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.
Saturday, January 10, 2015
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Swapanji came to know about our work in Alirajpur and especially about the residential school for Bhili children that we run in Kakrana where some incipient work is also being done to conserve and promote traditional Bhili dryland agriculture. He expressed a desire to see the school. So we went down to Kakrana from Indore for a preliminary reconnaissance. He liked what he saw and after coming back roped in his brother in law from Mumbai who gave him his car as he wanted to buy a new one. Then on 8th December we went down in this car and Swapanji carried enough material with him to settle down in the guest room that we have in the school. As is evident from the write up that he has written, he has hit if off with the environment and the people there, especially the children who are his guides for various things, in the same way as he is their guide for education.
This village Kakrana in M.P., is about 225 Km from Indore. I went there the second time (8th to 20th Dec 2014) to see if I could survive there without falling sick - it is a very dusty area but totally free of industrial pollutants. I did stay well and even climbed hills without any after effect.Hills are not vey high, of course, but quite challenging for me.
Monday, December 22, 2014
Saturday, December 6, 2014
Now this is one area in which the KMCS had not done much earlier other than run some schools. Due to the direction given by Action Aid from 2012 onwards KMCS has become very proactive on child rights. Things have been made easier by the fact that the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act was enacted in 2009 and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 which substantially increase the legal rights of children. Applying the modus operandi that the KMCS has applied very successfully over the past decade or so with regard to other powerful people friendly statutes like the Forest Rights Act, the Rural Employment Guarantee Act,Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act and the Control of Usury Act, the organisation began pressurising the administration to run the government schools properly. In the span of two years there has been huge impact with the running of the government schools having improved drastically basically through making the teachers attend schools and teach and provide mid day meals. Many new schools have been opened and school buildings have been sanctioned. Though given the poor infrastructure and staffing the quality of education is very poor but at least the schools are running and the children are getting many benefits. Since very crucially in India, children are as good as their mothers given the huge malnutrition and ill health that plagues the majority of the population, the organisation has also run a sustained campaign to improve the reproductive health component of the National Rural Health Mission. Health services in the area are in even more of a shambles than they are nationally and so immense pressure has been brought to bear on the administration to hold special camps in the remote areas. The auxiliary nurse medics who were not visiting the villages but submitting false reports have now been made to visit regularly.
To further increase the pressure on the administration and also to showcase what has already been achieved over the past two years, the KMCS took out a massive rally of thousands of people and especially women and children in Alirajpur on 20th November 2014. This is the International Children's Day declared by the United Nations and this year is the silver jubilee of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989. The rally was led by the women and children as shown in the picture below
All in all it was a very impressive show and for the first time in its three decades of mass action the KMCS took out a rally on children's issues with children at the forefront which was extensively covered in the newspapers.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Be that as it may, what is of added concern is the security of children. They are not only subjected to all kinds of violence in their homes, in the schools if they happen to be attending them and even more so as child labourers in various occupations with some being downright hazardous but also they are often abducted without any trace. The Bachpan Bachao Andolan, had filed a petition in the Supreme Court citing the data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau over the past few years of which in 2013 itself as many as 28,167 children were abducted and only about 40 percent of these cases had been investigated by the police thus indicating that the latter were culpable of dereliction of duty and should be hauled up for this. The Supreme Court took cognisance of this and issued orders to all the errant States to file affidavits giving details of what was the situation with regard to registration and disposal of children's abduction cases in their States. As is to be expected, the State of Madhya Pradesh did not consider it worthwhile to heed the Supreme Court's notice with the urgency it should have and gave a slip shod answer!!
The Supreme Court was not amused and ordered the Chief Secretary of the State, The Director General of Police and others to appear before it and file an affidavit giving the details as to what they had done to remedy matters. This finally woke these worthies out of their slumber and they presented themselves before the Supreme Court with the following details -
1. 34,753 children were abducted in the State over the period from 2011 to October 2014.
2. 30,247 of these including 18,354 girls had been recovered so far from among these and a special drive has now been launched to recover the remaining.
This raises a few pertinent questions. First, why is it that the police which is supposed to take prompt action to recover abducted children unwilling to do so. The reason is that it is woefully under staffed and already under pressure to contain other kinds of crime, maintain law and order and do security duty for VIPs. Thus, the safety of children comes pretty low down in its list of priorities.
Second, why did the Madhya Pradesh Government take the notice from the Supreme Court so lightly in the first instance. This is because there are many such notices from the higher courts that are served on the State Government for the violation of the rights of people and the former routinely gets away by dilly dallying and the cases get prolonged without coming to a conclusion. In the present case too, the petition by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan had been pending in the Supreme Court for quite some time and there had been many hearings earlier. However, the situation changed drastically when the Convenor of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Kailash Satyarthi, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year for his three decade long struggle for child rights and especially against child labour and abduction. The issue of child rights gained some traction as a result and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, whose bench was hearing the petition, must have read about and been impressed by all the work being done by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan and decided to come down hard on the recalcitrant police and administration.
The third and most important question is what lesson does this have for people fighting for the rights of underprivileged people in general and not just defenceless children. Since the State is not interested in spending money in providing free or cheap social services to the poor it will also not be interested in protecting their rights. Theoretically the courts should be a forum where the poor can go to secure their rights but they do not have the money to do so and even when an NGO or a mass movement approaches the court on their behalf, given the over load of cases in the courts, once again because in most cases it is the Government which is the biggest and most frivolous litigant, it is difficult to get any judgement in the favour of the poor. As the experience of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath suggests, the use of mass action and legal action eventually just about enables an organisation to retain a minimal presence in the fight for rights without bringing about any substantial change in the situation.
Finally, the piquant conrtribution of the Nobel Committee in the saga of ensuring child rights in India has to be considered also!! Kailash Satyarthi was nominated for the Nobel Prize, by the European Union which happens to be a major supporter along with European NGOs of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan. Despite sustained work over the last three decades, Satyarthi does not have many admirers in India in the NGO sector or in the Government and so he wasn't nominated by an Indian!! The European Union did not rest after nominating him but lobbied hard with the Nobel Committee which was also under pressure from the American lobby to award the prize to Malala Yusufzai. In the end this hard lobbying resulted in both Malala and Satyarthi being jointly awarded the prize. A huge achievement by any standards, achieved mainly due to lobbying by neo-imperialist powers but met with lukewarm reception in both their post colonial countries!! Anyway the first concrete result of the Nobel Prize being awarded to Satyarthi as far as Madhya Pradesh, which is his home State, is concerned, is that the Government here has now been forced to act to retrieve all the children who have been abducted in the past few years and let us hope the glare of the Supreme Court will continue to be focused on this matter for some more time. Otherwise childhood in Madhya Pradesh at least is in serious jeopardy!!
Friday, November 14, 2014
He became an acknowledged expert on Bhili culture and was closely associated with the broadcast of Bhili songs, stories and plays on Akashvani Radio Service from Indore. Later he developed primers in the Bhili language for the education of children in their mother tongue in Jhabua district from where he hailed, being born in the village of Bhagor. A photo of his is shown below.
Saturday, November 8, 2014
Sticking to India and assuming an average household size of five persons and the share of domestic power consumption in total consumption to be 22 % ( Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation estimates), the average household consumption per day works out to about 2 units of electricity. The consumption of electricity for agriculture per household, assuming 65% population as involved in agriculture for a living and the share of agricultural power consumption to be 18% of the total, we get per household consumption for agriculture in rural areas to be another 2 units of electricity per day.Thus, a rural household on an average consumes about 4 units of electricity per day. This is obviously grossly inadequate if we compare it with electrical energy use in Japan for instance or even China. However, this statistic masks the fact that in reality most rural households in India do not have effective access to grid electricity either for domestic use or for agricultural use and their consumption is way below even this very low national average with about 40% of households still having no access to grid electricity. This is the case with the villages deep inside the Mathwar Reserved Forest area in Alirajpur, which form the core area of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, where grid electricity consumption is zero and there is some minimal consumption from solar panels.
While countries like the USA and Japan have to seriously consider cutting down on their electricity usage given the high environmental cost of such usage, India has to improve its electricity consumption if it is to provide a better quality of life to most of its people but to even double the current consumption through fossil fuel based centralised generation would mean an immense environmental cost. Also given the asymmetries in distribution, the increased electricity generated would be unequally distributed leaving the vast majority still short of minimum standards. Thus, India is faced with a difficult conundrum with regard to electrical energy consumption - it has to increase electricity consumption but without adversely affecting the environment.
It is in this context that decentralised renewable electrical energy assumes importance. Currently renewable electrical energy generation through wind and solar systems feeding into the grid is about 10% of the total electricity generation but decentralised renewable electricity generation is negligible. All the thrust in renewable energy is for centralised generation to feed into the grid which is not really going to serve the needs of the vast rural population that is starved of electricity. Therefore, there has to be a policy shift for decentralised off grid or distributed generation catering to small village communities. This can be a mixture of biomass gasification based generation and solar photovoltaic panels. The former for the heavier needs of agricultural production and processing and the latter for household needs. It requires roughly 6kg of biomass to produce 1 unit of electricity and a rural household requires about 4 units of electricity for its agricultural operations and this means a biomass requirement of 25kgs per day which is not very difficult to ensure with forest conservation and reutilisation of agricultural biomass. Solar panels have become more efficient with time but the problem of storage still remains expensive. However, for providing 1 unit of electricity for domestic use not much investment is required. The technologies for distributed electricity generation are there but unfortunately the will to implement them on a large scale in rural areas isn't and so there seems to be no prospect of light at the end of the tunnel for the Adivasis in Alirajpur!!!
Friday, October 24, 2014
How do we interpret this legend? While Indra was only the God of Rain, Krishna was the overall God of Nature. Thus, the early Indians who were worshippers of nature, through this legend seem to indicate that they felt that a holistic view of nature would be more appropriate than a partial one. So the wisdom of the ancient people who initiated this legend and the resultant worship is very relevant today when we have not only fragmented nature considerably more through industrialisation but also devastated it with scant regard for the renewability and resilience of various ecosystems which are the basis of life on this earth.
I grew up in an urban setting in Kolkata and so knew only of Kali Puja and Diwali and had no inkling whatsoever about Govardhan Pooja that is held the next day. I first came to know of this when I came to Alirajpur. In fact the Bhils here celebrate Diwali in a different fashion altogether. For them this festival is a thanksgiving to nature for its bounty in giving them a good harvest. So they do not celebrate it according to the Hindu Diwali calendar. Each village has its own Diwali celebration in December or January after all the harvest has been winnowed and stored away in their houses. The picture below shows women using a saree as an artificial wind creator in the absence of natural wind to winnow red gram.
On the first day there is singing, dancing and feasting and on the second day the bullocks are worshipped and fed the grain that they have helped in harvesting. The food has to be prepared for feasting and for this festival small millets like Bhadi and Batti have to be pounded in pestles and then boiled. The picture below shows women pounding the millets -
The ritual of worshipping the bullocks and feeding them is an elaborate one and here is a picture of a bullock being fed grain after the worship -
Thursday, October 16, 2014
The crucial argument in this parable is 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 because he too has a family to feed. Thus, the reward for labour is delinked from the quantity and quality of labour itself and tied to the basic needs of the labourer. This is also the argument in the socialist dictum - "From each according to his ability and to each according to his need", first popularised by Louis Blanc and later taken up by Karl Marx, which too has its roots in another biblical parable - "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need" - Acts of the Apostles, 4:32–35: 32A man that is a householder, went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and said unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They said unto him, Because no man has hired us. He said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard said unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the good man of the house, saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.— adapted from Matthew 20:1–16, New Testament, King James Version
This parable in fact strikes at the roots of economic inequality - the ownership of private property.
Then there is the famous verse from the Gita (Chapter 2 verse 47) which says "to work you have the right not to its fruits, don't be the medium for enjoying the fruits of work and neither be lured into not working" which delinks working from the fruits of that work and stresses that humans to exist must work but that the results of that work are not to be sought after.
Thus, the problem of economic inequality, its roots and the means to be adopted for its solution have been the subject of human discussion from ancient times and it is indeed something of an irony that it should still be so today!!!
The American philosopher, John Rawls, too proposed something of the same sort when he suggested that the priority social objective of any State should be to maximise the welfare of the worst off person in society and this is what informs most welfare measures of modern states where redistribution of incomes is sought to be done through taxing the rich and subsidising the poor.
Friday, October 10, 2014
There was a time when conducting mass rallies in far away places used to be a song as all we had to do was climb on to a train en masse and travel free in the four or five general compartments that used to be there. On one occasion we even invaded the reserved compartments. However, this has now become impossible. Not only are there just one or two general compartments which are already jam packed with people but also there are strict security arrangements and so it is practically impossible to invade the reserved compartments. Thus, the pressure on Railways to make profits has also put the brakes on mass mobilisation over long distances to attend rallies in places of power. While the mainstream political parties hire trains to ferry people to their rallies, the mass organisations obviously cannot do so given their shoe string operations and so such rallies have become a thing of the past mostly.
So due to the rush in trains now people have to rely on buses and various other kinds of road transport also which are not only much more expensive but also more accident prone. These modes of road transport too are over crowded as the picture below of a jeep over laden with passengers in Alirajpur shows.
Personally, in times of old when we were young and bold when Subhadra and I have slogged it out in unreserved packed compartments but this has become difficult these days and we rarely attempt it anymore. Last year on one occasion I had to do it but for a short distance of about 200 kilometres that involved only about 4 hours of standing travel. Recently Subhadra had to rush to Raipur to visit a relative who had been paralysed by a cerebral stroke. It was the peak Puja holiday season and somehow I managed reserved train tickets for her online but eventually one leg of about two hundred and fifty kilometres from Nagpur to Raipur did not get confirmed. So she had to rush out of the station to the ticket counter and get a general ticket to board the connecting train. As she came on to the platform the train started moving. She began running for the general compartment which was at the back but it was jam packed with men sitting at the entrance who refused to let her in. Luckily there was one Ladies only general compartment after that and she somehow managed to get onto that. No sooner had she got in and sat down next to the toilet because the rest of the compartment was packed with women another woman took out her wares of lac bangles and asked Subhadra to buy them!! Subhadra saw that she had two small children with her so she asked her where her husband was. The bangle seller said that he had not been allowed in to this compartment by the police and so he was in another compartment!!. Subhadra told her that she did not wear these kinds of bangles and instead offered to look after her children so that the bangle seller could go and sell the bangles in the compartment. The bangle seller eventually succeeded in selling Rupees five hundred worth of bangles!! The general compartments are packed with such marginal people trying to make livelihoods out of nothing and desperately travelling from one place to another.
To cut a long story short the inequality that is rampant in society manifests itself in transportation also with most people having to bear tremendous difficulties to travel while a miniscule few travel in luxury.