Archive for the ‘Casteism’ Category

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Once Upon A Time In Jamua, A Caste War, Election Violence And A Land Struggle

May 4, 2014

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Nakul Ram Turi of Dudhwatol village in Jamua block of Giridih, Jharkhand, was among four people hospitalized after Bhumihars from the neighbouring village attacked them on polling day on the 10th of April, 2014, resentful of them voting for CPI-ML.

‘Hum log maarne nahi gaye teh, hum log vote dalne gaye teh. (We went to vote, not to fight) Said Govardan Rai Turi of Dudhwatol village of Giridih, where members of the Bhumihar caste had violently chased them away on polling day on 10th of April, 2014.

It was at Booth Number 320 at Gardih village, in Jamua block of Giridih District, that comes under Koderma Lok Sabha Constituency, where on the 10th of April, 2014, the members of the Turi Dalit caste alleged that they were beaten up and chased away from voting by local Bhumihars, resentful of them voting for the CPI-ML.

In the 2009 elections, Babulal Marandi, strongman of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, won 1,99,462 votes, with runner up Raj Kumar Yadav from the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) who gathered 1,50,942 votes. In this election, it is said that the fight is between JVM’s Pranava Kumar Verma and Rajkumar Yadav again, with a landscape littered with the red flag of stars of the ‘Maley’ as the CPI-ML is called in the districts, and the Bharatiya Janta Party, whose flags are on the larger more prominent homes off the roadside.

Dudhwatol, a Turi famlet of around 30 homes, is a mere eight to ten minutes from the block headquarters of Jamua and I met two local journalists from prominent Hindi-dailies who had yet to report on the incident of poll violence a whole 10 days after.

The village of Dudhwatol is a known bastion of the CPI-ML. In 1984, the villagers were moved to where they’re settled now after their liberation from bonded labour, which is still prevalent in parts of Giridih today. They recall with pride, one of their leaders ‘Basru’, who was with them in their agitations against bonded labour, and the right to land. ‘Basru’ or Ibnul Hassan Basru, was a member of the Communist Party of India who would eventually join the CPI-ML in 2002. He succumbed to cancer in 2009.

According to testimonies from the village, on polling day of the 10th, they all started from their village in groups, six at a time, or five at a time, none of them travelling alone to the polling booth at nearby Gardih. When they first got there, two Bhumihar men were already in the booth. The election officers were all sitting on the verandah outside. As the men stood in line to vote, they felt that their women should vote first, so they could go home earlier. Naghu Rai Turi and then Tulki Devi, Kunti Devi, Devanti Devi and Kinku Devi would vote without any trouble. When it was Uma Devi who went in line to vote, she recalls, that they had cut the power line as she didn’t hear her the beep from the EVM. She was then told by a man inside the booth, ‘Tum log button bol, hum daba lenge.’ (Tell us which button, and we’ll press it.)

As she would protest, the villagers allege that a Manoj Narayan Dev, a Bhumihar from the nearby village of Jiyotol, the Bhumihar para of Gardih, pushed Uma Devi away from the booth, apparently molesting her in the process. ‘Hum log agal bagal mein teh, aur woh chilane lagi, toh hum log bhagke aye. (We were nearby and she started shouting, so we ran to her)’Would say a witness to the incident. Just as an altercation started, a police vehicle arrived, where the villagers allege (was constable Ashok Narayan Dev, from the same village as Manoj), who started to lathi-charge the villagers from Dudhwatol. The villagers from the Bhumihar caste, both young and old, also began to attack the Turi villagers with sticks and stones. They started to beat Santoshi Turi, whose arms would be left swollen. And eight people would be injured, four would be hospitalized – Lakhan Rai, Nakul Rai, Govardan Rai and Rittal Rai, all with deep cut wounds on their scalps, that could’ve only been caused by stones.

According to Sunil Singh, a CPI ML party worker who witnessed the incident, their votes were then divided between Congress and BJP. When I asked which party the Bhumihars supported the response was ‘Any and all – sometimes BJP, sometimes Congress, sometimes JVM.’

The next day, on the 11th of April, a day after a polling, over seventy people from Bhumihar-dominated Jiyotol would again enter the village and start ‘gaali-galosh’, much to the anger and chagrin of the villagers.

The men gathered outside, confronting them.

‘Kya kya bole yeh log? (What did these people say?) I asked the group of villagers of Dudhwatol.

‘Ma-behen waale gaali!

‘Marenge salle ko!

‘Sab ka haath-perr todd denge, haath kaath denge!

‘Marenge madarchod ko!

‘Aurat ko pakkad pakkad ke pitenge!

The attackers would eventually leave after there were phone calls made to the CPI ML Block Secretary, Ashok Paswan who called up the Daroga, who went straight to a Mukhiya from Chorgotta Gram Panchayat, Upendra Singh. While Upendra Singh was unavailable to comment, Ashok Paswan recalls their conversation went on the lines of, ‘Hum aapne log ko samja lenge, aap aapke log ko samjalo. (We’ll handle our people, you handle yours) The mob would then withdraw, and have left an agitated and alert people on the lookout for further attacks.

The Election Commission, while taking cognizance of 6 other booths where there has been booth tampering and the breaking of EVMs, claims to not have received any reports of booth capturing from Gardih, and the Superintendent of Police Kranti Kumar has marked the incident as ‘a conflict between two groups with a rivalry,’ and in a report to the Hindu, he has apparently ordered an enquiry. Suryanarayan Dev, one of the Panchayat Samiti members of Gardih, whose family the villagers of Dudhwatol explicitly accuse concur that there was a conflict on polling day, but it was the ‘Maley’ people, who were booth grabbing, who were harassing election officials, and chasing away voters, before the police arrived and lathi-charged them. He did not file any complaint with the election commission, or call for re-polling.

An FIR was lodged in the Naodiha police station on the 11th of April of 2014, along with a counter-FIR by the Bhumihars. 100 young men from Dudhwatol were named to eight of the Bhumihars.

Caste is land

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Anup Turi points at land lying fallow due to conflict with the Bhumihars and the Forest Department.

Land is central to the dispute. Dudhwatol is a village afflicted with migration to urban centres, to Delhi, to Mumbai, with countless young men recalling stories of working across the country. Many still didn’t return to vote, and many were informed of the attack only a few days later.

Entering the village from Jamua one crosses vast expanses of grassland which is unaffected by farming, land that is apparently used by the Bhumihars as a grazing ground, and was abandoned from farming in 1984 once the Turi’s were settled there after their liberation from bonded labour. The other side of their village, is forest land devoid of any forests, except for a bamboo plantation, and land that was given to the Turi’s in the 1980’s; land whose ‘pattas’ (deeds), brown-tinted faded pieces of paper the villagers hold dear, but mean nothing to the Forest Department that has interfered with their attempts to farm repeatedly over the past few years. The Bhumihars claim that that was land given to them during the Bhoodan movement, and is still a Reserve Forest, although there is no sight of any trees, and the Turi’s point out cultivation in progress by the Bhumihars themselves.

Beyond this disputed forest land, is a river that has still not run dry.

‘Do you see that ditch?’ Said Anup Turi, ‘That was what the forest department dug to stop us from farming, and you can see that the ditch takes a turn at where the Bhumihar land is.’

Baldev Turi and his son Mantoo Turi and Ravinder Turi were in jail for 15 days, charged under Section 26 of Indian Forests Act in 2013. He was farming one acre and 20 decibel, and the Forest Department refused to acknowledge his patta. They sent him a notice to come to Giridih court again, by the 12th of April, 2014, and he refused to acknowledge the notice, saying it is too far and he doesn’t have the money and has to look after home.

They continue to work with CPI ML in a struggle for land, and to return their lost land over the past few decades, which has also been taken over by the Bhumihars. The few houses built in the village through the Indira Awas Yojana were built after the Panchayat took Rs.10,000 from the families, in contravention of its rules. Once a village that used to vote for the Congress, and once where the labour was worth two kilograms of rice, it is now evident to all of them that there is an excess of land in their vicinity.

Conclusion

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10 days after the incident, the village prepares for a wedding. Young boys run around in excitement, two old men play the dhol, while women sing songs, dancing slowly to the jhumka. The young men of the village set up scaffolds and cook in the centre of the village. Beby Turi, aged 18 from Dudhwatol met Rajnish Kumar Turi, aged 20, of nearby Kurobindo village, during ‘chowkidaar’ training, or police training, and are getting married on the 20th of April, 2014.

The threat of further attacks by the Bhumihar villagers has dissipated but a sense of anxiety prevails.

‘Hum log ka bharosa hai ki Maley walley hamare saath hai. (We trust that the CPI ML is with us)’Said one of the village elders. But it becomes quickly evident that they are all 30 minutes away, and that the villagers are on their own in the event something would happen. They all know about Bathani Toli, they know about Laxampur-Bathe.

‘Yeh Bhumihar log kabhi sudrenge? (You think the Bhumihars will ever improve?) I had asked after a tirade after tirade on tales and tales on daily abuse, threats, from all their Bhumihar neighbours.

The question elicited muted laughter and jitters, and a ‘Nahi sudrenge (Never) from amidst the crowd.

‘Party mein hai Bhumihar log? (Are there Bhumihars in the party?)I asked

‘Ha leader log hai, (Yes, there are leaders)said one, man. ‘Ha, aur Sunil Ji hai. (Yes, Sunil is there)Said a villager elder.

Everyone’s attention moved towards a middle-aged man with a crew cut, sitting quietly in the corner. His name is Sunil Singh, he is a Bhumihar from the same village Gardih and a cadre of the CPI-ML.

‘Aap samja sakte aapne logo ko? (Can you talk to your people?)’

‘Inko bhi target kiya hai. (They have targeted him too) Said a village elder for an embarassed Sunil Singh.

‘Yaha samanti ka takat hai, (This is the strength of feudalism)’ Said Sunil Singh, ‘Usko samanti ka takat nahi chalana chahiye. Mein bhi nahi chalana chahta hu, sab ka adhikar hota hai. Issi par samaj ka hota hai, jaati-vaad ka hota hai, hum kisi jaati ka nahi! Yaha koi jaat par nahi vote dere, yaha insaf par vote dere hai.’

(He shouldn’t use the power of feudalism. I also don’t want to use it, everyone has their rights. This is where society and casteism comes into play. We’re not from any caste. Nobody here is voting on the basis of caste, we’re voting on the basis of justice).’

‘Aur insaf peh yeh log roziroti, mazdoori kamane walle log he, aur aap ke pas kaam kar rahe hai, aur aap log ko job hai, das baara bigha zameen hai, aap paise walle hai, yeh log aapse takkar nahi kar sakte hai. Sau rupiye kamake yeh log kitna ladiaye karenge?

(And with justice, these are daily wage labourers, and they’re working for you, you people have a job, have some land, you have money, how will these people fight with you? How much can these people fight after earning a hundred rupees?)’

‘Aapke gaon walle aap ko kya bolte hai? (What do your fellow villagers say to you?)I asked Sunil.

‘Aap yeh Soodoro (Dalits) log ko kyu bhakaya, humne bola hum adhikar par kaam kar rahe hai.’

(Why have you incited these Dalits? I said that we’ll work for their rights and livelihood.’

On wedding day, most of those who lived on daily labour had returned mid-afternoon, the sounds of singing would mute as a loudspeaker would begin to blare popular songs. Lunch was served to all the visitors, journalist, Bhumihar or ‘Maley’. The conversations over voting were secondary, it was land, land and the marriage on everyone’s mind.

Election Result

At the day of counting on the 16th of May, 2014, the CPI ML’s Raj Kumar Yadav was trailing the BJP’s Ravindra Ray by a handful of votes throughout the day, but would eventually lose by a margin.

BJP won with 365,410 votes, with CPI ML coming in second place with 266,756 votes.

JVM came third with 160,638 votes, Congress came fourth with 60,330 votes, and AJSU with 25,522 votes.

Post-Photograpy

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Baldev Turi and Mantoo Turi who were imprisoned for 15 days under section 26 of the Forest Rights Act

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The villagers of Dudhwatol and Govardan Turi who was wounded on polling day

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Bhumihar grazing grounds leading to the Dalit village of Dudhwatol

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C For Cynicism

May 4, 2014

(80 of 138)The polling booth at Mayapur, Palamau District of Jharkhand on the 10th of April, 2014.

Constants seldom make election campaigns, and election results seldom challenge them. C for Corruption but then it is C for Caste, Counterinsurgency and Contrator-raj, that are constants in Palamau district of Jharkhand, and then there is C for cynicism: the language, religion, and soul of every voter, whether he believes in Modi or not, in Laloo or not, who knows things will seldom change in the village, no matter who will win the election, where this time an incumbent ex-Maoist is finding his challenge in an ex-cop and an ex-minister.

In Palamau district at Daltonganj, on the 8th of April, a Ram Navmi jhooloos would play a nationalist song calling for Hindu-Muslim-Christian unity, and the chorus would blare in a guttural voice, ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ repeatedly, with the next chorus including ‘Pakistan Murdabad’. The city was planted with red flags, Hanuman jhandas, and in the evening the administration shut off the power across the block to ensure no accidents could take place, such as the one on the 13th of April, 2000, when a flag procession broke off a 11,000 volt cable that would kill over 30 people at Kasab Mohalla at Daltonganj. Ram Navmi flags were even placed on the Ambedkar statue at Barwadih block, a statue built by supporters of the Rashtriya Janta Dal who didn’t find the sense of misplacement in the act. Over two decades ago, in the village of Balatola with a significant population of Brahmins and Rajputs, the caste system was described through cricket: ‘All the upper caste boys would just bat, and all the lower caste boys would only field and bowl.’

Palamau and Garhwa (Constituency Number 13) is meant for the Reserved Category. The sitting Minister of Parliament Kameshwar Baitha was once a part of the Naxalite insurgency, who won the 2009 seat on a Jharkhand Mukti Morcha ticket while serving a jail term. In the previous election he lost to Ghuran Ram of the RJD by a mere 22,327 votes. It is common knowledge that he joined the CPI Maoist (Party Unity) after the Arwal massacre of Jehanabad on the 19th of April, 1986, where 21 members of the leftist Mazdoor Kisan Sangarsh Samiti were killed by the police. But even by asking 267 questions in parliament, his popularity in the region had waned dramatically in the past five years. He was eventually ditched by the JMM and is currently standing with a Trinamool Congress ticket, after failing in his attempts to win the favours of the BJP, who would eventually field ex-Director General of Police, Vishnu Dayal Ram, a 1973 batch IPS officer, who was the Superintendent of Police during the infamous Bhagalpur blinding incident of 1979-1980, where 31 undertrials had acid poured into their eye sockets by the police.

Yet touring the districts of Palamau and Garhwa it is almost unanimously agreed that the battle is between the RJD’s Manoj Bhuyan and BJP’s V.D. Ram for whom the recent Ramnami celebrations on the 8th of April, and the Modi factor is helping to push votes towards him, especially amongst the landed, dominant and forward castes.

Manoj Bhuyan, has a mixed consolidation of Yadav, Bhuyan and Muslim votes.

When Palamau and Garhwa went to the polls on the 10th of April, 2014 in the first phase of elections in Jharkhand, 1,417,375 voters were meant to practice their franchise but a mere 59.3% showed up for polling. The M factor, wasn’t as much as the Maoist boycott as the Mahua factor, that during the last few days of the fruits falling onto the rich earth, adivasi villagers whose sole source of income for months would be Mahua, would only want to vote after they collected their quota of Mahua for the day, but polling ended at 4 in the evening, leaving many out of the process.

At empty polling booths, disgruntled security personnel were annoyed at how villagers would rather pick up mahua than vote, obviously missing out how the world’s largest democracy could be a farce.

‘Ka maloom kisko vote diya (Who knows who I gave my vote to?)’ Said an old man who came alone and walked away with sheer disinterest in the polling booth at Uldanda Panchayat at Palamau district. A young man, ‘a good samaritan’, held his hand to make him vote, and he wasn’t the only one to whom the act of voting is a mere habit, a connection to this invisible ‘sarkar’, and nothing else. Another man with his grandson under a Mahua tree in Chainpur block, would rather ask journalists who he should vote for, and who we think will save the nation. Suryabed Devi from the village of Dorami would find her name would not be on the list, and would visit the polling booth thrice in the day to try and vote for ‘sarkar ke niyaam’ (government schemes). When she was asked by an observer from Delhi if she knew the ‘Jhadoo wala party’, she responded that she knew what a ‘Jhadoo (broom)’ was.

Over 25 kilometres away, a BJP polling agent, sat around a coterie of 20-30 villagers near the empty Mayapur polling station in Chainpur block of Palamau, distributing election papers with their serial numbers, to make it easier for voters to find their names on the roster. On the first question about the ‘samasya (problems)’ of the village, ten people would all start to speak as once, talking about pani (water), bijli (electricity), ration and job card while the polling agent kept quiet. They were a divided bunch with no one clearly espousing support for any party, with some voices invoking the ‘Lantern’ and others ‘Phool’ (lotus), while there was unanimous mistrust towards their incumbent minister Kameshwar Baitha.

‘Aap abhi bharosa kaise rakhege? (How can you trust them now?)I had asked the group.

‘Toh kay karenge! (What do we do?), they said in a chorus. One man exhorts, ‘Vishwas peh jaahte hai mandir ko, mil jata hai tho mil jata hai! (We go to the temple in faith, if we get what we wish for, then we get it.)’

At some point during the cacophony of discussion, and hyperbolic cycnicism, the polling agent, finally called for order to speak, ‘Hamare Narendra Modi ke laksh mein saare vote jara he.(All our votes are going towards Narendra Modi).’He said, the man approaching fifty who spoke with absolute conviction and sombreness, ‘Woh pradhan mantri baneye, aur desh ka udhar karenge. (He’ll become the prime minister and make the country progress)

‘Gaon ke samasye mein badal aayega? (Will the village’s problems get fixed?)’ I asked.

Silence.

Then a cacophony again. Mostly saying no.

‘Koi bhi jeeta aase koi bhi umeed nahi hai. (Whoever wins, we don’t have any hopes like that). Said a younger man, ‘Aapna khandaan hi banate ha (They only help their own families). Garibo kya kar raha hai, kha raha hai, kapda penh raha hai, chhao mein bheta hai, usse koi matlab nahi hai (What the poor are doing, what they’re eating, what clothes they’re wearing, whether they have shade to sit in, none of that matters). Woh jieetne ke baadh woh bus aapna sochtha hai (Once they win, they just think of themselves).’

Another man spoke at the very instance, ‘Koi jeetega, garib ka dekhneka koi nahi hai , agar 100 ghar hai, yaha 50 ghar mein kuch nahi hai, koi card nahi, koi job card nahi. Aur kuch nahi hoga unka! (Whoever wins, nobody is going to look after the poor, if there are 100 houses here, there is nothing in 50 houses, no card, no job card. Nothing will happen for them). ’

The polling agent kept quiet. He didn’t wish to speak anymore.

Speaking to villagers after villagers, there was an obvious sense of abandonment, of the village, of the self, of the community amongst a majority of people who went to the polls. Yet there were some places where the issues were not issues, and the struggles were entirely their own.

Counterinsurgency

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Memorial for the dead at Barhania village  in Latehar District of Jharkhand.

Around 55 kilometers from Palamau, it was in Barhania village in Murvai Panchayat in Latehar district that on the 15th of April, 2009, a day before polling for the Lok Sabha elections that an IED blast on a polling party, would claim the lives of two CRPF personel and one civilian driver Vijay Kumar Prasad. And in an act (that is always disputed by the police), that can only be described as a revenge killing, the angry CRPF survivors marched to the nearest village and arbitrarily killed five people – Supay Bodra (18), Sanjay Bodra (20), Masi Soma Bodra (14), Pitai Munda (32) and Supay Bodra (55), and claimed they killed five Naxalites. The incident on the peak of the elections, led to a frenzy of accusations, anger, and promises, and the fact that the village, has contributed 17 people to the Army or the Border Security Forces or the Jharkhand state police or the CISF, and is then branded a ‘Naxalite village’, did not escape public scrutiny.

Army Jawaan Joel Budra, whose own family members were killed on that day, would eventually leave the Bihar Regiment a few years after the killings, and still remembers the day his own colleagues who saw the news bulletins, started to insinuate that he comes from a village of ‘ugravadis (extremists)’ .

‘Abhi bhi yaad aata hai unka (I still remember them).’ He says about his family members, he himself is almost half his size today, and spends his time working in the fields when there is work.

‘Police se gussa to aata hai, hum bhi police to the, aur mera bhai Martin bhi policewalla hai, lekin usko bhi gussa hai (We do get angry at the police, I was also in the police and my brother Martin is also a policeman, and he gets angry too).’

The site of the attack today is dotted with two memorials, one for the driver killed in the attack set up by the transport association, a statue of stone whose ankles are beaten down and another by the villagers of Barhania with the names of the villagers and details of the incident that clearly indicts the CRPF. Over the past few years the CRPF patrols have constantly erased ‘CRPF’ from the plaque, and the adivasis keep writing it again.

Jawaan Mangram Munda, who is part of the CISF categorically states, that the villagers were innocent and that the massacre wouldn’t have taken place if he was there in the village the day of the attack. He was himself at Chatra at election duty, and is visibly angry with the CRPF who acted rashly but has an entirely different relationship to the state than others in his village, and is openly espousing his support for the AAP in Latehar on the issue of corruption, even though there is no visible sight of the party across the region.

On the day of the killing, every political party from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, to the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, to the Bharatiya Janata Party, to the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the CPI(ML)-Liberation, and Communist Party of India, to human rights organizations and the national media would visit the village, whose lack of irrigation facilities had affected migrancy and livelihood as much as the massacre. In 2009, the families of the victims would never go to the polls, and five years later, their voices stand divided, with some still refusing to vote, and some believing they would vote for the Congress’s Dhiraj Prasad Sahu, who had given each of the families Rs.20,000 as compensation, and has promised to re-open collieries, re-open the Chirimiri railway line and to complete the Mandal Dam which will drown countless trees and submerge villages, to the chagrin of other adivasi groups. Their incumbent candidate, Inder Singh Namdhari, who ran as an independent, only visited the village once, and had called for a review into the incident, when the villagers was already cleared by then.

‘I didn’t vote last time,’ Said Gauri Budhra from Barhania, ‘And this time I have to spend my time picking Mahua, and I will probably be too tired to walk 2 kilometres in the sun to vote.’

‘What if there was a complete gaurantee that the water problems in the village would be solved if you voted?’ I asked.

She laughed.

‘I would still not go. Who trusts these people!’

Soni Mundoo, about 50 years of age, sister of Pitai Munda who was killed in the attack felt the same. ‘Why vote after they killed our people?’ While her family voted for the panchayat elections, further questioning led her to say, ‘And I am alone, why should I go? There is so much work.’

Contractor-Raj

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Migrant workers returning from Bangalore an evening before polling day.

During the Mahua season, the Munda, Oraon and Chero adivasis of Palamau-Chatra-Garhwa and Latehar collect as much Mahua as they can for their home, and sell what they can in the market. The markets are run by ‘Mahajans’ with whom there is no bargaining over price. It starts at Rs.30 per kilo, and over the next few weeks as more and more trees grow mahua fruits, the price goes down to Rs.25, to Rs.20. Then, in a few months, the Mahajans will sell the Mahua back to the adivasis at Rs.40 or Rs.50 a kilogram when there is none left in the forest. A system in place for there is no organized effort by the government to build godowns, or to protect adivasi interests.

In every village moving towards the interior, incomplete roads, incomplete government buildings dot the landscape. In every conversation, there was always someone or the other from Daltonganj or Ranchi, from anywhere but here, who built half of a road, or half of a building, or nothing at all. It was in Latehar, where on the 2nd of March, 2011, where the CPI Maoists, in collusion with a contractor had murdered Niyamat Ansari, an activist fighting for proper implementation of MNREGA, who built a pond through a government scheme in the panchayat, who repeatedly invoked the RTI act and the Forest Rights act. The local Maoist commander Sudarshan would accuse him of stealing land, stealing from the poor, ‘child sacrifice’ but would eventually be forced to ‘apologize’ by his leadership.

Another incident where the role of the contractors is pushed to an afterthought took place in Garhwa, when an IED blast on the 21st of January, 2012 had claimed the lives of 13 police personnel, who were accompanying the local Block Development Officer Vasudev Prasad to a protest site at Bargad, where villagers were protesting against how their health center, meant for the village Ghotoni was being built at Bargad by the contractors in collusion with the dominant castes. At the same time, the CPI Maoists had abducted Zilla Parishad member Shushma Mehta of the CPI-ML, her bodygaurds and party member Akhtar Ansari who were also on their way to the protest site, while the police lathi-charged the protestors at Bargad, refused to acknowledge that Sushma Mehta’s team was abducted and would go on to accuse that the attack on their polling party was planned by the CPI-ML. The team would eventually be released by the Maoists and Sushma Mehta herself is now vying for the Palamu-Garhwa Lok Sabha seat.

And the contractors never built the health center meant for Ghotoni.

The BJP campaign itself found its feet in Shyam Narayan Dubey, a contractor who also runs the teachers union through the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Manoj Singh, District President of BJP also a bus contractor with murder cases to his name, Parsuram Ojha, a contractor and social worker, Kiran Singh, another bus contractor, and from Ranchi, Harihar Singh and his brother Pancham Singh, who are into construction. For the RJD there is Girnath Singh who is a ‘zamindar’, Someshwar Sahu who is a bus contractor and Congress worker who is supporting the RJD this time around, and the family of political strongman Bishma Narain Singh, a once governor, minister and MLA, and many more. Ghuran Ram, a candidate from the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha, is himself a contractor. This is an endless survey meant to be, on how each contractor and zamindar in every region moves towards some political party or the other, or both, to try and make use of the Minister’s fund.

Today, with the onset of neo-liberalism and the breakdown of unions, contractors in the region have now also found dealing in human beings a profitable business.

The evening before the polls, nine migrant workers from the village of Regeniya in Barwadih block had paid Rs.3000 to a tempo driver to drop them from Ranchi to Daltonganj, as there were no bus services available as they were all taken for election duty. They had just returned from Bangalore, and one of them believed that if you don’t vote, they cut your name out of the voting list. They were ambivalent about their reasons for returning, until the next day they called up to say that they had run away from Bangalore after two of them were almost killed in a construction accident. It was a local contractor from their village Rehnai Singh who had sent them with some money to work, at the JMC projects in Bangalore, where a contractor Munna Khan put them to work along with construction supervisor Rehnai Singh’s son, who had locked them up, abused them, and refused to hear their concerns of safety after the accident.

They escaped clandestinely but were caught on the road by the contractors who threatened them with dire consequences. ‘Hum bezati ka kaam nahi karenge (We won’t do work that dishonours us)’Repeated Prakhar Singh, a Cheroo adivasi, around 21 years of age.

On the day of polling, when one of the migrants said they had voted for the BJP, a group of villagers and activists started to chastise him, asking how they were treated by the locals in Bangalore in where they had gone to work: ‘Aap ne unka hi sarkar ko vote diya, (You’ve voted for the same government)Said Kanhai Singh, an adivasi leader and CPI-ML cadre, ‘Aap Bhajpa ko vote diye hai kyuki aap Hindu hai? (Did you vote for the BJP just because you’re Hindu?)’ He would ask them. ‘Ha, toh Kangi kaun cheeze hai? (Yes, so what is a Kangi?)’ said a worker, to jitters. It seemed nobody forgot that Babulal Marandi of the ‘Kangi’ was once a part of the RSS, but as the conversation grew more and more redundant, one worker expressed that he is ‘un-padh (uneducated)’ and doesn’t know these things.

In the evening, the contractor who ‘sent’ them to Bangalore to work, came to collect his dues. The visibly frightened workers had no choice but to accept that they have to return the debt they owed Rehnai Singh, but refused to file a case for what is legally bonded labour.

Caste

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Ram Navmi Flags on the statue of Dr. Ambedkar in Latehar district of Jharkhand.

Kachanpur village in Chhattarpur block in Palamau district is a village split between Dalits and Jadhavs, has access to a pond, an MNREGA office, with the ‘N’ rubbed out, and villagers who see the sense of humour in ‘marega ka kaam (the work of those who will die). Of 1,100 voters, only 30% would practice their franchise, since most of the village youth are also migrant workers in other cities, who did not return to vote. The villagers also recall with laughter at how the BJP was giving out Rs.4000 to the voters, and the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha was first giving out Rs.500 and then was forced to give Rs.4000 due to competition, but eventually their party workers reached a compromise and realized they should both just give Rs.2000. The villagers unanimously voted for the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Rampati Ranjan, but those that belonged to the Paswan caste, had their votes split for the BJP due to Ram Vilas Paswan’s move towards them.

41 year old Raghu Ravidas is a teacher in a local school who has belonged to BAMCEF (All India Backward (S.C., S.T., O.B.C.) And Minorities Communities Employees Federation) for decades now, recalling how it was Baleshwar Bharti, now from the BSP who had worked with them for decades. Today, his school building ran out of funds, since a portion was paid to the contractors, another fee had to be paid to the CPI Maoists and when the anti-Maoist Tritiya Prastuti Committee would arrive to ask for their own ‘cut’ there were no funds left, and the work for the school was forced to shut down.

Raghu Ravidas, remembers the conflicts in his village over caste, and how his people were humiliated at a Jadhav wedding by being asked to clean their own plates. A matter that was settled when they threatened wholesale boycott and when the then Maoist Communist Centre had a meeting with the Jadhavs. He even cites the humiliation of a government teacher Alok Deo Ram, a Dalit who was forced out of the school at Nodiya Bazaar after the other teachers who belonged to forward castes couldn’t deal with their own resentment. ‘Chapal ka mala pina diya tha unko, (They made him wear a garland of slippers)’ Said Raghu Ravidas, who along with BAMCEF were on the forefront of the protest, with hunger strikes, marches and protests outside government offices. This followed another incident in nearby Tilliyadi in 2003, where the members of a Teli Caste refused to send their children to a school for the cook belonged to a lower caste. While the BDO had ensured a case was filed, the woman in question left her position due to further harassment.

‘At that time, Ghuran Ram, from the RJD, and a man from our own caste,’ Said Raghu Ravidas, ‘said that the other teachers who humiliated Alok shouldn’t be arrested.’ None of those who were part of the government machinery, who won the seats that come under a reserved category, had come to the protest and the struggle that was held by the BAMCEF. Further irritation was reserved for MLA Sudha Choudhary of the JDU, who herself from the Pasi caste had a ‘mixed marriage’, whose response to protests was also lukewarm.

When I had asked Raghu if the constituency being in the reserved category had done anything to annihilate ‘jaat-vaad (casteism), his response was an astounding no, since no party in power was a part of any of the grassroots work that was being done. It became obvious that caste plays a role in where the votes can go, but in a constituency that comes under a reserved category, the annihilation of caste is not a candidate’s primary concern.

Rajkumar Pichuliya, a man who has been to BSP rallies in Lucknow, but missed out on Mayawati in Ranchi (due to the Maoist strike) would pick up a piece of cow dung and say, ‘Jab tak log ise bhagwaan maan te hai, jab tak yeh desh meh koi development nahi hoga. (Till people think this is God, there will be no development in this country)’

It was more than evident that the BSP had given them a sense of self-respect that no party had done, an identity, and a voice, and it was clearly elucidated with how a tone of 30-40 women sitting in a mini-panchayat would change, as they talk with rigour, laughter and pride when there is any conversation about Behenji.

The opposite sense was with the Ansari Muslims of Chegona in Palamu Constituency, who had unanimously voted for the RJD since 2002 after the Loto massacre in their Panchayat where 12 people were killed, some say the perpetrators were the RSS, while others say the MCC, and some say by the Maoist-faction People’s Liberation Front of India. Both Rabri Devi and Laloo Prasad Yadav had visited the Panchayat (of Chegone, Loto, Arar and Khodi) on the day of the attack itself, and the memory and gratitude of a people who’ve never been organized, has turned votes to an afterthought.

They come under the Khodi Panchayat which is predominately Yadav, who were happy to tell the Ansari villagers of Chegona, ‘Hamare dono haath mein ladoo hai, RJD bhi Yadav ka party hai, aur BJP bhi Hindu ka party hai. (We have sweets [ladoos] in both hands, RJD is the party of the Yadavs, and the BJP the party for Hindus)’.Their own ‘Mukhiya’ would be a BJP party worker and a contrator, Ranjit Kumar Jaiswal. ‘Usne kya vikas kiya? (What progress did he bring us?)’ Asked a middle aged man in the mini-panchayat, ‘Usne hamara saab chawal bhej diya! Bahut vikas kiya! (He sold all our rice. So much progress!)’he said to laughing old women and young boys.

While they say there is no fear of Modi coming to power, to them and their village, there is a fear for over 40% of their young sons and brothers work as migrant workers in cities across the country.

The RJD to them, had not done anything to them, but they voted for them.

C for conclusion

There are political parties you vote for, and/or political beings you become.

Election Result

On the 16th of May, 2014, the results showed that at Palamau Lok Sabha Constituency, the BJP’s V.D. Ram won with 476,513 votes, followed by Manoj Bhuyan of RJD, with 212,571 votes, to JVM’s Ghuran Ram with 156,832 votes and Kamleshwar Baitha on a TMC ticket with 37,043 votes. BSP’s Rampati Ranjan had got 20,481 votes.

At the Chatra Lok Sabha Constituency, under which there is Latehar district, the BJP’s S.N. Singh won with 295,862 votes, followed by Dhiraj Prasad Sahu with 117,836 votes, followed by Nilam Devi of JVM with 104,176 votes.

Then there was  AJSU Party with 35,674, Samajwadi Party with 29,754, Communist Party of India with 21,261, Aam Aadmi Party with 17,980, Bahujan Samaj Party 14,929, Rashtriya Deshaj Party with 10,771,  Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist)  with 8341, and All India Trinamool Congress with 7841.

Photography Post-Script

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The line at Mayapur polling station in Chainpur block of Palamau District at Jharkhand on the 10th of April, 2014.

(115 of 138)Security at the polling station at Checha Panchayat at Latehar District on polling day on the 10th of April, 2014

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Polling station at Gore Panchayat, closer to the town of Daltonganj at Palamau District on the 10th of April, 2014.

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Memorial for Vijay Kumar Prasad,  the driver killed along with two CRPF personnel in an IED blast on the 15th of April, 2009.

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Inside the polling booth at Uldanda Panchayat at Palamau district of Jharkhand on the 10th of April, 2014.

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The MNREGA office at Kachanpur village at Palamau district of Jharkhand.

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Abandoned government offices for the Mandal dam at Latehar district of Jharkhand.

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Scene from outside the polling center at Daltonganj, Palamau, at the end of polling.

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At the polling station at Dorami Panchayat at Latehar district on the 10th of April, 2014

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Post-Modern Undercurrents

April 26, 2014

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‘Whether there is a Modi wave or not, is not to be known from the large gatherings, sometimes the undercurrents are stronger than the open waves.’ Says Medha Patkar, social activist and candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Mumbai North East.

This article appears in Outlook magazine on the 28th April, 2014 issue.

Santosh Thorat, an organizer for the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Movement from Anna Bhau Sathe Nagar in Mankhurd had many questions about joining Aam Aadmi Party, long before the Assembly Elections in Delhi, long before his movement and Medha Patkar would decide to stand for elections in Mumbai North East; his own constituency that had seen massive demolitions in 2004-2005 of 80,000 homes. It was pretty obvious that day, a year earlier in an Irani restaurant in Bandra, that he wouldn’t want his own politics, of strong community-driven movements, of Ambedkarite politics, a strong anti-caste centrality, of women’s participation, from the legacy of Bhagat Singh to Annabhau Sathe, to be diluted by joining any political party, as a footsoldier, but as a leader of people.

Today he holds meetings in groups after groups of women, all who have been part of dharna after dharna, march after march, demanding a right to a home, now moving their strategy towards electoral politics: everyone here must get ten votes for Medha Patkar and for Aam Aadmi Party. Exactly a month earlier, when Medha held a public meeting to decide whether to go for electoral politics or not: a patient Santosh waited for his turn to speak on stage, and when he got his chance, he gave a short speech to loud applause, simple and to the point: ‘Tai kudh nahi khadi hai, hum unko khada karaya.’ (Medha is not standing for herself, we are making her stand for elections)

‘Humare kaam karne ke liye hum Tai ko khada kiye’ (We are making her stand for elections to do our work)

In the 2009 general elections, her constituency was really a neck-in neck battle between Sanjay Dina Patil of the Nationalist Congress Party and Kirit Somaiya of the Bharatiya Janta Party, both who are running again, whose vote tallies had a difference of just 2,933 votes. NCP counted 2,13,505 votes to BJP’s 2,10,572 votes, with Maharashtra Navkiran Sena’s Shishir Shinde coming third with 1,95,148 votes. And while none of them have started their election campaign, apart from trying to ridicule Medha Patkar or talk about Modi Waves, at every other street corner laden with AAP’s signature white hats, a speech is often heard, ‘In the last elections 9 lakh people did not vote, this time please do.’

Medha Patkar’s AAP campaign strategy is to the point, she simply responds, ‘we’re reaching out to people. And we have to resort to whatever electronic media my collegues use, and to hold small meetings, work with groups that are active in the grassroots.’

“The campaign is of course hampered by the twin handicaps of funding and electoral rules: ‘We apparently can’t even put our stickers outside the autos, even if they are owned by autowallas,’ she would say. Just two days earlier the BJP had a frontpage advertisement, in the Times of India, which as per their rates of Rs.6960 per square centimetre, and that a frontpage has 1716 square centimetre, comes to Rs.11,942,360, without the 15% discount. Meanwhile Medha’s AAP donation website merely collected 13,000 in the 4 days it went online (On the sixth day a corporate lawyer from Kolkata donated Rs.1,00,00 for as he has seen Medha work for years, and feels corruption is a cause to all ills). ‘We say development planning has to be face to face, so how can electoral campaigning not be face to face?’ she says, sitting in a small AAP office in Vikhroli, set up by a small restaurant owner, over the chatter of volunteers and the tan-tan of drums ready to be played when they continue to go on the road. (the five young boys who had come from Vikhroli’s Bheem Chhaya Nagar to play drums for Medha’s walks through the bastis, also faced election rules, as the police did not give them permission to play publically.)

‘We have to depend on the social media.’ She says, ‘But there has to has to be very serious changes in rules and regulations from the election commission. Hoardings are allowed, on purchase basis, where parties pay lakhs of rupees but banners are not allowed. We are not allowed to put our stickers. Raj Thackeray has put up big hoardings, lakhs, and crores are spent, but those are not violations. There’s a rule that your hoardings should not face the municipal land, but the road is municipal land, why is that not a violation? Do we all just point our banners to ourselves?’

Almost every other day, her campaign starts after a night spent as late as time affords, as she wakes up at 5 in the morning, plans her meetings with her volunteers, and continues with short rallies and meetings, on the road, at parks, at markets, at crossroads and nakas, up the small by-lanes of slums, to small rooms and homes housed by countless supporters of the movement and now the party, with a motley bunch of volunteers, those rooted in the grassroots and those who have come down from their buildings, from across the city, and some from across the country. On the road with her, it is clear that in many of the lower depths of the city, her simplicity is something that strikes with her prospective voters, and her legendary energy, which some feel is her strenght but also others fear for her age, and the tolls of countless hunger strikes and arrests by the police.

In one of her public meetings on the 14th of March, at the one birthplaces of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, at Rafiq Nagar 2, it was almost an accepted reality, as far as bystander conversations can grace wholesale voting patterns, that they would all vote for her, they just don’t need to sit in a public rally where a thousand people, mostly unorganized workers sat patiently, donning the AAP hats that were being distributed by young volunteers. Rafiq Nagar, itself, is on the dumping grounds of Mumbai, where children die every other month from malnutrition-related disease, where policemen routinely harass young Muslim boys, and which has faced demolitions almost every other year. Rafiq Nagar, the citadel of the ragpickers, Rafiq Nagar, when it was still Rafiq Nagar 1, where some boys still have not returned home from the 1992 riots.

It was here that proceedings started with Lok Shahir Milind Kambli from Mulund, who starts the rally with a song, a rendition of Sambaji Bhagat’s Surat ko pehchano bhai’– a song that attacks caste as much as corruption, that invokes Dr.Ambedkar’s dreams, ridicules every political figure, from Advani, to the Gandhis, and invokes the blindness of those who ran after the ‘mandir’.

The organizers would then give speeches, with Santosh Thorat now talking about his memories of growing up near Rafiq Nagar, with Jameela Begum from Mandala talking about the memories of the movement, and Ram from Mandala talking about the recent custodial death of 22 year old Mohammed Sheikh who was picked up by the Shivaji Nagar police. It was exactly like all the countless public meetings of the Ghar Banao Ghar Bachao Andolan, except for the entry of the slogan: ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’, sometimes invoked by Atique, himself a Muslim from UP, and sometimes to the chagrin of other Muslims in the movement, while Medha herself feels these slogans need to be reclaimed from the Hindutva, and returned to the tradition of the Independence struggle.

The one thing that AAP has done for Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Movement, whether as a boon or a bane, is that it has brought many volunteers from the upper middle classes, the middle classes, and upper-castes, or Savarnas, into what was once a purely populated by the working class, the urban poor, and those who have grown up in a tradition of Ambedkar politics. Her rallies at more suburban middle class areas are often done with the help of AAP volunteers and a ragtag group of locals who she has worked with in the movement. The slogans that she invokes, is typically from a rights tradition: ‘Hume Satta nahi Satya chahiye! (We are for truth not for power) and ‘Matya deya, hakka leva’ (Give your vote, take your rights.)

Her speeches at all corners are laced with not just ‘brashtachyaar’ (corruption) but also ‘atyachaar’ (atrocity) and covers the work done by the movement to expose the Adarsh scam, the Maharashtra Sugar scam, to the SRA scams, the corruption in the builder lobby, to the work that was done for unorganized workers, street hawkers, slum-dwellers, to invocations of women’s participation in the community and to vote, to the behaviour of the previous Minister of Parliament who has apparently never asked a single question in parliament, to the lies of every ruling party in the state that promised the regularization of slums, to basic infrastructure: sanitation, electricity, roads, and water, which many people of her constituency are deprived of. She often exerts that there is 30,000 acres land free in the city, and inequitible distribution of resources is a mainstay in her speechs on the street corner. ‘Land has to be released. Land is now blocked. From Bhayandar, Vasai to Mumbai, a handful of companies and a few hundred people have more than 10 acres, six companies have more than 500 to 2000-3000acres.’

The ten-year long movement for the Right To Housing, the Ghar Banao Ghar Bachao Andolan, is central to understanding the shifting genealogies of a city, where housing moved from being ‘shelter’ to ‘an investment’, and the markets only defence regarding its existential crisis of slums, is to demolish them in the name of urban planning. Meanwhile, a Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme for the BMC, stated that …. ‘the relevant dimension is that the area, they (slums) together occupy – just 6 per cent of all land in Mumbai explaining the horrific levels of congestion.’ And against mainstream perception that the movement is demanding free housing, at every public rally, they themselves demand that they’re willing to pay for affordable housing, often to cheers from an entire crowd. ‘If Hiranandani gets land meant for us for Rs.40 per acre, we’re willing to pay even more!’ Said organizer Jameel Akhtar from Ambujwadi in January of 2012.

‘Our housing plan’ Says Medha, ‘Includes dormitaries, to self-reliant housing. And for that it is very necessary that you classify people according to their needs. And the whole plan has to be brought out by public-people participation. Under the public agencies and the people themselves – and the people include the construction labourers and the service sector.’

‘And some of the issues we’re raising are pollution and environmental, and the polluted air does not understand if its flowing through slums or the middle class areas. Drainage, infrastructure, the traffic, and there is no regulation about the number of cars coming on the roads, or whether there will be a skywalk or something else, there is just no consultation with the people. All of this clearly, brings out the non-participatory and undemocratic planning on one hand, and the corruption on the other. And it brings in the fraudulent and flawed planning, and the affordable housing’s definition and the plan for 1 crore housing, is very acheivable.’

It had become visibly obvious that her decision to stand for elections was not just taken due to AAP’s Assembly Election results, or that she is propelled to fight for her movement and Right To Housing, but she also adds, almost as an afterthought, that there had to be a counter to Modi. ‘Fear of him amongst people in Mumbai is not so strong, but fraud in his own presentation, is impactful. And who questions Ambani? Who questions Adani? Who questions inequality?’ That there was dissent in the National Alliance of People’s Movement against her decision to stand, ‘a handful of people’ as she adds, mostly from Assam, Karnataka and some NAPM units from West Bengal, the idea was that many felt that electoral politics had to be seen as complimentary to non-electoral politics. She often implies the role played by social movements in shaping policy and law, and her vision of development is motivated by the Directive Principles of State Policy, guidelines in the constitution, which being ‘not justiable’, has ensured that its tenets for more equitable development that pays attention to ecology, environment, and social justice, has not been followed by most state and central governments. Her desire to give more power to the Panchayats as per Article 243 of the constitution has often been attacked as playing into caste power dynamics but she continues to insist that, ‘Unless there is democracy in the bottom level, there is nothing, and this is why becoming a MP doesn’t mean so much. ‘

‘At the parliament we debate laws and policies and that is also important and as movements we have influenced so many acts. RTI has come from social movements. And the unorganized sectors workers who are part of NAPM, where we’ve had umpteen number of meetings with the workers, the ministers, with officials where we’ve drafted, re-worked, and we brought out that act, but certain sections are still weak, like regulation, and recording of labour. And as movements we continue to fight, even with the Hawkers act, we extensively have worked on it since the Kolkatta hawkers were evicted and the Hawkers Federation came into being. And we’ve taken all the movements of hawkers and the urban poor to every single ministry, from all states to that forum, with Jaipal Reddy, Shailaja, Shivraj Patil, and all officals. And we got the policy in 2003, the bill in 2009, we got it passed in 2013. And the president still has not signed the bill.’

We met for an interview during breaks from campaigning at Vikhroli, where a visibly tired Medha Patkar seemed more out of place with english-media journalists, than the streets, and she seems absolutely comfortable on the road, campaigning in slums where her organization has just started to take roots. Volunteers would come and go, take long instructions, while she would sit behind a table in a small 10X4 room, laden with AAP newspaper cuttings, posters and banners.

‘There is a general middle class and media perception, which is anti-slum, but the only people fighting agaisnt the builder lobby are the working class and the poor. How would your housing policy move beyond those narratives?

‘Those fighting the builder lobby are not only the working class and the poor, that is my point. We are fighting MHADA re-development, all middle class people – government officials, government servants, bank employees, are all with us. We are fighting other redevelopment projects, and everywhere people are cheated. The Catholic properties in the heart of the city are grabbed by builders.’

‘How would you defeat this perception?’

‘We are holding meetings in societies, and raising these questions. And the more confirmation I am getting is that they say ‘we need your kind of fighting spirit’. And they know they can’t fight these battles, wherever they face injustice. Even the Campa Cola people came to us. So everyone seeks support and it’s not only the slums. And it’s only through the media we can defeat the perception. And we’re not so strong in social media. Aabhi do din pehle mujhe maloom pada ‘Whats APP’ kuch cheez hai. And someone told me that you can put in a 25 second message, and I can’t even give a speech less than 25 minutes.’

‘Your constituency, especially around Ward M, which is also known as the dumping ground of people, owning to all the displaced people and the dumping ground, has a high prevalence of juvenile deliquency and violence against women. Are you going to address this issue with your constituency and the general public?

‘We have to come to a position. Women’s rights, though we are actually empowering women through the movements, and their participation itself is their way out of drudgery, and insecurity. And people become secure themselves so they don’t have to beg for outside external security forces. And suffice to say, Justice Verma’s committees recommendations should be implemented which has not happened. And there is no political will, but social will has to be there, and nowadays it is there, and people know they can’t beg before politicians, they know there is something about a demand for better governance, and much will be achieved when people will say we will govern ourselves. And that change, whether at an individual women’s level, or a community level, is self-reliance. Swaraj can’t mean self-sufficience but go up to self-reliance, and this is the position we as people’s movements have said. We can’t be naïve on an economic or political level, and there are caste and gender divisions. And at the same time, we feel that asserting people’s right to resources, even land in an urban area. Water in an urban area people don’t have access to. Why? Because water falling onto the roofs or anganwadi, is not recognized as a resource. And it is all just lost due to people being diverted by bad politics.

And what about policing? The police in fact, in a general perception, does not represent the people of Ward M. Just on the 21st of January, there was a custodial death of a 22 year old Muslim and about four months ago there was a custodial death of a dalit man, after an altercation outside a restaurant. There is a breakdown of trust between the people and the police.

‘The police as an institution is a big problem. That’s because from top to bottom it is corrupt. And corruption ensures they will not fulfill their role and leads to them commit crimes themselves. And these custodial deaths, you have seen, only after mass action they acted on going on a second post-mortem. But how many people can fight like this? With this kind of perseverance and this strength? And the police can’t be totally ruled out, and there has to be a security force within the community, and we don’t mean there be a parallel army, but the security will come with community level inputs, and strenghtening the community relationships. Everything else is value change.

Mumbai has a long legacy of Ambedkarite politics and working class struggles, which is represented in the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan. Arvind Kejriwal may have taken a stand on contract labour but then there’s reservation and there are some radicals in the movement who’re uncomfortable with some of the language of AAP. There are internal contradictions between AAP whose slogans are very different from Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan. And do you see these contradictions and how are you dealing with it?

See, these are some allegations and questioning is based on lack of knowledge. The other day, I told Arvind Kejriwal to take a clear stand in support of reservation at Kannawaram Nagar in Vikhroli. And there are lots of strange situations with Marathas asking for reservation and Brahmins asking for it and even with Muslims, not every movement is in support of it. And Dalit muslims must get reservation as per Article 341. The other thing is, about contract labour what the party did in Delhi, it must go beyond what they have done. The manifesto is still not ready on it. But with the organized worker’s sector, there were 31 committees formed on contract labour and I have seen their documents, and there are promises in it. As for as people’s movements, we’ve strongly taken positions. Everywhere in the country in all the movements of our supporters, there are mismatches, there are differences. I personally don’t feel scared of that, our conscience and commitment matters, there are disagreements in all families. But no doubt a common mimimum agenda must be developed.

***

It was after this point as Medha would leave to prepare for the next rally, after her response to a question in English, was spoken in Hindi, deliberately by Medha to her listening volunteers, that led to an internal conversation between the AAP and Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao-AAP, about the suitability of certain slogans, about the importance of Ambedkar’s Birth anniversary on the 14th of April, about those who feel the Lokpal is against the constitution, and is therefore against them, and these people must be spoken to. ‘RSS chaddi pehnti hai toh hum chaddi pehna chodd de?’ asked one man. Over the ruckus of interview-exploding into a conversation ten minutes ago, an elderly AAP volunteer had said that Vande Mataram is the same as Jai Bhim, and no one paid much attention to him.

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The stillness of rage

April 5, 2013

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‘Take a picture of my house’ before they demolish it

During the fifth demolition drive at Ganesh Krupa Society on February of 2012, Rajendra Mistry, a supervisor in a maintenance firm, pulled me away from documenting the demolishing of another house and asked me to follow him to his own house. I asked him why and he says he wants a photo of himself in his house before the ‘haramis’ (bastards) break it down. He sat down on his mattress, before his packed belongings, his idols and gods still hanging from the walls, with the solemnity of silence itself. I took the photos for him, and by the end of the day, it didn’t matter as much.

By five in the evening, the demolition crews left. His house survived.

That day.

On the 3rd of April this year, after the sixth demolition drive, it’s a field of rubble.

That too after the Union Ministry’s Principal Secretary of Housing, Ajay Maken wrote to the Chief Minister to cease from demolitions and evictions until the investigations into the numerous discrepancies in the project are completed.  ‘Your decision to investigate six of the proposed or under construction projects through the Principal Secretary (Housing) was conveyed to me, which is a welcome step. I however, would request you to ensure that wherever as in these six SRS projects under enquiry, there are prima facie illegality, no irreversible damage or eviction of residents should be permitted to be done with police force.’

This would take place after a demolition drive at Golibar’s Ambewadi on the eve of Woman’s Day when women were dragged off and allegedly molested by the police and unidentified persons, and nine homes were demolished.

And this time the state accomplished in demolishing 43 homes at Ganesh Krupa Society, most of whom, in an act of resistance, were rebuilt by the residents after the last demolition drives.

To the people of Ganesh Krupa Society, who’re predominately working class, even if they break down their homes, that is more than just a property, more than just shelter, they will put in money to rebuild, some having spent anywhere between Rs.10,000 to Rs. 40,000, as an act beyond protest, beyond the frustration of protest, beyond dharna after dharna, march after march, court case after court case. Yet this last demolition drive has been particularly brutal, ripping out foundations, leaving no trace of a home, just leaving landscapes of an exploding city.

Meanwhile, Ambewadi society, across the road, has been on a sit-in, and a relay hunger strike since the 20th of January, 2012, after a private security firm hired by the builder ended up in a violent clash that led to the hospitalization of two women from Ambewadi, where the police refused to lodge a complaint against the builder, and instead charged the residents.

Ambevadi is where stenguns are carried by the police and taken to the settlement for a welfare scheme.

Ambevadi, is where the ironies of dalit capitalism are clearer than ever, where the Budh Vihar, is where the residents swear on Babasaheb Ambedkar, and the nostalgia of the Dalit Panthers, and plan their strategies against the builder, himself from the Schedule Caste.

Ambewadi is where the Ashis Nandy controversy at the Jaipur Literature festival was a stupid joke. And where Mr.Nandy should shut the hell up. Santosh Thorat, a matang dalit, organizer for the Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, laughed at his comments, standing amongst broken homes of working class dalits, looking at the tower the builder built, and commenting, ‘yeh toh brahmin hi ban gaye’(they have just become brahmins).’

Ambevadi society and Ganesh Krupa Society, are the frontlines in this war of attrition of profit, two of 46 societies the builder has to acquire for his township, the thorns in his plans. He so far, only has eleven. Most have still taken him to court.

Most still join the rallies against him, as they did during the ten day protest at Azad Maidan in January of this year, that had led the Maharashtra State Government to agree to conduct inquiries, through the Principal Secretary of Housing into six Slum Rehabilitation Projects including Golibar. It had put a moratorium on demolitions until the end of the investigations, except those where the High Court has precedence. But to both Ambevadi and Ganesh Krupa Society, thanks to questionable court orders,  they faced demolition drives.

And that brings us back to the judiciary, and the redundance of it all: the order that was once passed in the matter concerning Golibar’s Ganesh Krupa Society, where the Civil  High Court, ruled in favour of the builder, stating, ‘‘that no useful purpose will be served by allowing the petitioners to raise any dispute about the meeting which was held on 7th February 2009.’ A criminal case filed by the residents against the builder and the chief promoters of the project in Ganesh Krupa Society, led the court to order the police to investigate and chargesheet those accused of forgery and fraud, as the residents claim, there was never any mandatory 70% consent in the project, and the ‘disputed meeting’ never took place. Yet the police have only stalled their own investigations, and instead come for demolition drives.

The project and the builder has even been indicted by the Comptroller Auditor General report released in 2012, that the builder had grabbed public lands, and there was never any transparency in the manner in which the Slum Rehabilitation Authority or the builder acquired consent from the residents. Yet the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan remains a mute spectator.

And on the 30th of March, a few days before the coming demolition drive, resident, leader of people on Ganesh Krupa Society, tailor, mother, angaanwadi teacher, Prerna Gaekwad, asked the Deputy Police Commissioner why he was sending a police force to support ‘criminal’ activities, when the inquiry is yet to be finished, and his response was that he is helpless against a court order. Prerna was detained on the 7th of March, when she went across the road to help prevent the demolition drive at Ambevadi. There too, they were just following orders.

Thus the Judiciary is the hammer, the judiciary is the bulldozer, a judge might as well be driving it.

The anger against the courts, against the law, against a biased system, is palpable at Golibar.

It is the High Court orders that take the bulldozers into their living rooms, it is the High Court orders that annihilate any idea of equitable justice, and becomes the reason itself for injustice, the enemy of the people. It is an unstoppable movable force, a betrayal, the judiciary that is meant to protect the constitutional rights of people, is a market ally, a creation of the stillness of rage: a stillness of rage that is not impotence, it reaps a whirlwind, it destroys any idea of respect for the law, and then lawlessness will be justified, the anger will be rebellion, it will become the fist that fantasizes to smash the collector’s face, it will be the riot, the arson, it will become the irrationality of the stone thrown onto the moving local, it becomes to rage against those in the towers who sit quietly, it becomes the end of a citizen, the anomie, the culture that keeps reacting to violence with more violence, an informal violence, for those who destroyed their lives, the so-called police-builder-politician-nexus, are too far beyond for their reach.

Here is a dying society, where if the law itself does not follow the law, then everything is permitted

And even if the market and the prophets of the free market of the world may eventually win, whatever scraps of the earth that is left to them, for a brief moment in the history of time, of a million years of this earth whose stones told the lonely geologists the poetry of a world without men, there are the bricks of demolished homes of people who lived in the slums of civilization, who will speak about self-respect. Interviews with builder after builder, the question of respect for the residents is a joke, their only response is silence.

Instead, during the demolition drive, a builder wanted to watch each and every brick breaking from the house of Sudesh Paware, a railway employee and one of the residents who protested with resolve against the builder. ‘With a lot of pride, he watched them level his house to dust,’ said Shekhar Mirgule.

Yes, many residents don’t protest against the state, against the builder. The homes of those who supported the builder in the beginning itself, or those too wary to fight the Juggernaut of development were the first to go. Then there are those who’re bought off.

Yet there are those who refuse: there are those who hold onto their self-worth: their rights, their protest. Even after 43 homes have been broken down, not a single resident has taken the builder’s offer. And for a brief moment, it wasn’t the market, it wasn’t greed is good, it wasn’t aspirations of the working class to claim the towers of the rich without baying for their blood, it was simply a humility and a truth: that we want respect. The market respects respect as the machineguns the police bring into the settlements they want to destroy in the name of a welfare scheme. A welfare scheme that is nothing but the annihilation of community. Give us your riches, and we shall leave our home, maybe. We will betray our brothers, our neighbours. You spend more money trying to destroy our resistance, than you do in just giving it to us. The market is the ego of the rich, the market will not allow the working class to claim equality in profit. The market is the bulldozer of the stillness of nostalgia, it is the rubble of rage, and from that rubble, your streets will be filled with madness.

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The Bricks Of A Right To A Home

February 4, 2013

There are no homogenous slums and there is no homogenous people’s movement. And there probably isn’t a bigger illustration of it is Mumbai’s Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan that was born after 80,000 homes were demolished in 2004-2005. Young women leaders with MBa degrees and others who are housewives. Young boys who are science students, school dropouts and ‘taporis’ or even those who top their exams studying during demolition drives. There are ragpickers, small businessmen, autorickshaw drivers, government clerks, railway employees, physical trainers, full time activists, teachers, tailors, fisherfolk, students, informal labourers, artists, aspiring filmmakers, mechanics, plumbers and the unemployed.

Here are seven short profiles on few of the organizers working in Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, printed in Fountain Ink Magazine in their February Issue. You can read it here.

Uday Mohite

Uday Mohite – Bheem Chhayya, Vikhroli

A 16 year old Uday Mohite had come to Bombay in 1992 but returned to his village due to the fear and violence of the riots. A Matang/Mang dalit, he hailed from Dahivali-Budruk village in Ratnagiri district, where his parents lived as daily wage labourers, and he remembers growing up eating mango skins with chilli powder. ‘The Hindu people used to throw rotis on us after we worked for them.’

‘Humne wada liya ki hum izzat ki roti hi khayenge.’

He returned to Mumbai in 1994, where he worked as a daily wage labourer for Rs.25 per day, where he worked in a small factory earning 650 rupees a month, and lived as a manual scavenger in private buildings across Ghatkopar area.

‘I used to throw up doing that work, in the gutters, with all that shit.’

In 1997, he started to ride an autorickshaw. And he continues to do so today, now owning his own vehicle.

On the 19th of November, 2011, a demolition drive in his settlement of Bheem Chhaya claimed the life of his 14 month old son Jayesh who fell and drowned in a ditch on the 12th of December, 2011. He would go on a hunger strike for 19 days demanding justice against the officers of both the BMC and the police for negligible homicide.

A year later, on the first death anniversary of his son, while plans were being made by the Ghar Bachao movement to march to the Mantralaya on the 1st of January, 2013, Uday would quietly sit in corners, alone, anxious, as his wife was in the hospital expecting a child.

A 3.4 kg baby would be born on the 4th of January, 2013, on the fourth day of the protest. On the fifth of January, as residents from over 18 slums were on relay hunger strike on the poduim, an extremely happy Uday Mohite was secretly distributing sweets to friends and supporters of the movement, while the crowd and other organizers thought that that people were cheating on the hunger strike.

In Bheem Chhaya, where residents have been living on the marshes, the battle for Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana is also an internal battle, when Uday was confronted with people who lived in MHADA flats who started to move into the slum to get another home of their own, in case of any victory from the Ghar Bachao movement.

These confrontations between him and the ‘dalaals’ have been taking place for years now, with one of the ‘zameen-dalaals’ even putting a case on him for attempt to murder.

‘After the death of my son,’ He said, ‘We formed women’s committees to deal with all the problems in the area.’

‘We’re only standing for those who have no house of their own.’

‘I am tired though sometimes,’ He says, ‘I want to just get into mantralaya even if they martyr us. We have worked really hard for the movement now, for respect, and this poverty is no life for any of us.’

‘Annabhau Sathe used to say, ‘Yeh azaadi jhooti, desh ki janta bhooki hai.’’

Nothing has changed. ’

‘My daughter, my eldest six year old says I have time for people, for other people’s children, but none for her.’

Anwari Sheikh – Mandala, Mankhurd

Anwari Sheikh

Anwari Sheikh, originally from Assam, a mother of 11, lost her house in Mandala the 2004-2005 demolitions. On the 30th of May of 2012, Anwari Sheikh walked into a neighbouring 20-home settlement called Mahatma Phule Nagar 2 esconced between a highway and a railway, that was being demolished by the BMC.

She was helping to prevent the demolition drive, and to help the residents organize, and join the movement that was born in her settlement of Mandala in 2005.

As the residents kept asking if their would be any hope for them in the story that I was writing about the demolition, Anwari was quick to assert that the media has never stopped demolitions and the only thing that has done anything, is the ‘andolan.’

Yet Anwari herself, since 2004, when she held her baby in her arms and had gone to Delhi to confront the central government with the demolition of 80,000 homes, has come a long way between hope and desperation. She remembers vividly the day she met Sonia Gandhi. This was in 2004, right after the Lok Sabha elections and the victory of the Congress.

Hum gariblog ne aapko kursi par bhitaya, Hum garib log ne aapko vote diya, aur aap humko bhul gaye?’ Anwari spoke boldly and an ashamed Sonia Gandhi apparently had no response.

‘Hum thak bhi jaate hai,’ Anwari would tell me in 2010, yet on the day of the march on the 1st of January 2013, with the euphoria of thousands marching down Shivaji Park Road in Dadar, she remembers the days in 2004 when the movement was in it’s strongest phase.

With a sense of nostalgia she marched silently, yet like many of the marchers who had been marching since 2004, there was a sense of foreboding as well.

Her sons have at times chastised her for being so involved with the movement, and she has defended her position knowing that someone has to fight for a roof over their heads.

When her MLA Abu Azmi had come to Azad Maidan on the eight day of the protest, a small framed woman walked onto the stage and picked up the microphone, and stood over Abu Azmi, and spoke, with passion and with growing anger:

‘In 2004 when our homes were broken, when bulldozers dragged my home and pushed it into a ditch, into the filth, when my children, when my sister, when my brother were sitting in a line, Abu Azmi had come, seen everything, and at the same time, met and sat with the dalaals and put kichdi in their hands.’

‘Our biggest enemies, the dalaals. And we don’t need no builders, no dalaals. And we don’t need anyone.’

‘Our women would sit, in the water, in the cold, all night, and nobody would help us.’

‘I want to tell Mr.Azmi this, that our women have been on the streets till the first of january, with those brothers who work all day, those sisters who work at home all day, those labourer who builds the buildings, those who pick the thrash, why are we, why are we sitting here?’ She screams in anger.

‘Our fight is for a home for a home, and no matter what, we will earn from anywhere and we will put rotis on the table for our childen!’ She would say to loud cheers.

‘Your people come and take our votes, then after you win, where are you? So how do you come here? And what are we to you? Hum neta log ko, chil ke, ghuma ke, ghuma ke, gira bhi sakte hai, aur ghar ke liye roti bhi la sakte hai!’

‘This is our power!’

‘I wont say anymore or tai will get angry.’ She said to loud laughter, and the requests to carry on from the organizers around her.

Santosh Thorat – Annabhau Sathe Nagar, Mankhurd

Santosh Thorat 2

In 2004, Santosh Thorat was just a few weeks from being a regular in the police force. Then the demolition drives had come. Santosh was a part of the police party that was sent with the bulldozers to demolish his own settlement of Annabhau Sathe Nagar.

Santosh belonged to the same caste as Annabhau Sathe, a Matang/Mang Dalit, a social reformer, communist, who wrote over 35 novels in Marathi who literally died in the destitution that -Santosh was born into.

Through the anxieties of the demolition drives in 2004-2005, Santosh Thorat met the Senior Inspector and begged him to leave his house alone.

The Inspector told Santosh not to worry.

They sent him to another part of the slum, and when Santosh Thorat returned, he found that not only was his house demolished, but that the police had also leveled the house of a family whose two children were still in their home, hiding in fear of the police.

They had survived by running under their beds, but Santosh Thorat would make a decision that day itself, that would lead him to be a leader of his people in Annabhau Sathe Nagar, and the first man to scream, ‘Inquilab Zindabad’,  and sing songs of social transformation, at every protest that followed in the next nine years.

Bahut gaaliya diya woh din,’ (I abused a lot that day), he said, ‘And I knew there was no turning back.’

In 2007, Santosh led his people to block the highways at Mankhurd to ensure  his people had access to clean water. For years, people used to dig wells into grounds that were very close to the dumping grounds of Deonar and sicknesses were rampant during the monsoons.

A pipeline used to run parallel to the basti, and while there was a pipeline that led to Annabhau Sathe Nagar, it wasn’t connected by the Municipality.

‘Rasta rokne ke baad, policewalle sab aa gaye the,’ (after we blocked off the road, all the policemen showed up), Said Santosh, ‘ACP aur inspector ne chehre se dekha hoga, yeh sab andolanwalle log hai. Aur agar woh hame aaj bhaga denge, hum kal bhi aayenge.’ (The inspector and the ACP had probably just taken one look at us and realized that we were andolan people, and if they drove us away today, we would have come again tomorrow.)

The Municipality assured them that they would connect the two pipes for water within eight days –  they did that in just six.

Yet again, on the 14th of May 2010, the bulldozers come and demolished an estimated 500 homes in Annabhau Sathe Nagar.

Krishna Nair – Golibar, Jawahar Nagar, Khar

Krishna Nair 2

Krishna Nair, son of a trade unionist, a chartered accountant by profession, a teetoraller and a Shiv Sena party worker is overtly aghast with the current situation in the country. ‘Gothala hi ghotala hi ghotala.’ (scam after scam after scam.) ‘My brother Ashok was a bank robber. He was caught by the police in Yawatmal district, and brought dead to Mumbai.’ Said Krishna, in the middle of a rally held against builders in Golibar, Khar, Mumbai during the fifth demolition drive two years ago, ‘I wanted to ask the police this. That my brother may have stolen some five or six crores and they gave him such a swift justice, but the powerful who steal three thousand crores or one lakh crore really just get away with it?’

Krishna lives in Jawahar Nagar and has a front row seat of the agitation against builders Shivalik Ventures and Unitech Group in Golibar. Like many people in Golibar, he watches how scam after scam follows and is reported dutifully in the media, but the fraud that is destroying the homes of his friends doesn’t seem to find much indignation in the mainstream press, and the government’s response does not really surprise him.

Krishna knows the middle class. He works with them. He knows how the politics of profit would not work in Golibar. ‘There’s an old lady, a very rich old lady, a client of mine, who lives all alone. One day she was telling me about how her whole family hates her and just wants her money. But I asked her, when you only taught your children the love of money, then what would you expect will happen?’

Krishna often speaks about ghettoization in Mumbai. In rallies he repeatedly mentions how people from the working class will eventually have to move out of the city, owing to rising costs of maintaining a building apartment. He knows this is a political move. It is an attempt to turn what was once a working class city whose political actions can challenge the financial edifice, into a city for the upper classes.

‘Javed bhai,’ He once turned to me in Nirmal Nagar police station, across a police officer sitting between us, on a day the supporters of the builder and protesters had a violent confrontation.

‘You went to all these Naxalite areas to report, right?’ He asked.

‘With all these corrupt people and builders getting away with it, you think you can find us some Naxalites?’ He asked, right across the face of the police officer.

The policeman between us was shocked. I erupted into laughter.

‘Krishna bhau, if Naxalites come to Golibar, the first person they will kill is you, as they don’t like competition.’ I said.

The  police officer agreed and started to chastise Krishna. Krishna loves to provoke people.

Kiran Keny – Sion Koliwada

Kiran Keny

‘All that land in Bombay is ours,’ Said Kiran Keny, ‘Just beyond Wadala Bridge, Bombay Port Trust,  Road, that land belonged to my great grandfather and the great grandfathers of most of the people here.’

Kiran Keny from Sion Koliwada is a 23 year old student third-year commerce student in South Indian’s Welfare Society College, who is a Koli adivasi, the original fisherfolk inhabitants of Mumbai, who’re now fighting against the builder Sahana Developers. His father who worked in the pharmaceutical industry, died in 2000 of cirrhosis of the liver, leaving Kiran under the care of his working mother and his older brother.

He is often seen carrying huge bundles of papers and documents, walking into the lawyer’s office, with a patience to sit and watch them prepare affidavits, strategies, complaints, and letters to the police and the administration. He would eventually notice the lawyers office were over-burdened by cases from slums across Mumbai, each facing a builder lobby, or demolition threats, or false cases put on by the police.

‘I was a little educated, and little by little the lawyers used to send me to listen into different matters and other people’s issues.’ He said, ‘The lawyers think I should take up law after this.’

‘And nowadays I don’t have time to study commerce.’

Sion Koliwada and a massive number of those who’re against the demolition and the builder are a younger generation, some still in school, some in college, some in their first jobs, and now with their first experience of state oppression, injustice and the long walk through the corridors of power – the corporators, the mantralaya, the courts. Their ideas of a nation, their ideas of democracy are changing, their illusions of rights, are being confronted with the arrogance of police power.

‘I know now, we never have been a democracy, and I don’t think we ever will be.’ Said Kiran Keny.

Kiran is the same age group as Prathamesh who documents the struggle of his people on video camera, who filed a complaint against the police when they tried to snatch his camera, and who would call up and yell at the officer who abused his mother during a demolition drive. He is the same age as Dhiren, who’d go on hunger strike during the recent protest. He is a little older than Frank who would be beaten by the police and pushed into the police van when he tried to stop the police from beating his father. He is the same age as Mahesh, who would remind history against forgetting, that Bal Thackeray was no hero to the Kolis, when he betrayed them 20 years ago, when the name of Sion Koliwada railway station was changed to Guru Tegh Bahadur Nagar.

‘My father told me how all the Kolis had gone to meet Thackeray to stop the changing of the station, and Thackeray told the delegation it was all sorted. A few days later, the name was changed.’

In the month of December, 2012, there was a meeting held in Sion Koliwada where residents had gone to Sena Bhavan and found that the Shiv Sena and Udhay Thackeray might be able ‘to straighten the builder out.’

For a few hours, the residents held a meeting and discussed the strategy to utilize their contacts in the Shiv Sena. Kiran spoke about the pros and cons of such a strategy, the practicalities about such a move. Eventually, the residents refused to involve the Sena.

‘We don’t want to be indebted to such a party.’ Said Kiran.

Madhuri Shivkar – Sion Koliwada

Madhur Shivkar

Madhuri Shivkar, 28 years old, is one of the leaders in Sion Koliwada. A graduate of zoology from  Ruia College, she worked in a consultancy firm from 2006 till 2009 as an assistant in the revenue accounting department, and also claimed a degree from one of the most controversial management colleges in India. She had lost both her father and mother by the time she reached nine, and was brought up by her grandmother and her older sister in Sion Koliwada.

In 2010 in the month of September, when the first eviction notices started to appear in Koliwada, the residents and Madhuri turned their attention towards Golibar, after TV9 reported how a demolition drive was defeated by protesting residents and the intervention of the Chief Minister.

Madhuri and the residents then visited Golibar and met both the leaders in Golibar as well as the leaders of Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan. She would soon find herself first at the forefront of the agitation in Golibar against Shivalik Ventures and a few weeks later, when the demolition crews came to their village as well. ‘It was really being with them, that taught us how valuable documents were.’ She said, ‘And they trained us in a way no education institution can.’

She would have her first stint in jail on the 25th of January, 2011 for a week from charges ranging to attempt to murder and rioting and then again on the 30th of May, 2012, she would be dragged away by a laughing police as they protested against a demolition drive. She would be in jail for the next 14 days charged under Section 143, 147, 149, 152, 332, 353, 504, 506, along with Section 447 and Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code. Most charges concerned rioting, unlawful assembly and ‘causing hurt to a public servant’ when Madhuri Shivkar was merely lying down with her hands locked with the women of Sion Koliwada under a bulldozer and an approaching police contingent.

‘The builder’s lawyer had asked our lawyer what we wanted,’ She says a few months later, ‘Our lawyer told them, our clients went to jail, now yours have to go too.’

Madhuri ensured the formation of a 15-member core team in Sion Koliwada where the oldest person is 38-year old Rajesh Koli. ‘Senior log thode thakele hote hai.’ She laughs, ‘They are pessimistic at times and keep thinking and talking about compromises and I know our young people, we’re stronger, we won’t just give up like this.’

‘I am working fulltime in the movement now. I may be new to it, but I know we have a long way to go. There is too much injustice in the city.’

‘There are people who come to support us, who are so much more vulnerable than us, who suffer so much, and there is a strong bond that has formed between us all, and it’s stronger than family ties.’

For the 10 day protest, 5000 people who stayed at Azad Maidan were being fed by the efforts of two settlements – Sion Koliwada and Mandala.

‘We all took turns.’ Said Madhuri.

Devasandhan Nair – Golibar, Khar

Deva Nair 1

Devasandhan Nair not only lived in Golibar’s Ganesh Krupa Society, but he was someone who was closely linked to the movement. In a meeting a few days after a demolition drive in February of 2011, he quietly and nervously tried to exhort his neighbours to put aside their differences and fight the builder and for their right to a home. ‘We are all leaders, it’s not like this one is a leader or that one is a leader,’ he’d say, to applause from his friends and neighbours.

A few months later in 2011, without telling anyone, he secretly accepted the cheque from the builder and left, leaving his home to be demolished in the next demolition drive.

What was first a rumour, next become the bitter truth. People called one another, to confirm whether he really did do it. When he was packing, people requested he reconsider his decision, but it was too late. He had already taken the cheque and was adamant on leaving. He would soon be alienated by all of his friends, he’d be unwelcome to all future meetings, and he’d be persona non grata.

A few days later he sent me a message, ‘I only did what I did, out of anger towards one person. I still cannot forget the insult that I have been given. I am not trying to justify my doings. I always had respect for you and the others. I will never be able to make up for this. I am still angered and this might be my weakness.’

But there was a pattern to this.

Devasandhan was an educated, professional storyboader artist for films and advertisements. He would even use his talents to come out with cartoons about the corruption in the state. He spoke fluent english and would often take on the responsibility of preparing press notes to cross that massive bridge between Hindi and english, the local organizers and the english press.

Devasandhan actually wanted to leave six months before he did. In his home six months earlier, he would quietly exert his frustrations, and his humiliation for being in a small room in the corner of Ganesh Krupa. He would often be embarassed with his home, and would reveal it when he borrowed a friend’s car to go and pick up his brother-in-law, who often disgraced him and his financial situation, and that he lived in a ‘slum’. Yet he refrained, he knew he had a responsibility to his immediate neighbours, who were a very poor family from Karnataka who had difficulty to make ends meet. He knew he was responsible for them, and had helped them with money and work in the past. If he left, what would happen to them?

Yet when he left, his other responsibilities were his schizophrenic wife, which is what those who could still be magnanimous towards him, felt was the real reason he left. His own reason was the insult he received from the local leader of the movement, Ajit, who had abused him in public. But most thought it was just money, no one felt that he didn’t take a lot of money to leave – probably more than what other’s were getting to give away their homes, as Devasandhan was a very visible member of the resistance.

There are still others who proudly proclaim how much they had refused, while some wait to be asked.

A few months later, a group of residents who wished to compromise had a secretive meeting with the builder. They had asked for a registered agreement and a promise of a home, and the builder had asked for them to withdraw their criminal case against him. Nobody got what they wanted and when the residents had returned, they were chastised by the rest of their neighbours.

‘Even if he gives a registered agreement, what makes you think he won’t break it?

‘He’s already cheated us once.’

‘Now we know how afraid he is of the criminal case against him.’

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Jai Bhim Comrade: Where The Republic Still Lives

February 2, 2012

A teenage boy records a scene from documentary film Jai Bhim Comrade that was shown on the 25th of January, 2012, at Ramabai Nagar, where on the 11th of July, 1997, 11 people were killed in police firing.

The family of Namdeo Surwade who died of his injuries a few years after the firing.

This article appears in Daily News Analysis on the 2nd of February, 2012

Early on the morning of 11th July, 1997 at the Ramabai Nagar in Ghatkopar, Mumbai, a woman saw a garland of slippers on the statue of iconic leader B.R. Ambedkar. Within a few hours angry Dalits had gathered on the highway to protest against the desecration.

By 7:30 am, a police van would stop 450 meters away from the protesters, disembark and immediately start firing. They’d fire over 50 rounds within twenty minutes into small lanes and by-ways and into people’s homes – into the homes of people who were not even protesting.

They killed ten people.

Young Mangesh Shivsharan was shot in his head, right in front of Namdeo Surwade who was shot on his shoulder.

‘The boy’s brains were all over my father’ said Manoj about his father Namdeo Surwade, a handcart puller who could never work a day after the injury and died a few years later, becoming the eleventh victim.

But there was another casualty of the killings at Ramabai Nagar.

Vilas Ghogre, Dalit poet and singer, committed suicide horrified by what he saw at Ramabai and the realization ‘that this country is not worth fighting for anymore’ as witnessed by his friend, singer Sambhaji Bhagat in Anand Patwardhan’s new film Jai Bhim Comrade, screened at Ramabai Nagar on the eve of the nation’s 63rd year as a Republic.

For three and a half hours, over fifteen hundred people saw the film on a makeshift screen, many standing through its entire duration. The film details not just the life of Vilas Ghogre and the police firing but its aftermath – the movement for justice that led to the police officer who ordered the firing to spend less than a week in ‘hospital’ (not jail), before being let off on bail by the High Court. It tells other stories – the martyrdom of a young Dalit Panther Bhagwat Jadhav, killed by the Shiv Sena at a protest rally in 1974; the incisive and fiery oratory of Panther leader Bhai Sangare that possibly led to his martyrdom in 1999; the Khairlanji massacre and continuing atrocities in the countryside. It examines the assault on the Constitution and the slow appropriation of radical Dalit leaders into mainstream Congress or hardcore rightwing politics while also critically examining the role of the left in dealing with caste.

Highlighting precarious livelihoods, it paints intimate family portraits of ordinary Dalits across Mumbai and Maharashtra and all this intersects seamlessly with the central role of music in not just the film but in the Dalit politics of resistance.  Protest songs sung in every chawl, basti and galli  lead us to the newest generation of cultural activists/musicians such as the Kabir Kala Manch, whose songs are viewed as such a threat by the State, that they’re branded as Naxalites and forced to go underground.

The religious mother of the enigmatic singer Sheetal Sathe of the Kabir Kala Manch, would say, ‘At every performance my children always assured me that they’d never take up arms, that they’d change the world only through song and drum.’

Yet cultural and social revolution is a threat in the same country where freedom of speech and expression is a privilege.

At Ramabai, young teenagers with moist eyes watched the screen quietly, listening to a spirited widow describe how her husband’s hands were slashed by upper caste men, and how he bled to death while the police refused to take their statement. The proud woman had saved Rs.5 and Rs.10 a day over the years to buy herself land and educate her children. When the filmmaker asks her how she kept up her spirit, she replies: ‘I can’t afford to lose. What’ll happen to my children if I lose?’

When a group of boys were asked what was their favourite part of the three and a half hour film, they replied, in unison: ‘The songs of the Kabir Kala Manch.’

No wonder the state views them as a threat.  Resistance and symbols of resistance need to be wiped out like Pochiram Kamble who was killed for uttering the words ‘Jai Bhim’. Yet the film that documents the recent decades of caste oppression and it’s growing denial, has found that symbols of joy, hope, perseverance and resistance, always survive, irrespective of thousands of years of oppression.

Another Dalit leader Ashok Saraswat’s speech in the film drew laughter from the crowd at Ramabai: ‘Unfortunately we gave up 330 million gods but made Ambedkar into a god. We wear Babasaheb Ambedkar’s photo around our neck. On waking up, we say “Jai Bhim”. Before sleeping, it’s “Jai Bhim” and when having a little drink, it’s Jai Bhim!”

“Listen people! God is not in temples or idols. God is found through service to the poor.  Gadge Baba would ask – ‘Is Ganapati a god ?’

‘Yes, Baba!’

‘Who made Ganapati?’

‘A potter did.’

‘So tell me who is Ganapati’s father?’

‘The crowd wouldn’t answer.’

‘Ashamed to say it?’

“Then softly they’d say: ‘Ganapati’s father is the potter.’”

The crowd of Ramabai, especially the young, laughed out loud but none of them found the scenes of puerile racism from the middle and upper middle classes very funny.

The filmmaker interviews a young student from Jai Hind college who says, ‘Dalit issue frankly is definitely ameliorated over the past half a decade or so.’ A sentiment that is not only echoed in the mainstream media that is beginning to cite Dalit neo-liberalism as a way forward, yet those comments are put in sharp contrast to the National Crime Records Bureau that mentions ‘Every day three Dalits are raped and two killed’ and the conviction rate under the Prevention of Atrocity Act is a mere 1%.

In Beed district of Maharashtra, a young woman was raped by upper caste men, and her entire family was beaten for confronting the attackers. An old man from the same family begins to speak:  ‘We are responsible for this.  We never got organized or converted to another religion. We failed to do that. Had we done it we could have mentally discarded caste and made others understand we are humans. We Mangs bear the brunt of injustice.’

‘But those who converted to Buddhism also face atrocities.’ says the filmmaker.

‘Yes in some places it happens even to Buddhists. But they have the strength to retaliate.  We lack that strength. That’s the point.’

At that point, the crowd at Ramabai Nagar, was moved to cheers and applause.

h1

Invisible Cities: Part Nine: What Really Killed Baby Mohite?

January 29, 2012

This article appears in Daily News Analysis on the 29th of January, 2012

The residents of Bhim Chhayya at Vikhroli have been on an indefinite dharna since the 19th of November, 2011. While they have been demanding land rights and a right to a home as per the Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojna, they have also been demanding justice for the death of 14 month old Jayesh Mohite who drowned in one of the miasmic ditches dug by civic authorities to prevent further ‘encroachment.’

The Vikhoroli police, at the behest of angry residents included the names of the Mumbai suburban collector Nirmalkumar Deshmukh and deputy collector Shivajirao Davbhat into the First Information Report, charging them under Section 299, 304 along with Section 304A, which states – whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide.

The officials filed for anticipatory bail in the courts and the Deputy Commissioner of Police had cleared the officials of the charges and had instead submitted a three-page report detailing how the boy’s family are encroachers and anti-social elements.

Yet before they were ‘encroachers’, in May 2011, the government had relented to a 9-day hunger strike by social activist Medha Patkar that had demanded, besides investigating fraud in the Slum Rehabilitation Scheme, to also declare 19 settlements as slums under Section 5 of the Maharashtra Slum Area Act.

Bhim Chhaya was one of them.

The right of a settlement to be called a slum would’ve given them rights and protected them from further demolition drives – the settlement was demolished repeatedly, ‘from 2001, almost every year’ according to the Suburban Deputy Collector Davbhat himself. The government however, relegated on its promise and the settlement was exposed to demolitions once again, when on the 16th of November, 2011, the bulldozers had arrived and ran through the settlement, burning down parts of their homes, and dug up ditches to make the land unlivable.

A little less than a month later, on the 12th of December, Jayesh Mohite drowned in a ditch that wouldn’t have existed if the government kept its word.

Shivajirao Davbhat mentions that the government resolution regarding the declaration of Bhim Chhaya as a slum, whose matter is now in the High Court, concerns the homes of older slums, not newer ones. He would emphasize the point that the residents are all encroachers who don’t have any papers  to show that they have come to Bombay before 1995. A fact that the residents never denied.

Yet of the hundreds of homes demolished, almost all the residents were part of the agitation for a right to a home, and had even been on the two-day rally of thousands from Khar to the Mantralaya on the 28th-29th of June, when old men and women marched in the pouring rain, at times barefoot, hoping to meet the Chief Minister who was being pressurized by the builder lobby to oppose Medha Patkar.

Meanwhile, the land in question, belongs to the Forest Deparment, and the High Court had ordered the protection of all mangrove land in Maharastra in the Writ Petition 3246 of 2004, where it mentions, ‘Regardless of ownership of the land, all construction taking place within 50 metres on all sides of all mangroves shall be forthwith stopped.’

At Bhim Chhaya, a building built by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena right next to the mangrove, is still standing, overlooking the demolished slum.

Structural Violence Built For The Homeless

Jayesh was born on the 22nd of September 2010, his mother was pregnant with him, the last time their homes were demolished in the days between the 9th of March and the 12th of March, 2010.

He was the only son of Uday Mohite, an autorickshaw driver by profession and the un-official leader of the agitating residents, who’ve been fighting for a right to a home since 2005. He hasn’t worked a  day since the notice first arrived asking the residents to vacate the land. After the death of his son, he had gone on a hunger strike which lasted for 19 days, and he had even raised his voice and spoke about the long agitation for the right to a home, at the India Against Corruption rally on the 28th of December, 2011 but their protest goes on quietly in Vikhoroli, it being 66 days since their homes were demolished as of the 24th of January.

‘They’re cancelling our ration cards now,’ Says Uday Mohite, as a group of residents sit around him with their voter IDs, their cancelled cards, the birth certificates of their children.

‘Jhopadpati toot gaya na, toh ration cancel ho gaya,’ said Kantabai Bhimrao Khandkare, one of the women whose cards were cancelled, ‘They want the electricity bill. But do you see any electricity in the thousand homes here?’

‘They say we’re all living on the footpath.’

Around eighteen cards were cancelled after the demolitions in 2010. This time five of them have been cancelled.

When it comes to water, India voted to identify the right to clean water and sanitation as a human right in the General Assembly of the United Nations on the 28th of July, 2010, but in the state of Maharashtra, settlements that have come into existence after 1995, can’t get any water from the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. The residents are left at the mercy of the water mafia, and have to pay for water, while living an an inexistent home, with the constant risk of demolitions, while trying to make ends meet.

Most of the residents are Matang Dalits without any land holdings, from as far as Jaalna, Solapur, Osmanabad, Buldhana, Beed, Nasik and Latur, who’ve been working in Mumbai as domestic help or as daily wage labourers, who may or may not get work when they go to the nakas.

Sangita Awamisa is a widow and single mother who came to Mumbai forty years ago from Jaalna during the migrations of the 1970s. She earned her living selling lasan and now works as a domestic worker in one of the nearby buildings to support herself and her three children.

Chaeya Taide, spent Rs.7,000 thousand to rebuild her home when it was demolished the last time. She lives with her sister’s family in Bhim Chhaya. Both of them are from Buldhana district and both of them work as labour.

K.Soma Naik is the sole resident who is originally from Andhra Pradesh who has lived in Mumbai for over 30 years. A few years ago, Soma Naik was diagnosed with tuberclosis and eventually developed a tumour in his brain. His family had to sell their house at Kamrannagar to pay for his medical expenses and he moved into one of the empty plots of Bhim Chhaya with his wife, where they filled the marshy ground to build a foundation, and they live off their savings, paying around Rs.4000 every month on medicines alone.

‘A lot of people in the basti work as domestic help in those buildings where there are MHADA people live too,’ a resident points across the small field filled with tarpaulin tents and ditches, where low-cost buildings overlook their own.

Kantilal Shinde, 74 years old, had come from Osmanabad, ‘We put bamboos into the ground and made our homes. Many used to live on the pavement before this.’

A few days after the demolitions, people had gone back to the pavement.