Rahul Banerjee (activist)
Rahul Banerjee with Khajan: Comrades in Arms
|Education||BTech in Civil Engg. |
PhD in Envir. Planning & Mgmt.
|Alma mater||IIT Kharagpur |
|Organization||Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti|
|Known for||Communitarian Natural Resource Conservation|
|Awards||TOI Social Impact Award 2011|
Rahul Banerjee is a social activist and development researcher. He works along with the Bhil Adivasis and Dalits to synthesise their traditional qualities with modern skills and contribute to socio-economically equitable and environmentally sustainable communitarian development as architects of their own future.
Through the organisations Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, a trade union, Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra, a public trust and Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti, a registered society, he has along with others participated in promoting and preserving the knowledge, livelihoods and culture of the Bhils and Dalits and countered their internal patriarchy over a period of three decades using mass mobilisation, policy advocacy, media advocacy, research, project implementation and legal action.He has written and published profusely in journals and books about his work and research.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Career
- 3 Philosophical Foundations
- 4 Awards, Fellowships and Associations
- 5 Criticisms
- 6 Selected Publications
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Early life and education
Rahul Banerjee was born in Kolkata to Mr. Hiranmay Banerjee & Ms. Aparna Banerjee on 14th March 1960. He did his early schooling from La Martiniere Calcutta. After completing Higher Secondary from the same school, he joined Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur in 1978 for pursuing Civil Engineering.He later obtained a PhD in Environmental Planning and Management in 2013 from CEPT University, Ahmedabad. An important event in his life came in 1982, while still in college during a conversation with poor Adivasi bullock cart drivers carrying hay to the market convinced him that his IIT education was irrelevant for the wellbeing of Adivasis and turned him towards a life of activism.. He is married to Subhadra Khaperde who is a Dalit Feminist Activist
He has never held down a permanent paying job and instead worked voluntarily as a social worker since 1983, after graduating from college. He has worked with the Adivasis who are the most deprived among the poor in India. Initially he worked for the education of Adivasi children in West Bengal. He then joined Social Work and Research Centre in Tilonia, Rajasthan to work on appropriate housing technologies in 1985. However, a month later he met two people who had gone from Tilonia to work among the Adivasis in Alirajpur district in Madhya Pradesh and came along with them to work with the Bhil Adivasis. Those were the days when the rhetoric of participatory rural development was at its height and policy advocacy had not yet made its presence felt. So along with his colleagues Khemraj Choudhary, Amit Bhatnagar, Khemla Aujnaharia and Shankar Tadwal, he began work in the areas of Adivasi rights to forests, land and water, and development work in primary education, primary health, watershed development, joint forest management, formation of self help groups, sustainable agriculture and promotion of traditional water harvesting techniques. Over the years in association with his colleagues, Rahul has achieved many milestones in establishing socio-economic and environmental justice in Madhya Pradesh and India as detailed below.
Establishment of Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath
This is the first trade union of Bhil Adivasis working for rights and consciousness and has fought many battles both through mass protests and legal action. This organisation has secured the rights of the Adivasis to the forests and has been a member of the coalition, Campaign for Survival and Dignity  to enact the law for the same - The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forestdwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act. Once this Act, popularly known as the Forest Rights Act, came into force in 2007, the organisation worked actively for its implementation and has ensured forest rights for over 10,000 Adivasi families in one of the best implementations of the Act in India. This is the important work for which its sister NGO Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra was awarded the Times of India Social Impact Award in 2011. The organisation has taken legal action to provide compensation to victims of atrocities perpetrated by non-Adivasis. The organisation has also taken the Government to the Supreme Court on two occasions and landmark judgments have resulted from these legal actions. One that provides that undertrial prisoners will not be handcuffed and another that has provided substantial monetary compensation to victims of silicosis contracted from working without protection in stone crushing factories. This organisation also participated actively in the struggle against the Sardar Sarovar Dam being built on the River Narmada. It is also an active constituent of the Adivasi Ekta Parishad which is a national forum fighting to establish the rights of the Adivasis in India. The organisation is a non-hierarchical one based on grassroots democracy and has acted as a nursery of activism as many other activists who have worked with it have later gone on to contribute to the fight for justice elsewhere and to development scholarship and journalism in India and abroad like Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Pushpendra Solanki, Chittaroopa Palit, Jayashree Bhalerao, Bernadette D’Souza, Anita Bharatiya, Vidya Shah, Ashwini Chhatre, Amita Baviskar, Deshdeep Sahadev, Kemat Gawle, Shashank Kela, Karuna, Narendra Patil, Alok Agarwal and Ravi Hemadri.
Communitarian Natural Resource Management
Collective action for management of common pool resources has come to be acknowledged as a sine qua non not only for their conservation but also for ensuring sustainable livelihoods along with mitigation of climate change. The traditional communitarian labour pooling practices of the Bhil Adivasis have been revived and promoted to stengthen collective action and women have been in the forefront of such activities. Projects of Joint Forest Management, Wasteland Management and Watershed development have been carried out in over thousands of hectares which have substantially increased the forest cover and soil and water availability for the Bhil Adivasis. Traditional water harvesting practices have been revived and popularised.
Education and Culture
Through the Adivasi Riti Badhao Tola, Rahul Banerjee, has promoted the Bhili language and culture. Historically a major medium for the positing of a strong identity by any community has been its language. All literate cultures have thrived by developing a rich literature to strengthen their language. However, adivasi cultures, being non-literate have not been able to do this and so have fallen behind and face extinction. The Bhils have a rich oral cultural heritage with their creation myth, which is sung in night long celebrations, being a paean to the power and beauty of nature. The Bhil world view is one of humility wherein the human being is a minor cog in the grand scheme of nature. A conscious process of cultural revival and the creation of a new literature, plays and songs from the classical oral folklore of the Bhils has been used as a crucial DEVELOPMENTAL TOOL to help a non-literate community like that of the Bhil Adivasis to improve their articulation and self esteem and so better their socio-economic condition in fair competition over the "developmental cake" with other more well endowed communities. This stress on reviving and promoting indigenous culture is also carried over to providing education to Adivasi children in schools in their own language and in the richness of their own culture. Rahul is closely associated with many such educational initiatives for Bhil children being run by other institutions 
Water and Energy Management
He is an expert in urban water and energy management and has developed a very cost efficient household system that harvests and recharges all the rain water and also treats and recycles all the wastewater while also using natural techniques of cross ventilation and green cover to save on cooling costs.  He has also implemented a solar energy system wherein during the day energy is exported into the electricity grid while during the night energy is imported from the grid for a net export of renewable energy thus reducing the carbon emissions from the house and also contributing to overall emission reduction. Water and Energy are two areas in which the world in general and India in particular are facing a lot of problems. Thus, Rahul's successful initiatives in decentralised sustainable water and energy management are path breaking in nature.
Rahul works these days in association with his wife and activist Subhadra Khaperde in the three important areas of renewable energy, women's reproductive health and sustainable agriculture primarily in Madhya Pradesh.
Analysing the energy situation in the country Rahul has concluded that one of the biggest drags on the Indian economy is the huge outgo of foreign exchange for the purchase of crude oil. Therefore, any rational planning system, according to him, would demand that India finds an alternative to this which will not only reduce the outgo of foreign exchange but also enhance the country's energy security. Decentralised generation of electricity through solar photovoltaic cells, the anaerobic incineration of biomass and anaerobic digestion of farm and dairy waste can provide cheap, abundant and renewable energy that is cleaner than that from coal fired power plants and also does away with the need for a widespread distribution network. This combination can provide for both low and high tension loads in a reliable micro-grid and the capital investment is much lower. Decentralised production of energy can give a big push to the local economy especially in rural areas. Moreover, given the absurd situation prevailing currently of there being a surplus of centralised power without any takers because the state electricity boards are bankrupt due to not being able to recover electricity charges from consumers, who in turn are unable to pay for them, it is imperative that a more environmentally sustainable and economically viable decentralised electricity system is put in place. Yet neither is the Government interested in pursuing this alternative and nor our technological institutes doing anything to promote them. Rahul is implementing various decentralised renewable energy projects in the villages and also in his office in Indore to provide workable alternatives in this crucial area.
Gynaecological health of poor women is a neglected area and he has along with his wife Subhadra and other activist women formed the organisation Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti (Majlis) to address this dark area that is shrouded in a culture of silence. Reproductive health, especially gynaecological health, of poor women in India is generally very bad. Even though poor women in urban areas do have a lesser work burden in terms of physical labour as compared to the rural women they are nevertheless handicapped by having to live in very cramped and dirty surroundings in slums and suffer from the effects of patriarchy in the same way as rural women. This creates serious reproductive health problems for them. Government health services are mostly not accessible to these women and they have to rely on private doctors whose fees and treatment for reproductive health problems are more expensive than in rural areas and in most cases not of good quality. So urban women suffer from various reproductive health problems and are anaemic. In most cases the women are not able to articulate these problems due to their lower status in society. Reproductive health problems lead to both economic loss through inability to work and mental stress due to illness for women and being a neglected area, need to be urgently addressed to ensure gender equity .
Current thinking among feminists broadly defines the discipline of reproductive and sexual health as the social and clinical study of those problems and diseases that arise from the social asymmetries influencing human sexuality and reproduction. Specifically, a reproductive health approach has been defined as that which enables women, including adolescents, everywhere to regulate their own fertility safely and effectively by conceiving when they desire, terminating unwanted pregnancies and carrying wanted pregnancies to term; to remain free of disease, disability or death associated with reproduction or sexuality and to bear and raise healthy children. In reality, however, this ideal state of affairs does not prevail anywhere in the world and especially in India most women have to suffer from serious reproductive and sexual health problems. Feminist sociology has pinpointed the dominance of men in society as the prime reason for the lack of gender equity and termed this phenomenon as patriarchy. Analysing all the main institutions of society like the family, marriage, kinship groups, media, religious hierarchies and the state, they have shown that all these play a role in maintaining the overall patriarchal structure of society. Over thousands of years this structure has become so well entrenched that to most people including women it seems quite natural instead of being the inequitous social construct that it actually is. Therefore, gender equity cannot be achieved without the removal of patriarchy. Majlis conducts an intensive communitarian programme of reproductive health intervention which involves, surveys, group discussions, workshops, clinics, laboratory testing and distribution of medicines.
Modern agriculture is in crisis due to excessive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides which are harming the soil, water and crop bio-diversity and also poisoning the food that we eat.Big dams are the environmentally and socially most harmful component of modern agriculture. The World Commission on Dams reviewing the performance of big dams brought out the fact that the benefits gained from big dam construction have been at an unacceptable and unnecessary higher cost in terms of environmental destruction and human displacement. There has been lack of equity in both the distribution of benefits and costs with the poor having lost out on both counts. Consequently, Rahul asserts that there is a dire need for reorienting agriculture towards natural sources and making it sustainable in environmental terms.
Rahul, through the Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti, has initiated a programme of sustainable agriculture with the use of in situ farm inputs and the promotion of indigenous seed varieties through the Climate Change Mitigation Centre established in Pandutalab village in Dewas district.
Rahul has synthesised the traditional anarchism of the Bhil Adivasis, the ancient Indian anarchism of the Charvaka, the Vedas and the Buddha, the modern anarchism of Proudhon, Bakunin, the late Marx of the period after the publication of Das Kapital when he came to acknowledge the validity of the anarchist path of the Russian People's Will Anarchists and Gandhi and the views of various schools of feminism to formulate his own school of thought of anarcho-environmentalism which also draws on the philosophies of cynicism, green anarchism and naturalism. Twentieth century science has established the preponderance of chance in the evolution of the universe in general and life on earth in particular. Natural processes are probabilistic. Rahul has given due importance to this in his worldview as succinctly articulated in his website -
"I believe neither in God nor in Utopia. I neither think that there is any human destiny nor that there is any predetermined purpose in nature. I hold instead that everything depends on sheer chance and so life is, always has been and always will be unpredictable. 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 I believe in nothing. 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!"
Caste oppression is a major problem in India, especially of the Dalits, and working as he does to try and mitigate it, Rahul has also imbibed the emancipatory philosophy of Babasaheb Ambedkar especially his seminal interpretation of Buddhism which he has termed as Navayana - The Buddhist concept of "Dukha" or sorrow has been reinterpreted by Ambedkar as the exploitation of the poor and the concept of "Nirvana" has been interpreted not as a metaphysical state or attainment of freedom, but as the achievement of a real society founded in peace and justice. Despite the immense difficulty of pursuing these anarcho-environmentalist programmes in a world that is heavily centralised in all respects, Rahul Banerjee has stuck to his task, which he has categorised as being Sisyphean, inspired by the philosophical reinterpretation of the Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus wherein he visualises Sisyphus as happy despite his absurd predicament of having to continuously roll a rock uphill only to see it roll down again. This comprehensive anarcho-environmentalist worldview encompassing various schools of thought provides the philosophical foundation of the extensive work that Rahul does on the ground to set up decentralised socio-economically equitable and environmentally sustainable communities.
Awards, Fellowships and Associations
His NGO Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra won the Times of India Social Impact Award in 2011. He has been a fellow of the MacArthur Foundation, U.S.A., Ashoka Foundation, U.S.A and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, India. He has been an active participant in various mass movements like, Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, Narmada Bachao Andolan, Bharat Jan Andolan and Adivasi Riti Badhao Tola. He has carried out many research and implementation projects in several areas of development for such agencies as the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme, Department for International Development U.K., International Water Management Institute, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Sir Dorabjee Tata Trust, The Hunger Project, Edelgive Foundation, Action Aid and others.
There are primarily two kinds of criticism generally of the kind of philosophy that Rahul Banerjee subscribes to and the work that he does. One is internal among activists regarding Rahul and many other activists like him resorting to doing consultancies for institutions like the World Bank and taking funds for development work from Corporations and their Foundations which has resulted in their anarchist challenge to the dominant centralised paradigm being compromised to some extent. This is in fact a matter of great debate as even Thoreau and Gandhi have had to contend with this problem of having their work funded by moneyed people. The second is about the impracticability of going back to anarchist decentralised development which will in many cases mean a reduction in productivity and living standards from the present levels achieved through centralisation and unsustainable use of natural resources. Apart from this many activists have raised questions about representation, voice and strategy for the movements of Adivasis and Dalits being decided by outsider activists of these movements and the tendency of these outsiders to dominate the organic intellectuals from among the Adivasis and Dalits
- 1.Urban Wastewater Management in Madhya Pradesh: A City Level Sanitation Study (Jabalpur, Rewa, Sheopur), National Institute of Urban Affairs, New Delhi, 2018.
- 2.Mapping the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 with the Legal and Policy Framework in India, Poorest Area Civil Society Programme (PACS) and Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, 2016
- 3.Ujjain City Water Supply Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Situational Analysis Report, IndiaWaterPortal 
- 4.Impacting Development Thought and Practice through Bhili Cultural Rejuvenation in S.N. Chaudhary edited Social Movements in Tribal India, pp 202-15, Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 2015.
- 5.What it Takes to Clean India, India Water Portal  06.11.2015
- 6.The Bhil Tribals' Search for Justice in Y. S. Sisodia & T.K. Dalapati edited Development and Discontent in Tribal India, pp 129-143, Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 2015.
- 7.Unrealised Democratic Potential, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 50 No 4, 2015
- 8.Reproductive Health Status of Bhil Women in an Urban Setting, in S.N. Chaudhary ed., Tribal Women: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, pp 102-116, Rawat Publications, New Delhi, 2015
- 9.Impacting Development Thought and Practice through Bhili Cultural Rejuvenation, e-Vani, Vol 10, Oct-Nov 2014.
- 10.Actualising Adivasi Self Rule – The Only Panacea, Yojana, Vol 58 No 1, 2014
- 11.What Ails Panchayati Raj, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 48 No 30, 2013
- 12.Trouble in Tribal Lands, Wall Street Journal, New York, October 23rd 2009 
- 13.Addressing Equity Issues in Watershed Development Projects in Bhil Adivasi Areas in Western Madhya Pradesh, in Dutta, B, Ray, T and Somanathan, E ed New and Enduring Themes in Development Economics, World Scientific Publishers, Singapore, 2009.
- 14.Reproductive Health of Poor Urban Women in Indore, in Sujit Paul ed. Poverty, Health and Development, Commonwealth Publishers, New Delhi, 2009.
- 15.Secularism and Nationalism in the Time of Farmer Suicides, Social Action, Vol. 59 No.2, 2009.
- 16.Recovering the Lost Tongue: The Saga of Environmental Struggles in Central India, Prachee Publications, Hyderabad, 2008.
- 17.The Decline and Fall of the Bhil Adivasi Homeland: A Tale of Two Worlds, The India Economy Review, Vol 5 30th September, 2008.
- 18.Reconciling Displacement and Rehabilitation, Social Action, Vol. 58 No. 3 July-September, 2008.
- 19.Water Supply, Stormwater and Wastewater Management in Urban Agglomerations in Dryland Areas: Case Study of Indore City in Madhya Pradesh, Water Moves, Vol.1 Issue 2 May, 2008.
- 20.Status of Informal Rural Financial Markets in Adivasi Dominated Regions of Western Madhya Pradesh, Working Paper No. 2, Department of Economic Analysis and Research, NABARD, Mumbai, 2003.
- 21.Schooling of Tribals in Madhya Pradesh: Problems and Prospects, Journal of Educational Planning and Administration Vol. XV No. 1, 2001.
- 22.The Bottle that does not Cheer: Bhil Women’s Fight Against Male Oppression and Alcoholism, Manushi 113, 1999.
- 23.Return of the Native Seeds, The Ecologist, London, 28:1, 1998.
- 24.Reasserting Ecological Ethics, Economic and Political Weekly 32:3, 1997
- 25.Creating a New Demonology, Seminar 443, July, 1996.
- 26.The Unsilenced Valley, Down To Earth (DTE), June 15, 1996.
- 27.Learning To Know Differently: Usefulness of Primary Data, Radical Journal of Health, Mumbai, 2:4, 1996.
- 28.Whither Voluntarism, Seminar 431,New Delhi, 1995.
- 29.Windowdressing Forestry, DTE, June 15, 1995
- 30.Behind The Smiles, The Hindu Business Line, Delhi, August 3rd, 1998.
- 31.Planting Discord, The Economic Times, 13th November, 1994.
- 32.A Living Hell, Hindustan Times, Delhi, 31st July, 1994.
- 33.Mathwad Tribals up in Arms, Free Press, Indore, 3rd March, 1991
- Banerjee, Rahul (18 January 1997). "Reasserting Ecological Ethics-Bhils Struggles in Alirajpur". Economic and Political Weekly. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
- Purohit, Makarand (2 August 2014). "Solutions to Indore's water problems don't have to be so expensive!". India Water Portal. Archived from the original on 29 July 2018. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
- "Preserving Indigenous Societies: Rahul Banerjee and his lifetime of work among the Bhils of Madhya Pradesh". 6 Bridges. 22 December 2010. Archived from the original on 29 July 2018. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
- Banerjee, Rahul (23 October 2009). "Trouble in Tribal Lands". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 29 July 2018. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
- Purohit, Makarand (25 July 2014). "House of solutions". India Water Portal. Archived from the original on 29 July 2018. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
- "misery of child brides spurs stampede of sterilisation". Asia Times. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
- Pillai, Venugopal (25 September 2011). "TOI Social Impact Awards: A land rights crusade to transfrom lives". Alirajpur, Madhya Pradesh: The Times of India. Times News Network. Archived from the original on 29 July 2018. Retrieved 29 July 2018.