accomplishing some of my own Herculean and Sisyphean labours (of which more
later) and having reached middle age I put them down on paper but there were no
takers because the publishers felt that what I had written wouldn't sell. However, unlike in times of yore, these days intellectual expressions spurned by
publishers can still find a readership on the Internet where most things and
especially unsolicited information and advice can be offered for free. So here
are the results of my labour. But before people can get to my writings proper a
small warning as to what they are in for is in order.I believe neither in God nor in Utopia. I
neither think that there is any human destiny nor that there is any
pre-determined purpose in nature. I hold instead that everything depends on
sheer chance and so life is, always has been and always will be unpredictable.
A Cheerful Sceptic!
Thus for me if there is any sin it is that of trying to make life predictable by binding it into the tyrannical confines of religion, ideology and private property and using society and the environment as dustbins for the negative side effects of such sinning. It is this sin that is frequently visited on us in the form of covert and overt wars, mayhem and murder and environmental disasters. So, like all true blue naturalists and following in the footsteps of the first and greatest of them all, the Buddha, I too believe in nothing (It is of course a different matter that later the Buddha's followers unable to bear the scary thought of this nothingness transformed him into a God and Buddhism into a religion). Being a naturalist I am consequently also a sceptic because I am inherently suspicious of grand theories whether religious or secular. However, since I do not expect anything from life I am nevertheless a cheerful sceptic!
At the threshold of my adult life in 1983 I became an apostate from modern technology because of these heretic ideas. Instead of pursuing a career as a civil engineer and manager for which I had trained for five years before that at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, I chose to lead a life of social activism among the Bhil adivasis (tribals or indigenous people as some others prefer to call them) in Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh in India. I have often been castigated for supposedly wasting my education as an engineer. My answer has been that I have used my training to much better effect in cooperating with the Bhils to conserve nature through watershed development leading to climate change mitigation as in the picture below to the left.
Initially I still had some belief in Marxism and Gandhism despite some of their utopian and deterministic aspects. However ten beautiful years spent among the supremely anarchist Bhils made me shed these shackles of my mental bondage. The Bhils have traditionally lived non-accumulative, minimalist lives close to nature and have fought fiercely to maintain its pristine glory and their subsistence lifestyles and a typical Bhil family is pictured above. They held their own right up to the end of the first millenium after Christ. Their monuments to their martyrs called "Gathas" and shown in the picture below to the right testify to this rich and colourful martial history.
However, their bows and arrows were no match for the firearms that their adversaries began to use against them with the advent of the second millennium after Christ and since then they have been continually dispossessed of their habitats and pushed back into remoter and remoter corners till after independence no remote corners remained to be penetrated by the modernising Indian state. Thus, the initial matter of concern for me when I arrived in Alirajpur was the absolute mismatch of traditional Bhil culture and lifestyle with the prevailing modern scenario and their consequent devastation.
Education, meaning the learning of the complicated aspects of the modern world and being able to synthesize these with their own rich culture was a must if the Bhils were to survive as equal human beings in a competitive democracy. This has been the goal of the modern political struggles of the Bhils. An educated Bhil painter and activist, Gosa, portrays this in the picture along side, which has pens as arrows.
However, later I came to realise, with the prodding of my wife Subhadra who is a firebrand feminist and to whom I got married in 1993, that there is a major flaw in this picture of Gosa's. Subhadra is a dalit (translates as repressed), who are the previously untouchable outcastes of traditional Indian society.
Pens as Arrows
Subhadra belongs to the Mahar caste from which Babasaheb Ambedkar the great campaigner for dalit liberation hailed. She has fought her own battles against patriarchal and caste oppression including that resulting from her marriage to an upper caste chauvinist male like me! Thus let it be clear that I am not speaking for her here but only mentioning the ways in which she has made me aware of my chauvinism. Her smile in the picture alongside is deceptive because it masks a punch of hot iron! In fact she says that men wont reform unless they are forced to and her views can be accessed here.
Subhadra pointed out that the picture by Gosa depicts only the Bhil male. The Bhil social order too, mirroring possibly the most retrograde aberration of Indian society is highly patriarchal (we wouldn't be a billion plus people today if women had had the freedom not to have to bear so many babies). So at Subhadra's insistence we left Alirajpur in 1994 to start work in Khargone and Dewas districts to address the problems being faced by Bhil women. These newer battles which have been very much more soul stirring than the earlier ones still continue.
A Veiled Protest!
This Smile Masks Hot Iron!
Thus, despite over a decade of organisation work among them, these women still veil their faces in public in deference to elder men as can be seen in the picture to the left where they have raised clenched fists to shout slogans of liberation but still have their faces covered.
Later still in 2000 our son Ishaan was born. That forced me to compromise in practice with my naturalism as unlike the Buddha I didn't think ditching my wife and son to take off for the woods in search of Nirvana to be such a big deal! We came out from our idyllic rural life among the Bhils, where initially in Alirajpur I did not even earn a single penny or own anything other than the clothes I wore, to live in the city of Indore. From 2001 onwards I have been engaged primarily in pen-pushing or rather key-punching to earn money, an activity that I had started desultorily in 1994.
Consequently, over the years I have gradually mutated from being a pure voluntary political activist to being a part time mercenary development researcher also. I have written profusely in this time about my life and work as well as everything else under the sun that has crossed my mind or for which I have been paid money! Indeed given the fact that money in the modern capitalist world is concentrated in the hands of tycoons and the state apparatus controlled by them there is no ethically legitimate way in which to earn money (For the convenience of capitalists the laws are made in such a way as to juridically legitimise what is essentially theft). As the great French Anarchist Pierre Proudhon famously said - "Property is Theft". So, I have thought it more prudent to become a mercenary and thieve along with the capitalists rather than beg for survival like the Buddha ( incidentally he was not averse to hobnobbing with the princes of his day to fund his Sangha) as I used to do earlier (after all begging too is thieving at one remove if one does not question the sources of one's donor's wealth). I try and use the proceeds of my capitalist thieving as much as possible to help my Bhil adivasi friends to fight this large scale thievery or more appropriately robbery. A contradictory situation which ensures that at the end of the day, regardless of my scepticism and anarchism, in practice I am not doing anything overly radical or revolutionary. Actually revolution has become a problematical concept given the fact that most revolutions have never been able to sustain their radicalism in the post revolution era. Of course there have not been any anarchist revolutions because the anarchists are incapable of bringing about a revolution to overthrow centralised systems given that such overthrow requires the revolutionaries to be as centralised as the systems they seek to overthrow. Thus, anarchists by definition cannot be organised revolutionaries involved in overthrowing centralised states and must plough a lonely furrow. Here are links to interviews of mine which make this explicit -
The World Wide Web is one place from where I have learned many things in recent years and all for free. The ideas of many people posted on the web have helped me immensely in formulating my very own plans for thieving. I am part of a group of people who have set up a website on the state of Chhattisgarh from where Subhadra hails. Initially this webpage of mine was nested in this larger website (http://.cgnet.in). But, since this website is overly critical of the state and its functioning the latter hit back by warning the hosts of the website, who are a well meaning NGO who were hosting for free, to stop doing so. So now the Chhattisgarh Net website is commercially hosted and only partially so. I myself have set up this page on Google sites so as to avoid paying money for it like earlier. I propose to give back something to the Web and the world at large through this website in the hope that others too may benefit from my experiences as I have from theirs -
A part hilarious and part serious portrayal of the experiences of Subhadra and I as activists of the mass environmental movements in Central India of which we have been a part. The book is a magnum opus that I managed to write because I happened to have some time free due to a fellowship that I got for doing cultural revival work among the Bhils.
Contains my updated professional resume which gives a summary of the multi-disciplinary work I have done to date in the field of tribal development. Ironically enough, though I had vowed not to look back on my engineering skills again, ultimately, faced with the imperative of having to earn money to survive I have had to break my vow. Especially galling initially was the use of the personal computer. The struggle to make sense of development, however, has made me fall back especially on statistical analysis with the aid of computers which happens to be the mainstay of my earning at present. I had never been very good at mathematics beyond a point and so had freed myself from it for many years. However, there is no escaping from mathematics unless one becomes a hermit like the Buddha. As human civilisation has moved on the importance of mathematics has gone on increasing. Since I have an inherent dislike for mathematics I use it only sparingly even now just so much as to give some clarity to the data that I collect in my research work.
I have always seen myself as an interloper among the Bhils. This is because though ostensibly I have lived and worked among them to help them with their lives in reality I have primarily been satisfying my own ego! Nevertheless I periodically chronicle many stories and analyses of my work among the Bhils and also some other tribes in this blog. Even though this is a personal blog it does have considerable material on the Bhils and tribal development in general.