Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Around Arni, and the bus to Vellore and Beyond

I catch a bus twice a year, from Chennai, and go towards Tiruvannamalai. Sometimes, I stop to see my father’s sister in Vellore. There is always a water crises in the summer, and the CMC (Christian Medical College) buys its water from Andhra villages, which send the water for the residences in trucks. The land so arid and deforested, begins to change, as one moves towards Tiruvannamalai, and one passes Arni, where agriculture becomes   vivid, changing the landscape by the season according to harvests and seasons. The rail track is sometimes bedecked with seasonal flowers growing at the edges, including lilies during Easter week, growing wild. In the bus, sometimes, patients with leprosy get on, with their kin, and there is a sense that the Vellore hospital provides succour to many of these peasants, who have an unerring sense of their own self worth. The bus is often packed with others who are heading to Tiruvannamalai for festivals or are devotees at the 1000 year old temple, and pilgrimage is a constant occupational source for flower sellers and leafplate vendors and vegetable gardeners. Some villages on the route are so poor, that they thresh ragi by leaving it on the road, and allowing the trucks and buses and cars to ride over it. In hot summer, at Dharmagiri, the peasants bring perfect mangoes from their small plots to sell to the bus riders, and in other seasons, it would be grapes, bannanas of various shapes and sizes and colours, and cucumbers, kakdis, gourds, peanuts soaked in  water and salt, while still in their shells and ofcourse the ubiquitous fried snacks the tamils so love, using local grams, sesame and rice. In Gingee, the forts of the 13th century Nayaka kings rise above the agricultural fields, on rocky hilltops from where they once, as Telugu kings and overlords in Tamil country viewed their subjects. The work of intellectuals from rural communities who return to their roots, and provide new learning avenues is now well established in this belt, where alternative pedagogies have found immense popularity among the local people. Pondicherry, Tiruvannamalai and Vellore are the new hubs for the networks which orient others working in more distant fields and forests with tribal and dalit children.
Landless labour makes a living in the city, the women as domestic servants, and the men as carpenters, masons, cycle mechanics and white washers. That they go out as anonymous sandal wood smugglers is something that their families don’t know about. The twenty labourers who were killed by the Andhra police without any compunction, avoiding  the legal process is something which shocks the nation. In a country which is rocked by suicide, murder and rape on a continuous basis, we still pride ourselves that we are a democracy, and that our courts both local and Supreme are respected.
 Tensions between the States, in a Federation of States is something that is endemic, particularly with regard to water and forests. When Veerappen, the sandal wood smuggler evaded the police in Karnataka, it was certainly because the local communities provided him with support. He hid in the forests, and his reach went as far as Kerala. A police officer, who visited the Dalai Lama, and spoke about his inability to shoot Veerappen on sight, as might be expected of him, was told  calmly, by the Nobel Prize winner and commonly acknowledged saint, “For the greater good.” A decade ago, police officers did feel that their call to duty was a moral code, with its repercussions for their own sense of work and vocation.
 Now, we know that encounter deaths receive no signature of legal vindication, unless it is politically motivated. Those  twenty lives are gone,  like many others lost in encounter killings, but how do we make sure that these needless killings by State machinery is not reduplicated?
If there is no respect for  courts of law, fascism rises, in its notation of predatory crimes, as “normal”. However, the poor do have their rights, and this is to survive in conditions which are so hostile, that we cannot even imagine them, as we eat our toast,eggs and  hill produce jam, or our paranthas and potato curry, or our idli and sambar, and read the endlessly horrible news in morning papers. Yet, the poor too celebrate their lives, and any bystander can see that in the daily chores there is so much love and laughter.  The bourgeoisie often feels humiliated by their joi de vivre. But, “Seeing is Not Believing”, as Sociologists are taught very early in their careers by their teachers.
The statistics for child infanticide in Dharmapuri were so high, that Jayalalitha had to set up child adoption centres, and so also the statistics for rape, suicide and murder are alarming. V.Sujatha, in personal communication, informs me that body weight says nothing about the presence of anaemia, so the fact that the fields are green, agriculture successful, market gardens plentiful, the children sturdy and school going, and mid day meals compulsory, says nothing about the real condition of the populace. Subsistence societies are essentially food producing and food consuming. Their nutritional needs are met on hand by whatever is available. In a weaving village near Madurai, the people received their cotton thread from Co-optex, wove the sarees on the streets, on simple wooden looms, and ate the produce of their gardens. There was nothing available in their shops by way of vegetables or fruit, which they could neither afford, nor were in the habit of eating. Plantains, gourds, rice was sufficient for their daily intake, and there was no other world that impinged on this every day reality. The  Ministry of Skills  which now engages with employment-feasible learning has to take into account weaving and fishing communities where artisanal communities have to be reintegrated into new ways of making a livelihood which is locally pertinent, instead of forcing them all into smart city construction as manual labourers or cyber coolies. Agriculture, Fishing, Forestry and Pastoralism and Craft Production grow together,  With climate change, the equibilibrium has to be restored in terms of contextual learning, where cotton, sea shell, wood, lac, bamboo and metals all provide livelihood options when worked with, for urban consumer culture, without damaging the environment. This means new learning patterns, which are not only oriented to clericalisation of the masses. Its seriously cheaper for the State to support Agriculture than plan a mission to mars for purposes of habitation.