Archive for the ‘Social Apartheid’ Category

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

May 4, 2014

(5 of 50)

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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Post-Modern Undercurrents

April 26, 2014

(63 of 74)

‘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.

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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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Those Damned Floods Destined to Obscurity

October 7, 2013

(158 of 197)The Aftermath of a flood: The house of Sundar Lal Varma at Chikalda village. A fisherman by trade, his house was entirely submerged on the 24th of August, 2013. He has received no compensation or help from the state as of the 2nd of October, 2013.

This article appears in The Sunday Guardian on the 6th of October, 2013

‘The mismanagement by the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh to respond to the floods of the Narmada valley is indicative of their failures in the Rehabilitation and Resettlement itself. A state involved in Land Acquisition, doesn’t see citizens as much as they see Project-Affected Persons.

There were a series of floods across India in the past monsoon season, from Bihar, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh to West Bengal that did not make headlines like the Uttarakhand floods. But it was the recent flooding of the Narmada valley where politics and the nature of an administrative system revealed itself as completely unmotivated to respond to the man-made disaster. It was late at night when the Bhilala adivasi villagers from Morkata in the Nimad region of Madhya Pradesh, realized something was wrong with the reservoir waters of the Narmada river on the 23rd of August, 2013. Water slowly started to seep through the doors of Kamal Chauhan’s house, over a kilometre away from the river, and within two hours, he and his family would be in water just over their necks, carrying whatever belongings they had, to higher ground.

On the other side of the Narmada river at Chikalda, a Valmiki hamlet on a hill overlooking 60 feet above the normal levels of the river, would disappear completely on the 24th of August. The homes of Munu Hussain, Munu Vijay, Munu Nana, Munu Kamal, and Antim Munuram were completely destroyed, and while the caste system took them across the villages to clear all the carcasses of livestock littering the landscape, the state that completely ignored them led their resilience to rebuild on their own, with the remnants of anything that wasn’t destroyed. ‘Nine of our pigs were taken away by the waters,’ Said Munu Hussain, with callused hands, clearing debris over his home, ‘We found their bodies four days later, they got stuck in the bushes and drowned.’

The waters started to rise at around 8pm at Chikalda and would reach their highest level at 10pm, and unlike previous floods, the waters did not recede for days. 115 homes would be destroyed, but for one family on the Valmiki hamlet who earn their living cleaning 12 nearby towns, Suresh, Mahesh and Rajesh Babulal, along with Rekha and her mother Gulshan bai, it wasn’t any different from the flood waters three weeks earlier on the 2nd of August, or last year, or in 2010, or in 1994, when the Tava dam water’s had destroyed their home.

At Picchodi village in Badwani district, the illegal sand mining at the banks of the river, that led villagers a month ago to stop dozens of trucks and ensure the arrest of the few involved, were further dealt with the fury of the waters to enter through the broken banks, mined into a soft flatbed, letting the flood waters turn a road into a river that ran through the village, ensuring hundreds of acres of crop would be fated to destruction.

The village of Nisarpur on the other side of the river, with thousands of homes, shops, with mosques, temples and a thriving market, had water levels rise slowly over three days, as the Ori tributary of Narmada started to rise on the 23rd, and continued to, on the 25th, entirely submerging hundreds of shops and destroying over 105 homes.

Apart from the local media, there was absolutely nothing written in the mainstream national press, besides a few short reports on floods up the river in Gujarat, barring exceptions from the independent media organizations. A whole week after the destruction at Nisarpur, only one Revenue Officer had showed up towards the hamlets most affected by the backwater floods of the Ori tributary of the Narmada. Dozens of families in Dhangarpara of Nisarpur were living in the private schools of village until they were kicked out a week later. The village of Morkata was given 50 kilograms of wheat as relief, only after they stormed the collector’s office at Badwani. By the second of September, angry villagers from across the region began their march against the administration, in Maharashtra’s Nandurbar district as well as Badwani, Alirajpur and Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, while at the same time up the river, the Jal Satyagraha began by those facing displacement by the Omakeshwar dam demanding fair rehabilitation and resettlement, especially land for land, house plot for house plot, agricultural land for agricultural land, and yet the administration responded by  ordering curfews and preventive arrests. This matter at least made some ripples in the mainstream media. For those affected by the recent floods, an oft-repeated response they had received from tehsildars office to tehsildars office, was that the land is already acquired, and therefore Panchanama’s of the damage caused by the submergence couldn’t be done. This led the villagers to file legal notices against the officials to ensure that all the damages are recorded in the ‘Revenue Book Circular (RBC) Rules and the oustees are duly compensated, which as of October 2nd, is yet to be done.

The decades –old project of the Sardar Sarover Dam on the river Narmada (amongst 18 other dams in different levels of completion on the river), according to the website of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited, would claim to provide for hydroelectricity generating over 1200 MW and 250 MW power to three states, would irrigate 18.45 lakhs of hectares of land, covering 3,112 villages in Gujarat, 2,46,000 hectares of desert land in Rajasthan and 37,500 hectares on the tribal hills of Maharashtra.  Yet it is a prime example of an attempt at a utilitarian philosophy gone wrong, where the benefit of the majority over the few, is an almost iconoclastic destruction of democratic values, when the few (in and around 3 lakh people as per 2011 census) are not even paid attention to, as those in the submergence areas of the dam, are condemned to an absent administration, a horrific level of corruption in the Resettlement & Rehabilitation policy, as well as the further risk of the dam’s height increasing from 122.92 metres to 138.68 metres, which will further submerge over 245 villages. Looking at the calmer waters of Narmada from the home of fisherman Sundarlal Verma of Chikalda village, one can see that if the dam height were to be raised to 138.68 metres, the destruction of the village would be complete, as the floods that devoured his home happened as the water level was height of 129.44 metres.

The Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra ModI has been vocal about raising the dam’s height over the past few months, and was promised ‘co-operation’ by the Prime Minister’s office. His website NarendraModi.in, has a wonderful post of the dam overflowing at 129.44 metres on the 2nd of August, described as a ‘breathtaking sight’, when at the same time the Valmiki hamlet of Chikalda would be submerged for the first time this monsoon season, when the overflowing dam’s backwaters were as breathtaking as the destruction of their homes.

The Narmada river was a violent force in the month of August and again in late September, destroying thousands of homes, stranding whole villages, in the district of Bharuch and Ankleshwar in Gujarat, that led to the army and the airforce to conduct rescue operations. The death toll in August by some reports was above 106 people. Yet in the submergence areas, the state had provided little to no relief, to thousands of destroyed crop, and countless homes that were washed away when the backwaters flooded over the hills of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, until the villagers from over 106 villages from Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra marched to the offices of the respective Tehsils and demanded answers. They even challenged the state’s complete lack of disaster management, even as the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited’s, Flood Memorandum of 2013, a 558 document with every officials mobile number, from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh, of the Engineers, to the managers of the Narmada Project, to emergency services, was released ‘for official use’ months before the floods, compiled by the Superintendent Engineer of the Narmada Project Design Circle, based out of Gandhinagar, Gujarat.

The response of the state of Madhya Pradesh, has convinced angry villagers after angry villagers, that the state is just trying to forcibly displace them, a perception, whether justified or not, has still created an angry population living on rumours that the raising of the dam, to the vagaries of the canal system, is to provide water for the upcoming 90 billion dollar project, the Mumbai Delhi Industrial Corridor. And they may have a other reasons to by suspicious of their state. Since 2008, the project authorities of three states submitted to the Narmada Control Authority that the project-affected persons from each of the three states, is ‘0’, and the NCA has accepted those figures.

The risks of yearly floods, compounded with the mistrust with the state’s rehabilitation policy can be explained with the story of just one farmer: Ramsingh Ghedia, a Bhilala farmer, who had lived in the village of Pichodi until the year 2000, when rising water levels from the Sardar Sarover dam compelled him to accept one installment of compensation. He was told by the state that the dam would be helping thousands of farmers in Gujarat and Rajasthan, as they would be supplied irrigated water. He moved over 40 kilometres away into Madeel Panchayat, where his family purchased four acres of land, which are now lost because the Narmada Valley Development Authority has excavated the massive main canal of the Indira Sagar Project, and have dumped massive amounts of debris onto it.

In Morakta, a public hearing with the Bhilala adivasis indicated clear enough how outsiders had managed to rent homes in the village, and take compensation, how land registrars were filled with people who didn’t exist. All of this was brought to light to the Jabalpur High Court, that constituted the Justice Jha Commission of Inquiry on the 21st of August, 2008. The Commission conducted field visits to Nisarpur and Chikalda in 2009, and it found villagers more than willing to talk about how they were approached by agents, asked to bribe, and how those that were eligible landholders, would be deemed ineligible, as they couldn’t afford to pay.

The Inquiry is now in its fifth year, and the raising of the water levels and the recent floods, would stand in violation of the Supreme Court’s order that until the rehabilitation is complete, no homes or properties can be submerged. Land and livelihood based rehabilitation was guaranteed by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award, Rehabilitation policy and the judgements of the Supreme Court of 15th October, 2000, and 15th March, 2005, yet the demands of the villagers across the region for cultivable agricultural land remain unheard. The Justice Jha Commission would further find that at five rehabilitation sites at Badwani and Dhar, the civic amenities were more than lack, considering they couldn’t get their own water bottles filled, as there were no working handpumps, water tanks were incomplete and taps were constructed over missing pipelines. They found families living in the schools and dispensaries of Pichodi. Across Badwani, the rehabilitation sites for Pichodi, or Morkata, or at Dhar, at Nisarpur or Chikalda, only those who belong to a contractor class, or with a higher purchasing power, were able to shift to the new plots of land.

Meanwhile, just as the villagers from the Narmada Valley marched to government offices demanding compensation for the dam-induced floods and fair rehabilitation in the first week of September, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, had lobbied for his amendments on the recent Land Bill, which were approved by the Prime Minister, which specifically focuses on the un-feasability of ‘land for land’ rehabilitation, and for the deletion of the clause that when land would be acquired for irrigation projects, the affected families would be given monetary compensation and land for land.

And isn’t going to impress Subhram Patel, a 70 year old Bhilala farmer from Morkata, with 25 acres of land for his family, who is yet to be compensated for his agricultural land, and whose village was flooded when the dam waters were raised, ‘I had showed them all my documents, why didn’t they give me my land?’

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Anatomy of a self-destructing system

September 2, 2013

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This article appears in the Sunday Guardian on the 1st of September, 2013.

Another demolition drive at Sion Koliwada and the practice of claiming agency by the residents to prevent it has a lot to say about the way an administration has been co-opted by the market

The notice for demolitions at Sion Koliwada had arrived a day after Independence Day. It was in January of this year, that mass protests by slumdwellers across Mumbai led to the Principal Secretary, Housing, Debashish Chakravarti by direction of the Chief Minister Prithviraj Chauhan to order a stay on demolition drives on six rehabilitation projects across the city where residents have alleged fraud and forgery by the builders.

But it was the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s Ward Office of F North in Mumbai, who passed an ‘allotment’ notice (allotment is another euphemism for demolition) on the 16th of August.

From the moment the notice arrived, to the first brick that would fall in the coming days, the actions and practice of agency by the Kolis of Sion Koliwada, who marched from government office to office, to the reactions from police officials, and the administration, have a lot to say about a system where checks and balances are now completely flatlined, and the state is one homogenous monolith that has no space for the discourse of rights and it is time once again to acknowledge the role of the market as the new dharma of state officials.

The Core Committee of Sion Koliwada, comprising of young men and women, armed with prima facie evidence of forgery, countless documents acquired through the Right To Information Act, detailing discrepancy after discrepancy in the project, had one afternoon, on the 29th of April, sat with the Principal Housing Secretary, the Builder’s coterie of lawyers and armed guards, and members of the Slum Rehabilitation Authority, and would finish their presentation at the hearing, leaving the builder’s lawyers with nothing to say, or respond. If that was an indication of the worth of a democratic institution, than their morale, their belief in the system that day, was justified. And would be further justified a few months later when Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte had ordered that the builder’s vast steel fence that had hidden Sion Koliwada from the world, to be removed.

Yet irrespective of that, and the constant delay of the publication of the inquiry report by the state, the demolition notice would arrive. A timeline from the 16th of August, to the 21st of August, has to be observed to reveal the schizophrenia of dealing with the state. The notice arrives, much to everyone’s chagrin and after discussions amongst the protesting residents, they realized they wouldn’t challenge it in court, as their matter is already under inquiry by Debashish Chakravarti, which was promised to have been finished by the 15th of May, and has not, till date.

They would decide to hold meetings with the Chief Minister, the Home Minister and the Chief Municipal Commissioner, but they did not take place initially, as no one was admitted to an audience with any state official on a Sunday.

Their first meeting would only take place on Monday, 19th of August, with the Chief Minister’s personal secretary, who quickly called up the Deputy Municipal Commissioner, and asked him on what basis did he issue an order on the Sion Koliwada case. Reportedly, the Deputy Municipal Commissioner, Sudhir Naik, claimed he didn’t know there as a stay order, and the outcome of this conversation with the Personal Secretary and the Deputy Municipal Commissioner, in front of Sion’s protesting residents, was a verbal confirmation that there would be no demolitions.

The delegation of the residents then went straight to the Deputy Municipal Commissioner, Sudhir Naik, and requested that they recieve a stay order in writing, and he confirmed that he would contact Assistant Commissioner Narendra Berde who passed the first notice and sort it out with him. They were told that they would get their written order by seven in the evening. They waited till 7:30. Nothing happened. It was only as they managed to catch Mr.Sudhir Naik as he was leaving office, that he said they should come the next day in the morning, as they still require the signature of Sitaram Kunte, the Chief Municipal Commissioner.

The delegation arrives the next morning on the 20th of August, and finds Sitaram Kunte in a meeting. They returned in the afternoon and they still found him in a meeting. In the evening, they saw the builder and his lawyers, along with the committee members from Sion, who had supported the builder at the BMC premises. They were then informed that they would receive a decision the next day, from Debashish Chakravati, the Principal Secretary of Housing, himself.

On Wednesday, 21st of August, they were given a written order by the BMC signed by Debashish Chakravati, that confirms demolitions. The letter, a jumble of strange logic, states that since a Writ petition 1184 of 2010 that asked for ‘the re-development scheme of this society should be declared illegal and cancelled, and the floors 8 to 14 of the re-developed building be demolished,’ filed by the residents was dismissed by the High Court in 2010, and that his own stay order of January of 2013, exempts demolitions as per High Court orders, then the demolitions would have to take place. He would further mention that that allotment letters were given to ‘not-cooperating’ tenants three times before his own stay order of January 2013.

The residents quickly went to the Mantralaya and got an appointment with Debashish Chakravati in the evening, who admitted to have a meeting with the builder and his lawyers, and refused to entertain the protesting resident’s concerns, stating that their case was dismissed by the High Court, while the residents asserted that the High Court never ordered any demolitions nor was there any order against the builder.

They spoke for over thirty minutes but the residents realized he wouldn’t budge.

Adding to this, it would be the attitudes of the police, the first face of the state to Sion Koliwada. Calls to every senior policeman on Monday, revealed the demolitions were cancelled, but the minute the turnaround took place, they enthusiastically decided to give police protection to demolition crews, once again highlighting that instead of investigating the matter of fraud and forgery, which should have happened years ago, the police is inclined to give protection to demolition crews.

A senior police officer at Sion, a veteran of the force, a tormentor as described by the residents, a self-described savior as much as his limits could take him, admittedly mentions that the system needs changing, is pessimistic about it, is too impatient for Dr.Ambedkar’s social revolution, and would ironically voice the CPI (Maoist), ‘that one needs to be in power to change the system.’ He feels that those protesting are not being practical, ‘saamne walla jaisa karta hai, tum bhi waise hi karo’ (do what everyone around you is doing); and one man can’t change the ‘system’, and if you fight it, the system will not help you, and they, the residents, should just take what they are getting, ‘that a person who can’t change their principles, can’t be successful.’

This is of course, is the free market.

And the free market, symbolized as four bulldozers, drove into the small colony in the middle of Sion, and while residents didn’t physically protest, due to the threats of further police cases against them, there was an incident that revealed the psychology of the police and the administration quite clearly. The elusive words, ‘stay order’ spread like wildfire amongst the residents around four in the evening on the first day of the demolition drive, and residents who were quietly watching their homes broken down, suddenly, empowered, began to protest, hurl abuses, and demanded that the state stop destroying their homes. The police and the BMC started to withdraw, without much hesitation, almost revealing that they themselves felt they had no right or authority to demolish. But when the elusive order was merely revealed as a fax of an admission of an emergency petition slated to be heard at 5pm at the City Civil Court, which was literally thrown down by one of the police officers, the police and the wrecking crews returned, but by then it was already five in the evening, and demolitions have to stop at that slated time.

The demolitions continued on the second day and 39 houses were demolished that even left one man injured.

A day after the demolition drive, a distraught people, congregated in hundreds at Walkeshwar, and had attempted to get a meeting with the Chief Minister who they felt had betrayed them. There was no meeting as they argued about the size of the delegation, and instead they would sit in front of his gates, until the police forcefully picked up the residents, and put them into police vans and drove them to Azad Maidan. It would be a point to mention, that anyone who looked like they belonged to the working class, were stopped by the police from even entering the road at Walkeshwar that leads to the CM’s residence of Varsha.

This self-destructing system is now catering to a general environment of gaping paradoxes where 13000 square feet high-end apartments worth a 100 crores are advertised by a financial magazine, where the working classes are quick to observe that the landscape of the city visible from the Virar Fast, is filled with towering buildings like honeycombs that lie empty, that the middle classes have a general perception that all slums are illegal and should be destroyed while they themselves can’t afford an apartment in most of the city and have neither the imagination nor the capacity to challenge the builder lobby; and where judges build their colonies on mangrove land, and pass orders that the poor cannot, where the land meant for the ‘dishoused’ is another judges colony, where the history of collapsing housing markets across the world, are not matters of polity’s concern; and social housing, which can reclaim housing from being an ‘investment’ to a ‘right to shelter’ for all, is a distant dream.

Yet this is one dream, that one can only imagine after the state can wake up from a nightmare it perpetuates.

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Obituary Of An Abiku: Or How Hunger And Preventable Disease Claimed Another Child In A Metropolis

July 22, 2013

IMG_9554Meghala (2006-2013)

This piece appears in another form along with a photo essay on Yahoo News on the 22nd of July, 2013.

* Abiku: The word is derived from Yoruba: (abiku) “predestined to death”, which is from (abi) “that which possesses” and (iku) “death”. Abiku refers to the spirits of children who die before reaching puberty; a child who dies before twelve years of age being called an Abiku, and the spirit, or spirits, who caused the death being also called Abiku.

‘Dekho meri beti kaise soh rahi hai,’ Said Muragama, a visually impaired single mother of two, whose second child now lay covered in ceremonial shrouds, as she and her eldest daughter, prepare to bury her at Dodamma Burial Grounds near DJ Halli in Bangalore on the 17th of July, 2013, just as news and the political-mudslinging of the mid-day meal tragedy, 23 deaths and counting at Bihar’s Chhappra district begin to enter into mainstream and international news.

The tragedy of the everyday, simplest lives of others, the tiniest statistics, the numbers of the diminishing laughter of children, seem to belong on the same planet as the UNICEF report that claimed one in three of the malnourished children of the world, live and die in India.

Meghala was born on the 17th of November, 2006, to a Christian Dalit mother, who lived at Bangalore’s DJ Halli, in a small decrepit corner of the slum next to a garbage heap, which leaked and seeped miasma into their lives. It would be the same world, where her mother would mostly spend time sitting on her neighbour’s porch, often abused and sent away, literally left to her own means. A family of hijras, would at times help feed Meghala, her sister and her mother, within their own limited means, but it would be Meghala’s older sister Ruth, who would spend her day at a factory making incense sticks, that earned her Rs.15 a day but she would leave her job once it started to afflict her hands. Her sister used to return home with callused and sooted palms and help to cook, clean, collect water, and help her mother move around. Her sister is just thirteen years old.

And Ruth’s toys would be Meghala’s toys, her silent demeanour would match her mother’s calmness, and  her sense of curiosity compensated for her mother’s blindness. She loved her cake, whenever she could get some, and she would spend her time watching Chutti TV, and unlike her elder sister, she had a few friends, often joking with her neighbours, ‘when are you getting your mother married?’

She would spend her entire life in DJ Halli, a place with more temples, churches and mosques than anganwadis, and at her home at Modi-Road itself, her own anganwadi of Indirapura, one can clearly see the temple encroaching over the anganwadi building, or the anganwaadi encroaching into the temple. It has neither a toilet, or a storage space, or like her home, no supply of drinking water.

Her mother Murugama, who lived without a BPL card, who deserved both a widow’s pension and a disability pension, didn’t receive it till date, and lived in a cynicism, of unemployment, of listlessness, of a history of pain, from losing her eyesight to a life without a husband, to her helplessness of not being able to bring up her two girls. Murugama lost her eyesight when she herself was just nine years old, to an inexplicable fever, and was brought up by her own mother Pushpama, who worked and toiled as a construction labourer, who passed on in July 2008, leaving her alone to look after her two girls.

Yet there was a sense of strange pride in her, ‘I have to beg, what can I do?’ she would say, taking her children to the Church or the nearby Durga for food, an unsteady supply of nutrition, like the anganwadi that could only deliver ration to her home once in a while, and would relegate responsibility to Meghala, as she just turned six, an age above the mandate of the ICDS programme.

Disability, blindness, did not fit into the scheme of things of the community-based program, and the first government official from the Women and Child Welfare Department to visit Murugama, would mention, ‘we need community support as well.’ And Meghala was suffering from malnutrition, which was evident in the fact that she couldn’t use her legs, or that she looked a mere 2 year old when she was turning six, and her recent weight was a mere 11 kilograms, which is far from the standard weight of a six year old, 16 kilograms.

It was finally after Sunday Mass, when Meghala’s mother began to notice that she was developing a fever and would be diagnosed with pneumonia. And they would take her to BR Ambedkar Medical Hospital at Tannery Road, who refused to admit her. She was only admitted in Baptist Hospital across town, after a social worker threatened to expose them with legal threats and media coverage. But within two days, Meghala would lose the use of a third of her lungs, now filled with mucus and blood, would be vomiting and coughing blood, and would be left on a ventilator.

Meghala, would finally leave this realm of hunger, at 4:31pm, and would be taken to Dodamma Burial Grounds, and watch a Christian Dalit ceremony, while her older sister, would quietly say goodbye to the one who was more than a sister, but also a daughter. A short ceremony in Tamil, interspersed with silence, songs, and the quiet tears of broken people, ended with a pastor asking the visually-impaired Murugama, if she would like to see her daughter one last time. She would touch her, and move back, and as the sounds of shovels covering her small coffin with the earth filled the quiet landscape lit by an ambulance’s headlights that began to retreat, Murugama and Ruth leave the cemetery and simply sit down on the side of the road, watching members of the Church and others leave.

Her neighbours were visibly absent. Poverty is loneliness.

The last Global Hunger Index (GHI) by the International Food Policy Research Institute, had rated 120 countries and India has ranked 65th with the level of hunger being the same as it was in 1996. Malnutrition in India remains the constant, the saint of deprivation, the anti-posterboys and girls of a growing economy’s mythical rise, the moonfaces of an invisible shame of a middle class.

2689 died between 2009-2011 in Raichur, Karnataka. The death toll at Attapadi in Tamil Nadu, has now reached 54, as per the 18th of July, 2013. Dates. Numbers. Statistics. Dates. Histories. Public Policies. Hunger. Hunger. Hunger. They tend to remain the same. In Maharashtra, the issue was raised in December 2011 in the state assembly where it was revealed that 65 infants die daily in the Maharashtra, with 13,683 deaths having occurred between January to September 2011 alone. Yet the State Woman and Child Development Minister claimed that these were not related to malnutrition. As for pneumonia, more dreaded statistics from the grim reaper statisticians of the UNICEF again, state that 3.97 lakh children under the age of five died of pneumonia in 2010.

Meghala, turned this year six. While the age of St.Complacency of the government, seems to grow older, staking its claim to divinity and immortality. The Woman And Child Welfare Department says it has no responsibility about pneumonia, which comes under the watch of the Health Department. The wreckage of a house that housed this family, the heaps of garbage, the seepage of miasmic rainwater, doesn’t come under either department, as infrastructure comes under the gambit of the Bruhat Bangalore Municipal Corporation.

‘Why did no one from your community ever help you Murugama?’ I had to ask her, and she spoke to me in broken Hindi, Unko dil nahi lagta hai, woh bhi garib log hai.’

She would eventually joke, and say it, ‘Meri beti abhi hamari ammi ban gayi.’

And it was Ruth, who took pride in looking after her.

‘Do you think I should go to school? Everyone keeps telling me to go to school. But I wonder what is the point of going now, I have already missed so many lessons and what will I be able to learn now? Plus my mother is blind. Who will look after my mother? If I go to school, I can only come back by four, and she will be alone, how will she manage?’

One wonders how the Food Security Bill will answer the her question.

In Karnataka itself, it was the 22nd of May, 2011 when a Kannada news channel had put out the news of starving and dying in Raichur, the only place where there is a a gold mine in India, arsenic in the groundwater around it, and the Thermal Power plant that supplies electricity to half the state. A letter concerning the matter written by Vimochana Sangha led to a Public Interest Litigation and the creation of a Core Committee.

What is clearly stated in the Core Committee’s reports in Karnataka is that every government body, from the Panchayat Raj, to the ICDS, to the Municipal Corporations, to the Horticulture Department, to the Women and Child Development department has a roll to play, yet to everyone’s dismay they often just blame each other when swollen bellies start showing up on television screens. If there is no space for Angaanwadis in Bangalore, the Karnataka Slum Development Board, has to help to ensure there is. If the supply of food to Angaanwadi centres is broken, the supervisors have to ensure that Angaanwadi workers don’t have to buy eggs and milk out of their own pay. ASHA workers must work with pregnant mothers to ensure the mother’s themselves don’t suffer from anaema and give birth to the most fragile littlest of a human beings. Once severely malnutritioned children are sent to NHCs, the government has to ensure that there is a provision for the mother or guardian to stay with the child, and is provided minimum wage under the MNREGA, as the mother or guardian would be losing work-time during her/his stay in the hospital. The Department of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj should conduct Gram Sabhas for the purpose of empowering communities in dealing with malnutrition. The Department of Horticulture, Government of Karnataka should plant fruit bearing saplings i.e., guava, chikku (sapota), papaya, pomegranate and local seasonal fruit bearing saplings i.e., nerale (blackbeny) anjur (fig), sitaphal (custard apple) etc., in the backyard of the Anganawadi Centres.

Yet these are only a few recommendations from an 89-page report that covered every crumb and corner of the state’s embrace of malnutrition and its salvation. The case, a symbol of anything that can claim human decency, has as many lessons as the 12 year long Right To Food case.

Meanwhile the Food Security Bill has no grievance redress system, no provisions like old age pensions for the support of senior citizens, the homeless, destitute, and only provides for cereals and not basic food necessities, it provides upto 5kgs per person per month, thus ensuring only 166 gms of cereal per person per day, which is barely enough for two rotis a day, according to the Right To Food Campaign. Yet in Murugama’s case, it clearly fails as the new Food Security Bill, again opts for a targeted Public Distribution System. Murugama, had no BPL card, how is the state going to find her? It already lost Meghala, and the government is promising her a BPL card after news reports of her death even got the Chief Minister to deem the matter serious.

Apparently, it takes a death of a child to get the government to consider you poor enough to get a BPL card.

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The New Songs Of The Murder Manual

June 17, 2013

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This article appears in the Sunday Guardian on the 16th of June, 2013

“Jump over Dilli, we jungle people

Even if you dont know how to sing.

Boys (chorus) : We don’t know how to sing!

Girls (chorus): How do you not know how to sing? Jump over Dilli jungle people!

in our villages we come,

we will go with our axes,

big feet police, we will jump in delhi,

with bows and arrows, we will jump in delhi,

with these arrows, we will kill the police,

loot the government,

we will snatch weapons and bring them.’

These are words from a Gondi song sung in Bastar by the adivasis in the interior forests. To some it would seem a seditious aspiration, a decades-old Naxalite lyricism mutating Muria songs, or a desire with twisted explicable joys, yet there are reasons why these songs are being sung in the forest. There is a bloodlust, a violence, even the translator of the song, whose village was burnt down by the Salwa Judum and who now lives as an Internally Displaced Person in Andhra Pradesh has a distaste towards its words, its new meanings. Yet to hear it, it is even melodic, haunting, and joyful; and it becomes an incongruous expression of rage, a rage in memory, a rage against the burning and looting, rape and murder by the Salwa Judum; elsewhere they sing, How it was before — in the earlier days/it was beautiful/It was wonderful/now there is so much suffering/the garlic skin police is harassing us.’

There is even a song sung in rememberance of the 2006 killings in Nendra village where at least 10 adivasis were murdered by the Salwa Judum, and their families would testify to the National Human Rights Commission. The killers would never be prosecuted. On the 29th of May, 2013, the Salwa Judum leader from Konta, Soyam Mukka who was implicated in the violence in many villages around Konta, was assassinated by the Maoists, just a few days after the Maoist ambush on the Congress party motorcade that left 29 people dead. Soyam Mukka was a man who had warrants for his arrest for numerous cases, including one where an adivasi woman would be gangraped in the police station, after he had kidnapped her and left her there. The police would declare him an absconder, even when there was explicable proof where he’d be photographed, standing right next to the police during a protest in January of 2010. Now he is another man who escaped the clutches of the law of the nation, but was claimed by the law of the land.

There are no songs sung about justice in Bastar. Those who have been with adivasi villagers marching to the police stations to demand the bodies of their loved ones, would’ve heard the haunting echoed, chorus of the harmonious crying, of hundreds of adivasi men and women. Mahendra Karma is dead. Soyam Mukka is dead. ASP Rajesh Pawar is dead. SPO Ismael Khan is dead. SPO Kartam Surya is dead.

There would even be a song of mourning during the funeral for Mahendra Karma, where elsewhere someone would probably be writing a song to celebrate it. Karma was stabbed 78 times, and in 2006, in Matwada village of Bijapur, SPO’s smashed stones into the eye sockets of three adivasi men. In 2004, Oonga Madkam of Kottacheru village, a friend of many of the leaders of the yet to be formed Salwa Judum, was shot dead on the road between Konta and Cherla, and the Maoists smashed his head, already void of life, with a small boulder. In 2012, the CRPF would be accused of setting Pudiyam Mada’s genitals on fire in the Sukma police station.

We will fight like red ants, jungle people,

for our land, we will jump,

We won’t give our jungle resources,

We won’t give our mountains and shrubs, they are ours,

We will keep our gold,

This is a loot government, we will not give to them.

Chorus: Dilli!

Charu Mazumdar’s murder manual always had it’s songs, and now these adivasi anthems of anger  sung in the jungles of Bastar are one man’s songs of resistance, and to another man it is sedition; and if you don’t know the lyrics, you’d believe they really are serenades to the forest, which they probably are to those who sing them. These are now the songs heard amongst the red ants, the butterflies, the frogs and the birds and they are songs of an anger that is seldom heard by the state, who preferably chooses to not listen – year after year, inquiry after inquiry, even after the Salwa Judum was banned by the Supreme Court, the state of Chhattisgarh invoked the Chhattisgarh Auxiliary Armed Police Force Ordinance of 2011, and inducted the SPO’s into the regular police force. More killings and burnings in the villages would follow. On the 17th of May, 2013, in a repeat of last year’s encounter at Sarkeguda that left 22 dead, a police firing in Edesmetta during a seed festival, would claim eight people, including four children and one soldier. The mothers take the bodies to the Gangalur police station and throw stones at them.

Dilli’ – probably sang the stone.

The calls for warmongering continues with the dance of death, the other songs from the newsroom calling for the army which is also militarily idiotic as the essence of all armed conflict, is intelligence gathering, and the state in Chhattisgarh has done everything from torture to fraticide to try and get the adivasis to submit, and provide them with intelligence. A case in point would be a young adivasi journalist Lingaram Kodopi who is still languishing in prison even after he was forced to be a Special Police officer and was imprisoned in a toilet in the police station for over 40 days. That is how the police of Chhattisgarh acquires intelligence, a misnomer of a word that a hundred years of counterinsurgency across the world can’t find funny. You show them who is boss. We’re worse than the rebels, we’re more militarily equipped, so you better submit to us.

Even the Salwa Judum was an exercise in brutality and a temporary success in intelligence gathering. By forcing people, out of fear, to point out village level Sangam members who were instantly murdered, the Maoist hold in particular villages was weakened. Yet the Maoists rebuild their base and replaced their cadres, and it wasn’t so difficult as the Salwa Judum was involved in rape, murder and arson on a massive scale. And now, the Maoist’s are picking off the leaders of the Salwa Judum like flies.

More militirization is more of the same, and would play into Maoist hands.

Jump over them and kill them

We will jump like tigers in the jungle

Aim like the eye of the cat in the jungle

And the chorus sings: ‘Dilli’. The lietmotif is ‘Dilli’.

The heart of political conscience that could never even point out Bastar on a map, now hears the songs of death as a yearly massacre is committed by either the state or the Maoists. Death is Bastar’s muse. Yet there was another song being sung a few days ago in March of this year, a song seldom heard beyond the forest, when a rally of thousands of adivasis under the banner of Manish Kunjam’s CPI and the Adivasi Mahasabha, marched to demand the Sixth Schedule. They have been demanding it since the early 1990’s, and when the state violates the laws of the Fifth Schedule and the PESA act, the demands for the Sixth Schedule, which is more or less autonomy, are only going to get louder. The adivasis of Bastar are writhing with seething anger, from the decades of exploitation by the non-tribals, the inherent racism in the system, to the Salwa Judum, to the everyday tortures and encounters, to the burnings and killings by the COBRA to the CRPF. It will take the Central  Government an imagination it probably has never used since Independence, to placate such anger. But the question is, does it really want to?

Song – Ee Na Ve

Girls: You all sing along

Boys: We don’t know how to sing

Girls: How do you not know how to sing?

Boys: You are the singers here, you sing

Girls: What’s wrong with your voice? I can’t hear it

Boys – We dont know how to sing

Girls: How do you not know how to sing?

 Boys: I have a cold so my voice isn’t strong enough

 Girls: Adivasi people

 Boys: Sing on

Girls: The people live like this, big foot police

We live off the land, from farming

My people, where have you gone?

We are farmer people

We live of the land, farmer people,

Where will we run away to?

If we have to die, we will die here.

 

The Judum started and its over,

They lost, the people have won,

Everyone had run here and there,

And they all came back

The land, the trees, the mountains,

are ours again,

in our hands again,

the mango trees we planted,

our lake is there,
our land is there,

the house we built with our hands is there.

 

Our fathers and grandfathers in the village,

were caught by the Judum,

the Judum ate our house,

they drank the people’s blood,

they become bigger,

but at some point, they will die,

if they won’t die, so what?

that much will happen, let it be.

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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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