Monday, May 19, 2008

A bend in the road

7th - 8th May 2008

Our plans for another village meeting the following day were cut short because of a new development. In a number of villages, Pradhan and district officials were pressuring people to sign affadavits saying that they had falsely applied for NREGA unemployment allowance. In a village close to Aant, some villagers had already signed affadavits. So on the evening of the 6th itself, we headed to that village.

Richa and Sharmaji met us there. This was yet another kind of meeting that we got to see, one where the village group was under pressure. There were quite a few arguments among the villagers – a father shouting at his son for signing in his name and another villager asking how on earth they could say no when the Pradhan appears at their doorstep along with other powerful men in their community. There are no easy answers in these circumstances, but Richa did an amazing job exhorting, chiding, reasoning with and inspiring the assembled crowd. Finally, after all the discussion, a plan was made to submit a complaint to the SDM the next day.

We left the next morning for Mishrikh and a group of villagers met the SDM and submitted their complaint. Later, Dwiji and I returned to Sitapur. Richa and Sharmaji were discussing the ramifications of this development. Since all these people had already given sworn statements to the investigation committee about their eligibility for unemployment allowance, it was unlikely that these affadavits would make a difference in the official process. But perhaps the Pradhans were planning to go to court. At this point, everything was speculation and conjecture.

Richa, Dwiji and I discussed the Kunwarapur meeting. She recommended that we meet with all the core committee members and discuss the project proposal. Some of the members were new, most of them were barely literate, so I would have to come up with ways of communicating what I had written down about the group and its planned activities.

Later in the night, Richa got a call from an SKMS member in a panic. He had been out in his orchard when a group of people close to the Pradhan came and started yelling at and threatening him. He had run away from that spot and into the village where his friends and family were. At the same time, another villager there who is part of SKMS had been arrested on trumped up robbery charges. Things were heating up, indeed...

It was decided that Richa, Sharmaji and Dwiji would go to the village and Reena would meet them there. I stayed back to keep the numbers down and get my other tasks done.

The arrested villager was released very soon – it was quite apparent to the SI (Sub Inspector) that the charges were trumped up. Richa and the others then proceeded to the village where they had a long discussion with both parties in the previous night's conflict. What seems to have been happening as SKMS's work progresses is a realignment of the power structures within villages, which upsets those that prefer the status quo. In some places, SKMS members are more sensitive to the situation and are able to defuse situations before they erupt into conflicts. In other places, SKMS members are either less sensitive or more hot-headed! Well, all part of growing pangs of an organization or increasing self-assertion of the oppressed, depending on one's point of view...

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