The beneficial limits of centralised governance and modern industrial development being pushed by all-powerful nation states and multilateral institutions have been reached. The harmful side effects are becoming increasingly manifest in the form of serious environmental problems and widespread poverty all over the world. Despite formal democratic institutions real power has not devolved to the common people and their voices are not being heard. So people's discontent is on the rise leading to increasing violence the world over.
All over the world the major burden of the tremendous costs of this kind of development and governance have historically been borne by the indigenous people. In India too this sordid state of affairs exists and the tribals, adivasis or indigenous people as they are variously called have been affected negatively. Analysis of the tribal predicament in India has established fairly well that the institutions set up under the provisions of the Constitution of India for their betterment have not functioned properly and the various laws enacted from time to time for their protection have not been implemented, primarily due to the wrong development policies adopted by the state. These have tended to strengthen the political and economic power of the already powerful upper class people vis-a-vis the tribals.
From the nineteen eighties there have been a number of grassoots people's organisational initiatives in the Central Indian region that have attempted to creatively synthesize the democratic space provided by the enabling provisions in the Constitution and many other protective acts and the traditional consensus based mass democratic practices of the adivasis to evolve a new theory and practice of decentralised politics and sustainable development that can be called Anarcho-Environmentalism. It is notable that these organisations like the Narmada Bachao Andolan, Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha, Kisan Adivasi Sangathan, Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath and Adivasi Mukti Sangathan to name just a few have through their innovative economic, social and political action made a name for themselves worldwide. A detailed description and critical analysis of the goals, achievements and failures of these movements has been undertaken in this book and it ends by providing pointers towards the solution of the serious social, economic and environmental problems that face humanity at the present juncture.
Consequently, this book is in a broad sense a manifesto of Anarcho-Environmentalism. The epic story telling style of the Bhil adivasis of central India who are its main protagonists has been adopted in it. The tales of their struggles as well as the analysis of these are presented through the life experiences of two of the activists associated with the people's movements - the author and his wife Subhadra Khaperde. The narrative has in addition a rich mixture of various other stories and histories ancient and modern, local and global. The stories are all liberally laced with humour with not a single chapter going barren in this respect. There is also an element of suspense as the plot builds up through the various micro narratives some personal, some organisational, some mythical and some historical, woven together into the meta-narrative of the overall struggle against destructive modern development. Finally the tale reaches a very entertaining, well-argued and philosophically uncommon climax in the end.
Despite the fact that these anarcho-environmentalist movements have not been able to make a mass impact big enough to be able to achieve what they have set out to do, they have nevertheless succeeded in underlining the crucial need for ensuring environmental sanity and socio-economic justice. Analysing in detail the characteristics of the present dominant development model and the reasons for its hegemony the book ends by charting out a course to keep pegging at changing it for the better. The ending is a positive one providing a modus operandi whereby even ordinary people can singly or in groups act to bring about a saner socio-economic and environmental dispensation. The whole book can be downloaded from the accompanying page which is eponymous with it -
The twenty-nine chapters can also be separately downloaded from the above page. Their thumbnails and word length are given below -
Putting Black on White - Chapter 1 (5700 words)
Using a Bhili language metaphor for the ability to write it is argued that the activists of the mass environmental movements in India have not been able to put black on white in the same way as the illiterate adivasis. That is the environmental activists have not been able to write entertainingly about their experiences and so have failed to garner enough public opinion in support of their work. A Bhili fable about a woman's tongue being cut off because she spoke against her husband on the orders of the patriarchal village council, which also recommended that the husband swallow it is mentioned. The fact that in the fable the tongue remains stuck in the husband's throat leaves the possibility that it can be recovered. The name of the book is taken from this Bhili fable, as it is a description of the organised efforts of marginalised people trying to speak out against their oppression, which they had previously been suffering mutely in a culture of silence.
A Mission Found - Chapter 2 (4840 words)
This chapter describes how disturbed by the poverty and ignorance of the majority of the people in India and especially the adivasis during his final college days as a student of engineering in the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur in West Bengal the author rejects a corporate career as a civil engineer and manager and instead seeks out opportunities for full time social work among the adivasis. Through the study of various ideologies and philosophies and a process of trial and error the author finally arrives in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh to begin actualising his mission in life.
Nature's Children Unarmed - Chapter 3 (6540 words)
This chapter details the way in which the Bhil adivasis have been deprived of their traditional resource bases over the centuries. Special emphasis is given on the role of the British in introducing agricultural and forest policies, which were inimical to the interests of the adivasis. It is also stressed that the independent Indian state has continued the British policies leading to the continuing devastation of the adivasis' livelihoods and culture. The glorious history of the adivasis' protest movements against this unjust exploitation is also set out.
Nature's Children's Revival - Chapter 4 (4650 words)
The mass organisation process of the adivasis in the early nineteen eighties in Jhabua district before the coming of the author is described here. The whole process of the activists living with the adivasis and working with them as labourers and slowly winning over the confidence of the people and then inspiring them to get together to demand the implementation of laws and policies that had previously been there for their benefit only on paper is set out in detail.
A Paradise Lost - Chapter 5 (4650 words)
The author describes his own contribution to the organisation process from 1985 onwards and shows how the activists succeeded in bringing about considerable improvement in the living conditions of the adivasis by simply ensuring the implementation of the various laws and policies with the help of sympathetic bureaucrats. The happy go lucky life style of the adivasis and the way in which it rubbed off on the activists making life very enjoyable is also described here. These were the golden years when the organisation process around local issues went on with relative success as the deeper injustices of the system as a whole had not been adequately addressed. This period came to an end in 1994 and the author left Jhabua for Indore.
New Temples for Old - Chapter 6 (6490 words)
Describes Subhadra's early years in her village in Chhattisgarh and the troubles her poor farmer family suffered by being displaced due to the construction of a dam over the River Mahanadi. Provides a brief history of Chhattisgarh showing the way in which poor people's interests have been marginalised in the pursuit of modern industrial development. Special emphasis has been laid on some of the major Gond adivasi rebellions that have taken place against the British and later in independent India.
Gandhism as the last resort of the Hapless - Chapter 7 (5470 words)
An introductory discussion of Gandhian social and political action along with the philosophical bases of Gandhi's thought and action are provided here. Some of the problems confronting Gandhism in independent India making it the last choice of the poor people in trouble are also discussed. Subhadra's first experience as an anganwadi worker in a Gandhian organisation is described.
Mother Chhattisgarh is Calling - Chapter 8 (4290 words)
The path breaking organisational work of the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha among adivasi mineworkers and its early successes is presented here. Subhadra faces problems in working alone to try and organise people. She gives up and goes home. There is no future at home and her father advises her to get out of the village and try once again. She joins her organisation again and is asked to begin work in the western Madhya Pradesh region among the Bhil adivasis. Here she finds some response and decides to carry on.
Once Turbulent Flowed the Narmada - Chapter 9 (6510 words)
The initial years of the movement against the Sardar Sarovar Dam being built on the River Narmada and some of its great early successes are detailed here. These efforts led to the holding of the first ever all India mass rally against destructive development in Harsud town in 1989. The great social worker Baba Amte also lent his support to the movement from this event onwards. However, some of the crucial programmatic problems that were to later assume critical proportions had also begun to emerge at this time and these have been discussed.
Following the Heart - Chapter 10 (5290 words)
The heroic and long drawn struggle against Union Carbide Corporation for the criminal gas leak from its factory in Bhopal in 1984 that has killed thousands of people over the years has been described here. An episode in which the top environmental activists from all over India including the author went to jail protesting against the World Bank is also described for the great insights that it had given the author regarding the problems of forging unity among activists of different ideological viewpoints with regard to the theory and programme of action to be adopted for the struggle against the state.
Grand Old Men of the Environmental Fringe - Chapter 11 (6140 words)
The great work that has been done over half a century by leading environmental personalities like Baba Amte who have inspired and led the younger generation of activists including the author in their current struggles is briefly described in this chapter.
Things Fall Apart - Chapter 12 (7200 words)
The sad retreat of the various mass movements in Central India in the face of the refusal by the state to accede to their demands is detailed in this chapter. The use of repression and cooption by the state to break mass movements is discussed critically. The author and Subhadra get married after a brief romance.
Love is all you need - Chapter 13 (5130 words)
A brief tongue in cheek description of the worldview of the Bhil adivasis, in which love plays a dominant role, is provided here. It is shown that this worldview is fundamentally at odds with the Hindu ascetic worldview on which Gandhism is based and so there is little possibility of a large section of the Bhils ever agreeing to become Gandhians. The way in which the institutions of the modern state have interfered with the culture of the Bhils to its detriment is also discussed here.
The Neglected of the Earth - Chapter 14 (5100 words)
With the older mass movements in retreat the author and Subhadra start organisational work in a new area near Indore in 1996. Since previous to this the earlier mass movements had neglected women's issues, the focus of the new work is on improving the status of Bhil women. More emphasis is also laid on developing organic leadership so as to reduce the dependence of the people on the activists. The dismal health condition of the women of the area is described along with a critical analysis of the causes. A brief overview of women's movements worldwide and in India and the work done on reproductive health is also provided.
Gynaecology in the Wilderness - Chapter 15 (4700 words)
The severe obstacles in the path of providing quality reproductive health care to women in remote rural areas are described here. The attempt to provide health services through reproductive health clinics is somewhat successful but not totally so in the face of ignorance of basic preventive health practices on the part of rural women. The results of a reproductive health survey that was conducted revealed that deep patriarchal structures of oppression severely affected women's health and well being.
From Reproductive Health to Reproductive Rights - Chapter 16 (4830 words)
The stress is shifted to battling patriarchy rather than just providing reproductive health services. This takes the form of an anti-liquor movement and is highly successful. Massive raids are carried out against powerful bootleggers. Women are mobilised in large numbers leading to a widespread movement against patriarchy in the region.
The Evil Empire Strikes Back - Chapter 17 (5710 words)
Naturally the state does not view this mobilisation with a benevolent eye and so repression begins. The usual stratagem of implicating the people in false police cases and putting them behind bars is adopted. The people put up a spirited resistance initially but have to back down in the face of the much greater power of the state. As with the other earlier movements this movement too is throttled.
Reliving the Myth of Sisyphus - Chapter 18 (7100 words)
The Greek myth about Sisyphus who was cursed to roll a rock eternally up a hill only to see it come down again is brought in as a metaphor for the predicament of the activists of the environmental movements who have to go on fighting continuously for their goals without being able to achieve them. The efficacy of satyagraha and especially hunger strikes as a strategy is critically reviewed with a consideration of earlier satyagrahas and hunger strikes from the pre-independence era. The conclusion is that given overwhelming state power there is little likelihood of success for environmental mass movements fundamentally challenging modern development. So activists must enjoy the endless battle for bringing about a better social order rather than hope for victory if they want to continue in the face of heavy odds without being disillusioned.
The Exasperating Anarchist Catch 22 - Chapter 19 (7180 words)
The environmental activists are anarchists in the sense that they are in favour of decentralisation of both governance and economic activity and want to reduce the role of the centralised state. As such they are faced with a Catch 22 situation in that to fight centralised states effectively centralised mass organisations have to be built up which is anathema to their beliefs. This is the dilemma that has confronted all anarchists in India from the time of Gandhi, the first conscious political Indian anarchist of the modern era. There has been no satisfactory resolution of this problem and so the anarchists have remained on the fringe of politics. Gandhi himself was sidelined after independence, as his call to dissolve the Indian National Congress was not heeded by the other leaders of the party. Subsequently his programme of village uplift too was given the go by. Since then mainstream electoral politics has become mired in corruption and foul play and first the socialists and communists and now the environmental activists have not been able to influence state policy in favour of the poor and oppressed sections of society and for better environmental management in any significant way as a result. A discussion of anarchism worldwide is also provided in this chapter.
Casting Pearls Before Swine - Chapter 20 (8790 words)
The bureaucracy, which is one of the institutions of the centralised state that prevents the fulfilling of anarchist goals is discussed in this chapter. It is argued that the British set up the bureaucracy for their imperial interests. The anti-people attitude of the bureaucracy has carried on after independence because it suited the new rulers to use the old structure for pushing through their own sectarian interests. Some sensitive bureaucrats who have tried to buck the trend have had to eventually resign from the bureaucracy. The work of one such person Aruna Roy, who has become a leading political activist of the environmental movements in India is critically analysed to evaluate its potential as a possible solution to the eternal anarchist problem described in the previous chapter.
Jailhouse Rock - Chapter 21 (6680 words)
Two other institutions of the state that play important roles in the subordination of the people are the police and the jails. Detailed tongue in cheek descriptions are given of the experiences that various activists and adivasis have had of the police and the jails to show how effective these latter are in snuffing out the protests of the people along with international parallels.
The Elusive Holy Grail of Justice - Chapter 22 (7480 words)
The judiciary is the most important upholder of rights of all kinds in a democracy. However, in reality the judiciary too is inaccessible to the poor. A brief history of the nature of the judiciary in India is provided. It is shown that only from the late nineteen seventies onwards has the higher judiciary shown some feeling for the poor while the lower judiciary is still insensitive to their needs. Once again examples of the experiences of various activists are described with a humorous touch. Thus it is conclusively shown that the institutions of the state are so organised that it is extremely difficult to ensure justice for the poor and deprived citizens.
The Interest on the Kohinoor Diamond - Chapter 23 (6770 words)
A major problem for mass movements is that of garnering funds to keep them going. This problem is discussed in detail here with the experiences of various organisations in fund raising either from the people they work with or from external sources both Indian and foreign. The related issue of the role of funded NGOs as opposed to mass movements in bringing about social change is also discussed. All the global debates regarding these issues are critically reviewed here.
The Spring Thunder Rolls On - Chapter 24 (6520 words)
Contemporaneously with the environmental movements the armed Maoist rebellion known as the Naxalite movement too has been waxing strong in parts of Central India. A critical review of this movement and its Marxist mainsprings beginning with the Russian revolution of 1917 has been undertaken in this chapter. It has been shown that the Marxist states have not been able to compete with the economic power of the capitalist states in their thrust to follow the path of modern centralised development. The corrupting influence of consumerism and the cultural hegemony of the western media is also discussed here as a related issue.
Time for a Sabbatical - Chapter 25 (7230 words)
Subhadra decides that given the tremendous odds stacked against mass movements she would prefer to take time off to catch up on her higher studies, which she had not been able to pursue after high school. This proves to be easier said than done. This chapter describes her experience and critically analyses the problems of the education sector and the way in which it deters the majority from making any headway.
The Aging and feuding Young Turks - Chapter 26 (6000 words)
This chapter describes the efforts put in by some of the leading activists of the region who have not found individual mention earlier in the book but who have made a significant contribution over the past two decades in making all the movements gain so much recognition. The problem of lack of cooperation between activists, which has been mentioned earlier, is discussed once again here in the historical context of other movements worldwide over span of the twentieth century.
Cry, My Beloved Mehendikhera - Chapter 27 (8290 words)
Throughout the narrative, right from the first chapter, mention has been made from time to time of the final act of rebellion of the adivasis against the injustice of the state at Mehendikhera village in Dewas district in Madhya Pradesh in 2001. This chapter describes how the various institutions of the state combine against an organisation of the adivasis and illegally suppress its just demands. Even though this mobilisation has taken place within the bounds of wholly legal statutes yet the state has not countenanced the challenge to its authority that is the logical result of demanding the operationalisation of grassroots democracy in both letter and spirit. This tragic culmination of two decades of mass organisational work for saner development and human governance policies in the central Indian region drives home the tremendous difficulty of conducting such work.
The Treasure of Terra Madre - Chapter 28 (8460 words)
The economic and political bases of modern industrial development the world over and its effects on agriculture and the environment are discussed in detail in this lengthy and penultimate chapter. Not only in Mehendikhera but elsewhere in the world people's rights to natural resources are being roughly trodden over because of this kind of development. The retrograde effects of the "Washington Consensus" between the USA, World Bank and the IMF are underlined. It is conclusively shown that the only way to save Terra Madre or Mother Earth and so humanity is to cut back on the present greedy consumption and destruction of natural resources in pursuit of profit and wealth.
Obsolescence of the Art of Daydreaming - Chapter 29 (10300 words)
The thrust of the argument here is that there is no scope any more for dreaming of utopian societies. One must instead fight for a better socio-economic dispensation in the present without having recourse to grand theories and utopian visions. An entertaining survey of the history of political and philosophical thought right from ancient times has been undertaken to describe the intellectual contest between the animists - those who believe in some deterministic power or law that governs human destiny and the naturalists - those who believe that all existence is contingent, unpredictable and dependent on nature. Finally the reinterpretation of the Greek myth of Sisyphus by the French philosopher Albert Camus is mentioned to stress that the naturalist view of life is the only reasonable one. With examples of the modern myth breaking efforts of Amnesty International it is shown that it is possible to confront the tremendous power of the mythmakers if one has the resolve to do so.
A number of people downloaded and read the book with enjoyment and my long time friend from school and fellow activist Ramaswamy (http://cuckooscall.blogspot.com), mentioned it in his blog. Bhupinder Singh (http://readerswords.wordpress.com), a political thinker and literary reviewer happened to read this post and he then read the book and did a detailed review of the book which he posted in various blogs. This in turn resulted in more people reading the book and eventually Anandswarup Gadde (http://gaddeswarup.blogspot.com) also a political thinker apart from being a mathematician expressed the desire to fund its publication in print. This set off a new project as the feedback that I was receiving from many readers was that the stories in the book were very entertaining but the academic analysis along with these stories was proving to be too arcane to understand. So it was decided that an edited version of the book would be prepared for print. Bhupinder who by now has become a fast friend took on this onerous responsibility and reworked the entire book to make it more readable and finally Bhaswati Ghosh (http://bhaswatighosh.com/) a writer and professional editor with a strong social outlook put in her imprint to give it printable shape and form. The print version of the book is thus a sign of the times in that it is a collaborative product of the social networking that has become possible as a result of the Internet and is available on Amazon.com at the following link -
Readers in India can order the Indian edition of the book by contacting me -
74, Krishnodayanagar,Khandwa Naka,