the post harvest operations that I did to ensure that the groundnuts didn't rot, then the loss is even more. This is why farmers cannot afford to pay the minimum wage to farm labourers and pay only about Rs 100 to Rs 120 in our area and themselves get even less.
In the case of our groundnuts, the productivity was low due to a variety of reasons. In between the rains had stopped in the month of August just when the groundnuts were filling up with seed. So there were many groundnuts that shrivelled up in the ground itself and many others did not fill up with seed and shrivelled up later when they were sun dried. Before this in July it had rained heavily and led to excessive growth of the plant and less of the groundnuts on the roots.
This brings us face to face with the stark reality of the unfavourable economics of small holder farming which is exposed to the vagaries of nature. The statutory minimum wage for agriculture in Madhya Pradesh is itself low at about Rs 192 per day but even that is too much for the farmer to pay to hired farm hands and so the actual wage rate is only Rs 120 and the small holder farmer also gets that much for his own labour. In most cases the farmer does not have adequate resources to prevent post harvest decay of the crop and so there is sometimes a substantial loss on that count also. All in all the farmer remains trapped in a vicious circle of low production, low income, malnutrition and low investment in agriculture.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

In Search of Women's Health

Dalit Activist Subhadra Khaperde of the Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti, a collective of Dalit and Adivasi women working for women's rights and environmental conservation writes -

The Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti (Majlis) has initiated a programme of gynaecological health camps for women residing in slums in Indore. The programme consists of a preliminary baseline survey to assess the felt needs of the women regarding their reproductive and gynaecological health and the various barriers they face to achieving a healthy status. While this survey is conducted, discussions are also held about these barriers to health and the offer is made from Majlis of holding a health camp which is to include clinical checkups by gynaecologists, laboratory tests and provision of medicine, all done free of cost to the women. After this a first health camp is held and then a follow up one fifteen days later. This whole process takes a month in one slum. Even though all girls and women who are menstruating and those who have had menopause are treated, for the purposes of research only married women who are still in the menstrual age group are considered. 

The preliminary results of the first 150 women to benefit from the programme are as follows. The tables below present a comparison between the National Family Health Survey IV  2015-16 data for urban areas of Madhya Pradesh and that from the Majlis sample.  Table 1 provides a comparison of the demographic indicators that are common to both the surveys .
Table 1: Demographic Indicators (% of respondents)
Sl. No.
Sex Ratio
Women 15-49 years who are literate
Women with 10+ years of schooling
Women 20-24 married before 18 years
While the sex ratio is better in the Majlis sample than in the NFHS IV sample, the literacy and education levels are much poorer for the Majlis sample and the proportion of women in the 20-24 year age group who have been married before reaching the legal age of 18 years is more than double. Thus, overall the Majlis sample has a worse demographic profile than the NFHS IV.
The comparison between the Drinking water, sanitation and Cooking Fuel situation is given in Table 2 below.
Table 2: Drinking water, Sanitation and Cookiing Fuel Indicators (% of respondents)
Sl. No.
Good Drinking Water Source (Piped Treated Water Supply)
Good Sanitation (Toilets)
Clean Cooking Fuel (LPG or Electric)
The NFHS IV sample has a higher proportion of households with a Good Drinking water source and clean fuel while the proportion of households with good sanitation is almost the same for both samples and so in the case of these indicators also the Majlis sample overall has a worse situation than the NFHS IV sample. The comparison of the indicators related to pregnancy and childbirth are given in Table 3 below.
Table 3: Pregnancy and Childbirth Indicators (% of respondents) 
Sl. No.
Contraceptive use among 15-49 years
Mothers with full Antenatal Care
Institutional births
Total Fertility Rate (children per woman)
Mothers who received Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) cash
Average Out of Pocket expense for delivery (Rs)
The Majlis sample has much poorer values for all the indicators with the economic values of out of pocket delivery expense and cash support under JSY  being particularly disadvantageous.
The comparison of the reproductive health indicators is given in Table 4 below.
Table 4: Reproductive Health Indicators (% of respondents) 
Sl. No.
 Women who are anaemic
Women of  15-49 years who have undergone examination of cervix
Anaemia due to factors like overwork and malnutrition are the bane of women in India and there is an epidemic of Vitamin B12 deficiency which directly contributes to anaemia. The Majlis sample has an alarming proportion of 76.4 % women who are anaemic much more than the NFHS IV sample. While many women suffer from gynaecological problems and especially erosion of the cervix, very few ever get themselves checked up by gynaecologists. The Majlis sample had only 4.1 % women who had had their cervix examined and these were all those who had had hysterectomies.
The indicators of women's empowerment are given in Table 5 below.
Table 5: Women's Empowerment Indicators (% of respondents) 
Sl. No.
Married women who have experienced spousal violence
Women who own house
Women with Bank A/c
Women who use Sanitary Napkins
While with regard to owning of house and having bank accounts the Majlis sample is more or less on par with the NFHS IV sample, the situation with regard to suffering spousal violence and the use of sanitary napkins is much worse for the Majlis sample.
Thus, overall the women who have been chosen for the gynaecological health programme by Majlis are in a very disadvantageous situation as compared to the NFHS IV survey results, which themselves paint a very sorry picture of the status of women's health in urban areas of Madhya Pradesh. Therefore the implementation of the current programme by Majlis is eminently justified.
During the preliminary survey the women were asked whether they were suffering from any of twenty specific women's health problems that most commonly afflict women.  92.6 per cent of the women reported reproductive health problems with an average of three different complaints per woman with some having as many as ten complaints. Table 6 below gives the summary of the results with the proportion of women suffering from the most prevalent complaints as reported by the women themselves.
Table 6: Proportion of Women Complaining of Various Health Problems
Health Problem
Waist Pain
Vaginal Problems (Discharges, itching, swelling etc)
Urinary  Tract Problems
Menstrual Problems
Proportion of Women with complaint (%)
Proportion of women who complained of dizziness is very high at 64.9 percent which correlates well with the proportion of women who were tested and found to be anaemic which is 76.4 percent. A very high proportion of 71.6 percent of women complained of waist pains which generally arise from a combination of anaemia, overwork and problems of the reproductive tract. The proportion of women reporting vaginal problems which mostly arise from lack of menstrual hygiene was 44.7 percent which correlates well with the proportion of women who use cloth washed and dried in the shade during periods which is 59.5 percent. A very high proportion of 49.9 percent of the women reported having menstrual problems which too arise mostly from a combination of anaemia, overwork and lack of menstrual hygiene.
The summarised results of the clinical examination and laboratory tests are given in Table 7 below.
Table 7: Proportion of Women Diagnosed with Major Gynaecological Problems
 Gynaecological Problems
Cervical Problems (erosion, cysts, hypertrophy etc)
Vaginal Problems (discharges, itching, eruptions etc)
Urinary Tract Problems
Menstrual Problems
 Proportion of Women Affected (%)
A very high proportion of 67.6 percent of the women suffered from cervical problems like erosions and cysts and as much as 30 percent had serious problems requiring cauterisation and repeated medication. This is something that the women did not know about at all as they had never had their cervix examined by a gynaecologist. Many of these women also had vaginal problems and on the whole 49.1 percent of women were suffering from these. The proportion of women with urinary tract and menstrual problems was less than what they had reported in the survey because at the time of clinical examination they were not suffering from these problems which they do from time to time only.
Clinical diagnosis and laboratory testing of blood and urine samples are quite costly if done individually but since these were done in bulk, the costs came down by as much as 60 percent. Similarly medication for cervical and vaginal problems is quite costly if branded medicines are used. However, generic medicines were used in the camps and sourced at wholesale rates through bulk purchase and so the medicine costs were only about 15 percent of the retail value of branded drugs. All the women were cured of their problems over the month's time in which they were diagnosed and treated. Some required hospital procedures such as cauterisation. There was one woman who had stitches in her vagina which had not been removed after delivery a few years ago. She was repeatedly complaining of pain in her vagina but had never visited a gynaecologist afterwards. Some women had to be given intravenous iron drips as they were highly anaemic.
Clearly, the women had poor gynaecological health mainly due to inability to access good health services, prevalence of malnutrition and overwork, which are all due to a combination of poverty and patriarchal oppression. We have already seen that there is a high level of gender based violence. The survey also revealed that other indicators of women's disempowered status were equally bad -
1.       The gender division of labour is highly skewed for this sample with 81.8 percent of women doing all domestic work.
2.       The proportion of women who said that their men decided when to have sex and they had no say in the matter was very high at 90.4 percent. 
3.       The proportion of women who had some knowledge of governnment schemes favouring women was only 31.8 percent.
4.       The proportion of women with knowledge of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act was only 33.8 percent.
Meetings were held with the men also as without their cooperation, the women would fall back into ill health. In many cases the bacteria, fungi and viruses that cause vaginal infections in women are there in the penises of men also but do not affect them. Thus, it is necessary for the men also to take the medicines so that both are disinfected. These meetings with the men revealed that they too were unaware of the complexities of the reproductive tract problems of the women. In some cases the men were themselves suffering from infections of the penis but were too shy to go to a doctor for treatment. Thus, these meetings served the purpose of raising the awareness levels of the men also. This is very crucial as there is a culture of silence that stifles reproductive and sexual health issues and the absence of cheap government reproductive and sexual health services further aggravates matters.
The total cost of the month long intervention in one slum including the preliminary survey, the clinical diagnosis, laboratory tests, medication and documentation and analysis is Rs 50,000 catering to about 60 women. Thus, for an average cost of about Rs 800 per woman, complete diagnosis, testing and curative treatment is provided which would have cost the women at least Rs 3000 if they had tried to do it individually. Moreover, in most cases, the women do not have access to gynaecologists for their own problems even if they have the money due to lack of awareness. This programme of Majlis is consequently not only very essential but also a high impact one. Most importantly this programme is funded by individual donations raised through crowd funding on the internet. This has resulted in flexibility and innovation in conducting the programme.
The question naturally arises as to why the Government, which can get the clinical diagnosis, laboratory tests and the medicine at even cheaper rates than an NGO like Majlis, isn't providing this important service to the women. The survey revealed that let alone provide these gynaecological services, it is not even providing properly the safe motherhood services which are such an integral part of its family welfare agenda. Gynaecological health problems lead to both economic loss through inability to work and mental stress due to illness. An adverse gender division of labour, lack of sexual rights and domestic violence further queer the pitch for most women. Under the circumstances a more effective Government programme of reproductive health and women's empowerment would reap huge benefits in terms of economic and social progress for the society. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Unto This Last

Today is Gandhi's birthday. Given the way he has been attacked in recent times by Dalit activists and Arundhati Roy who have taken him to task for his casteist stands and closeness to the collaborationist nascent Indian capitalists of the British era respectively and trivialised by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has chosen to highlight only his efforts at sanitation to the exclusion of his other more important work, it would be helpful to distil from his thought and practice, that which is relevant to us as activists today.
The initial formulation of Gandhi's socio-economic and political programmes were based on two books by two seminal western thinkers - "Unto This Last" by John Ruskin and "The Kingdom of God is Within You" by Leo Tolstoy. Ruskin was a critic of Victorian materialism and industrialism and relied on an evangelical interpretation of Christianity to press for a more humane social system, which would use the surpluses gained from modern development to pull up the people at the bottom of society and create a level playing field for them. As opposed to the classical economists like Ricardo and Malthus he refused to accept that resources were scarce and instead worked from the proposition that they were abundant but were being disproportionately and inappropriately used and advocated that, if need be, some of the new industrial and urban development should be jettisoned because it clashed with nature and human weal.
Ruskin's book gets its name from a parable in the Bible in which daily labourers are put to work throughout the day as and when there is an opportunity for them. At the end of the day all are paid the same wage. When some of the workers who have worked from the beginning protest, it is argued that the last of the workers was prepared to work the whole day and it was not his fault that he got an opportunity only at the end and so he too deserved the same wage. This was the inspiration for Gandhi's Sarvodaya or uplift of all. This is uncannily close to Marx's definition of Communism in which society takes from each according to their capacity and gives to each according to their need.  However, the crucial difference lies in the fact that while Marx was a materialist and a proponent of a violent overthrow of the capitalist system, Ruskin was a spiritual person and so pitched for winning over the hearts of the unbelievers rather than burning them at the stake. As regards the devastation of nature, Marx had the same views as Ruskin but unlike the latter the former was an out an out votary of modern industrial development and so he downplayed this aspect expressing the hope that once communism was established the relationship between man and nature would stabilise. Tolstoy in his book written after his conversion to Christianity deplores the violence that is rampant in society because of the greed of human beings and makes a moving impassioned plea, with an eloquence that only such a great writer could have displayed, that the way out of the sea of troubles in which human beings found themselves, was to become completely non-violent. This provided the inspiration for Gandhi's ahimsa or non-violence.

Sarvodaya and Ahimsa, the two most important pillars of Gandhism, were refined by him considerably from their western roots by incorporating the teachings of the Bhagvad Gita and this later led him to propose village self reliance based on sustainable and equitable development as the most desirable mode of living in his book "Hind Swaraj" which while also being a seminal work, has a blemish that it is gender blind like the works of Ruskin, Tolstoy, Marx and the ancient Hindu philosophical texts which he had read and drawn from earlier!!!
Hailed as the "Sarvodaya Manifesto", this work first of all critiques modern industrialism for the prominence it has given to greed, making human beings slaves of machines. Then it inveighs against the resultant change in the education imparted which has turned students away from sustainable occupations and instead trained them for professions based on greed. At the socio-political level this has resulted in a centralised system of governance to facilitate the exploitation of human beings and nature. This system is democratic and participative only on paper while in reality being controlled by the powerful classes. 
Then the book goes on to propose an economic alternative based mainly on rural industries, especially the charkha or spinning wheel and handlooms to produce khadi or hand spun and woven cloth that will gainfully employ labour and a minimum of modern industries and a socio-political alternative based on totally participative and largely self sufficient and autonomous village republics or panchayats. A political programme based on non-violence is proposed for achieving this. It is argued that a truly just society has to be non-violent in nature and to achieve it, the means to be employed must also be non-violent. Civil disobedience and passive resistance relying on spiritual power instead of arms are suggested as the modes of action and given the name "Satyagraha" or effort embedded in truth. The aim of the satyagrahi or passive resister should be to bear repression passively so as to impress on the oppressor the immorality of his deeds and so win his heart over. An important part of the satyagrahi's programme would be to resist unjust laws through civil disobedience or non-cooperation. There would be a new education system called Nai Taleem to produce youth who would be the standard bearers of this revolution.
The day before he was assassinated on January 30th 1948, Gandhi had drafted a resolution for discussion in the forthcoming meeting of the All India Congress Committee, which has come to be known as his last will and testament. In this he had put forward the radical idea that since independence had been achieved the Congress party had served its purpose and it should be disbanded and instead all the members should devote themselves for the rejuvenation of rural India where the life of the masses was weighed down by the burden of oppressive forces that were internal to Indian society. Gandhi had been bothered by this internal oppression even during the freedom struggle and so had set up many ashrams throughout India to carry out rural empowerment and reconstruction work. The adoption of a nationwide Sarvodayi programme of action after independence would have meant micro planning from the village or even hamlet upwards with the macro planning of the country as a whole to be done so as to be able to provide resources at the central level for the fulfilment of the village level micro plans. Something that Gandhi called an Oceanic Circle to counter the image of a pyramid that top down planning conveys. In the ocean the water moves out in waves from an epicentre, which is the most powerful and so also the village republic was projected as being the most powerful in Gandhian social dynamics.
Unfortunately Gandhi never seriously tried to implement the programme he conceived in Hind Swaraj, primarily because he compromised by seeking financial support from the Indian industrialists and also by never pressing Satyagraha to the final extent where the passive resisters give up their lives. Moreover, he never addressed the deep caste and gender oppression in Indian society on a wide enough scale to seriously challenge caste hierarchy and patriarchy and was so unable to mobilise the masses in larger numbers. The fault lies not so much with Gandhi but with the fact that capitalism was in the ascendant throughout the twentieth century and there was no way in which Gandhi could have remained in control of a mass movement by sticking to the straight and narrow path he formulated in Hind Swaraj. Contemporaneously in the Soviet Union, first Lenin and then Stalin deviated greatly from Marxist tenets to keep the Soviet Union alive in the face of global capitalist opposition. Thus, the powers that be, in the British hierarchy and the Congress hierarchy, whether economic, social or political, were never discomfited to the extent where their consciences, of which they have very little anyway, would be moved enough for them to agree to a more just and sustainable development model. Consequetnly, we have a highly unjust and unsustainable socio-economic dispensation in power in India today. He was spared the embarrassment of witnessing his proposed village centred development programme being rejected by the Congress party as he was assassinated by Hindu fanatics who blamed him for the partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan.
However, in theory, Gandhi's concepts of sarvodaya, ahimsa, khadi gramodyog, nai taleem etc, suitably modified to attack caste and gender oppression in a more concerted manner, can form the basis of effective programmes of anarchist action at a decentralised level against the depredations of a highly centralised and exploitative modern economic and political system which have now become highly destructive of nature also in addition to being socially and economically unjust. There is no guarantee that such decentralised anarchist programmes of action will coalesce into an effective overall challenge to the present destructive system, but experience across the country shows that in small pockets such actions can make some difference at a time when the immense power of the centralised system does not brook any concerted centralised challenge to its hegemony whatsoever.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Revolution That Was Not to Be

Yesterday September 28th was the 25th anniversary of the assassination in 1991 of Shankar Guha Niyogi who played a significant role in building up a labour and peasant movement from scratch in Chattisgarh named the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM). His death signalled the beginning of the end of a strong wave of mass mobilisation not only in Chhattisgarh but throughout the country that had raised hopes of a more sustainable and equitable developmental model being established. It is with a wrench in my heart that I write this tribute to Niyogi and the revolution that he initiated but which was not to be as today I find my own dreams as a young man a quarter of a century ago lying shattered about me. 

The CMM had had its beginnings in the fight against some exploitative practices of contractors of the Bhilai Steel Plant at its iron ore mines in Dalli Rajhara. It started as a trade union, Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh in 1977 in the struggles of adivasi contract workers demanding better working conditions and wages. The plant management, instead of employing regular workers and paying them decent wages had adopted the abhorrent practice of hiring labourers through contractors at a cheap rate. A decade long struggle was waged from the mid nineteen seventies till the mid nineteen eighties during which many workers laid down their lives in police firing and attacks by goons of labour contractors while taking part in strikes. Finally the workers got their rights acknowledged by the Bhilai Steel Plant management.
The unique feature of this struggle was that it broke out of the narrow confines of standard trade unionism and encompassed the whole lives of its members. Campaigns were carried out against the two most debilitating problems that beset poor labourers in India - alcoholism and debt bondage to usurious moneylenders. Women were mobilised both to stop the brewing and selling of liquor and to form micro-credit groups so as to alleviate these problems. They also began addressing the problems of patriarchal oppression. A hospital was set up with contributions from the members that apart from providing treatment also developed a community health programme to increase health awareness. On the cultural front, research was conducted to unearth instances of people's struggles in the history of Chhattisgarh that had been glossed over by the mainstream historians. New literature in the form of songs and plays was created and disseminated through repertory troupes to project a positive alternate image of Chhattisgarh that could stand up to the modern urban culture being continually propagated through the mainstream media. The Morcha inspired by Shankar Guha Niyogi began to fan out among the nearby villages and also the ancillary industrial units in and around Bhilai from the late nineteen eighties.
The Morcha was formed in 1982 when the prevailing forms of development and governance were pinpointed as the root causes of all the ills of the people of Chhattisgarh. Not only did these bypass the livelihood interests of the majority but were also destructive of the environment. The industrial area in Bhilai was marked as the local source of most of this mal-development. Thus it was realised that any movement for thoroughgoing change in the Chhattisgarh region could not succeed without involving the labouring masses there. A four-pronged strategy was worked out. The thrust in the industrial regions would have to be to try and get labour and environmental laws implemented. In the villages the stress would have to be on reviving the traditional community spirit and the environment friendly agricultural activities that went with it. Simultaneously steps would have to be taken to get a better deal for farmers in the agricultural input and product markets where traders were invariably cheating them. The third front would have to be against the corrupt and repressive bureaucracy which had been inherited from the British and which was totally insensitive to the needs of the people. Finally an ideological and cultural onslaught would have to be launched against modern industrial and agricultural development by involving the intelligentsia. An alternative vision of a free Chhattisgarh would have to be formulated that was radically different from that of the urban Indian elite. This last was extremely important, as the ideology of modern development had so hegemonised the masses that it was hard to initiate mass action to challenge it.

Niyogi also realised that it was impossible for the Morcha to fight the state in such a comprehensive manner on its own and so he went out of his way to forge a broader front with other mass organisations. At that point of time in 1989 there were a number of people's movements underway in Madhya Pradesh. The various mass organisations of the affected people of the Bhopal gas tragedy had forced the government to make its welfare activities more transparent and responsive to the needs of the people. Medha Patkar and her colleagues of the Narmada Bachao Andolan were carrying out a militant struggle against the building of large dams on the Narmada River. Rajaji had set in motion the process of mobilisation of adivasis and peasants all over the state to demand their basic rights, which was to later evolve into the mass organisation Ekta Parishad of which Subhadra was a part. Finally the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath in Alirajpur and the Kisan Adivasi Sangathan in Hoshangabad had established themselves as forces to reckon with as adivasi mass organisations that had brought into focus the adivasis' right to a livelihood in accordance with their culturally and economically distinct lifestyles. The mood was very upbeat among all these organisations and together they did hold promise of better things to come at that point of time.
Shankar Guha Niyogi had begun organising the workers of the various factories in and around Bhilai that had been set up to utilise the steel being produced by the steel plant for downstream manufacturing from 1990. There was gross violation of labour laws in these units and so the workers were working on pittances without the mandatory welfare provisions like permanency of tenure, house rent allowance and pension benefits. The struggle had picked up in strength and there were widespread strikes in most units in the area demanding the implementation of labour laws. The mobilisation spread like wild fire and workers of almost all the units that employed labourers on an ad hoc basis were unionised. This was when the owners of these units decided to gang up and they hired a professional assassin from Uttar Pradesh, Paltan Mallah, to kill Niyogi. This man shot Niyogi dead in sleep at night in his residence at Durg on 28th September 1991. The immediate response of the BJP government was a negative one in that it did not even acquiesce in the legitimate demand that the police register the names of those being accused by the CMM in the FIR. However, there was a countrywide furore over this and under pressure from the central government it had to order an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Meanwhile the agitation of the CMM continued for the implementation of labour laws in the units in and around Bhilai. The government under pressure from the factory owners was not prepared to implement the demands of the workers that they be made permanent and given proper benefits. Finally the CMM workers sat in dharna near the Powerhouse railway station in Bhilai. This movement for regularisation of workers in Bhilai was taking place at a juncture when a whole new era of globalisation characterised by off-shoring of manufacturing to low labour cost locations was just taking off worldwide. The new watchword for global capital at that time and ever since has been that of  "labour market flexibility" involving the right of the employers to hire and fire labourers at will, pay them subsistence wages and not provide any accompanying benefits that the regularisation of employees entails under labour legislation. These labour laws had been put in place as a result of more than a century of trade union struggles and a clear realisation by the capitalist states in the wake of the Great Depression of the nineteen twenties that unrestricted capitalism without welfare measures for the labouring class would lead to demand collapsing and leading to markets being flooded with goods that no one could buy leading to the collapse of the economy altogether.
Marx had pointed out that this situation arises from a fundamental contradiction that has plagued capitalism right from the beginning - that of falling rates of profits due to increasing competition and technological advancement. To keep the profits rolling in, production and sale of commodities have to be expanded continually with the introduction of newer and newer technology while the wages of the labourers have to be suppressed. But there is a limit to how much of this can be done within one country and so a stage comes when there are too many products to sell and too few buyers with the wherewithal to buy them. In the early stages of capitalist development this problem was solved by imperial control, which allowed the European nations to export their excess labour and goods to the colonies. In the immediate post World War II years too the capitalist firms of the developed West could provide good wages and considerable benefits to their labourers at home and thus keep demand high by extracting super profits from the exploitation of the labour and natural resources of developing countries and get around the contradiction. However, as these developing countries too began to catch up and develop industrially competition grew to the extent that it became uneconomical for companies in the developed world to employ regular labour with good wages and side benefits. This forced the shut down of manufacturing units in the developed countries and their relocation in locations closer to cheap natural resources and labour.
Thus globally China in particular and Asia in general was becoming the favoured destination for the off-shoring of developed country manufacturing units and within India an exodus of manufacturing had begun from the traditional centres like Mumbai and Kolkata to places like Bhilai or even less developed locations in search of cheap and unregulated labour markets. Under the circumstances the industrialists in Bhilai would have to cut down on their profitability and global competitiveness considerably to accommodate the demands of the CMM. So they put pressure on the government to crush the movement once and for all instead of negotiating with it. Even after a few days when the demands were not met the workers went on to the rail track and stopped the running of trains on the trunk Howrah-Mumbai rail route on 1st July 1992. The government was in no mood to find a solution through discussions and so suddenly in the evening armed police began firing on the protesters killing seventeen of them. Then a severe crackdown followed in which anybody connected with the CMM was arrested and beaten up in the police station before being sent to jail. A false case of murder of a police inspector was foisted on the major leaders of the CMM and so they all had to go underground. The whole process of mass mobilisation in the Bhilai region was set back greatly and never recovered from this body blow.
This had its effect on the Dalli unit of the CMM also. The deposits of iron ore in Dalli were slowly coming to an end. So the Bhilai Steel Plant management wanted to introduce machines and mine out whatever was left. They proposed to the CMM that they would give a golden handshake and lay off most of the workers and retain some as permanent BSP staff. The CMM sensing that in the changed global environment there was little possibility of a successful mass agitation against this proposal agreed to it and so over the years the main Dalli mass base of the CMM too has become dissipated.  Finance and Technology, which have considerably increased the repressive and cooptive powers of the state, along with the control of the media and academia has helped capitalism to dissipate not only CMM but also the other mass movements that were bidding bold to challenge it in India with an alternative development model. We have to face up to this reality and seek to counter it with some new means of mobilisation because the old ones that were pioneered by Guha Niyogi are not tenable any more. Unfortunately there does not seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel.