Thursday, January 22, 2009

Preparations for the heart, mind and stomach

On 11th and 12th January, I attended the regional meetings in Qutubnagar and Pisawa. Here, plans for the dharna were again discussed – the wheat flour, rice, potatoes etc. each village would be contributing, dos and don'ts during the dharna etc. A good amount of time was also spent on other issues such as compensation for collapsed houses. A number of people still haven't received the Rs. 1500 that was promised for houses that collapsed during the severe monsoon from June to September. Plans were made to submit these lists on the 13th at the tehsil in Mishrikh.

Another major point of contention was the manner in which work was being conducted at worksites. As a number of people put it, those who had not filed applications for work were still getting it because they are close to the Pradhan. Surbala tried to explain (and I joined in) that we had no way of making this case. If we complained, work applications could be made up on the spot. We need to pick our battles and this one wasn't worth engaging in. Further, if other people were getting work, what is the harm in that? Didn't they need the extra income as well? This point of dissent highlights the divisions along caste and/or party lines that exist in villages and that prevent mass mobilization at the village level. On the bright side, some older Sangathan saathis seem to have understood this and are promoting the message.

One poignant moment occurred in the Qutubnagar meeting when an active Saathi, Prakash, talked about how a group in his village challenged their Pradhan and wrested back the 'commission' he had taken to get old-age pensions and the like done. This group then got the work done legally, without any extortion. Prakash got a pension for his mother as well. One day, when he was away from home, the Pradhan came to his house and demanded Rs. 500 as commission from her. She gave it to him without a murmur! How hard it is to reverse decades of subservience!!

At any rate, the preparations for the dharna were proceeding at full strength. On the evening of the 15th, a tractor deposited all the collected provisions at the Sangathan office. A whopping 20 quintals (2000 kg.) of wheat flour and rice had been collected, as well as potatoes, salt, oil and other supplies and about Rs. 3000 in cash. What a thrill to start a dharna knowing that you have food supplies for atleast 20 days at hand!

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