As my nation stands betrothed to World Hunger Index and Bullet train, it is quite incomprehensive, which beau she will meet at the altar-towards the end of 2019. The cacophony for more power, more votes, more solidarity grows within the usual suspects of political alliances. With each passing day India descends into another abyss of political turmoil, the stakes unusually high. I am told, post 2019 things will change phenomenally, even as political analysts work overtime corroborating election results from one state to another- typing astutely on social networking sites- before retiring to their comfortable lives. Between the umbrage of lynchings and beef ban, there’s an interesting debate doing the rounds here on the topic “revolution” nowadays.
Being part of journalism for the greater part of my life has resulted in me being overly cautious of political jargon, especially when it becomes a resoundingly popular one. What I see now, building of a fastidiously negative wave for the ruling regime, reminds me of pre 2014 era, when a similar wave, albeit a positive one, had heralded Modi and his party to 7, Race Course Road, New Delhi. What we had then, a GDP growing steadily at 6.7%, with 4 million new jobs being created each year, a Prime Minister who spoke softly and had astute knowledge of country’s economy-somehow- was twisted and turned over its head- by a overtly tacky, misinformed, power hungry, money laundering bunch of youngsters for illicit amount of money being thrown at them by BJP. Anyone who countered their jargon, was instantly written off as unpatriotic by some of the most promising economists, authors, actors, writers, psephologists, industrialists, film industry buffs, news anchors, editors, lawmakers, and layman.
Today, after the GDP has slipped at 3.7%, with no jobs creations for two years at a row, De- monetization and GST, a fractured industrial economy and a Prime Minister who spills notoriously ominous filth through his election rallies- things are gradually changing. Also helpful, has been the building of a counter narrative to BJP’s popular yet distastefully sham jingoistic rubble- by a wonderfully informed, subtle and intrinsically researched social media.
However, between 2014 and 2019, amidst the subterfuge of patriotism, beef ban, lynchings of muslims, murders of authors, rationalists, political workers, Bharat Mata ki Jay, Anti-Romeo squads, Love Jihads, Modi’s unusually busy world tour, Adani’s land grab, Yogi Adityanath’s meteoric rise and Anupam Kher’s fall from grace- a few things have remained unchanged.
Like for example, Deepak Singh and the lives of his parents, Shailu Singh and Pulmati Singh, his sister Anita Singh and brothers Rajesh Singh, Sudheer Singh and Kishan Singh. Deepak Singh lives in a village roughly 5 kilometres from District Headquarters Janjgeer called Pendra with his family. He is 18 years old and on his way to college, to be the first graduate in his family. His parents, and his siblings have all been brick kiln labourers throughout their lives. Every year, they migrate to Jammu, or Punjab for 8-9 months to make bricks in private kilns and return home for the remaining months to do part time field work for a few months. Deepak Singh belongs to Satnami Community and lives in an outer corner of his village-called Bhatapara- as do the other members of this community. In every Chhattisgarh village- there is a Bhatapara- an exclusive corner, where these people, along with the Daliths- are bound to live. The Bhatapara corners are usually mud huts with thatched roofs, muddy pavements, having a small pond at a corner, electricity and some of the most beautiful flower and kitchen gardens.
The villages are empty, save for small children, and old couples throughout the 8 months of a year. Since the last 20-25 years, this has been the decorum. Almost four decades back, things were different. Deepak’s grandfather Ramkishore Singh owned 8 acres of land, and grew pulses and seasonal vegetables on it. The yield was good and the family lived comfortably. Shailu Singh and his brother, Sanjay Singh along with their younger sister, Bhanumati would have enough to eat two times a day. Ramkishore Singh also built a pukka house and they lived comfortably with their four cows. However, on a quiet corner of the nation, something called “Green Revolution” happened and suddenly, things changed for worse for this family. Within the next decade, Ramkishore Sngh suddenly witnessed several new landowners in his village vicinity. They were from Punjab and had more money, than Ramkishore had ever seen in his life. Another few years, and huge tractors and crop harvesters began to the rounds in the village.
Meanwhile, with continuous pumping of chemical laced fertilizers and pressure to grow just paddy and pulses as cash crops- resulted in the soil losing its fertility. The harvest became thinner, rains became sparer, and once after Ramkishore fell critically ill, for the first time, Shailu Singh had to step out as a field worker in another Landlord’s field to manage the medical expenses. However, the presence of Crop Harvesters made it impossible for him to manage employment. Things went from bad to worse and Ramkishore had to sell off 5 acres of his land. This threw the entire family into the spiral of debt, migration, slavery and bonded labour that is yet to end- after thirty odd years and two generations later. Shailu Singh is a living witness of how through callous implementation of incongruous schemes, a government can actually create an army of slaves without even firing a single bullet or whispering “war”.
This happened in the 80s while Congress Government was at the centre- while Rajiv Gandhi was at the helm of affairs heralding a new generation to the throes of computers and telecom revolution. This was the era of globalization. When the USSR had disintegrated and India had shifted its loyalty to grandmaster of capitalism, by agreeing to sleep with NATO partners. The unholy marriage resulted in production of an army of selfish, greedy, callous, market-worthy generation that learnt the art of creating and using slaves for profit, namely, the great Indian Middle Class. Within the next decade, India had imprinted itself strongly as one of the biggest markets, where every international brand was selling its stuff with unprecedented zeal. The carefully orchestrated machinations pointed at the villages for more and more cheap labour, and thus began the great migration of a self sufficient, food producing, environment friendly generation-having lightest carbon footprints- to the ghettoes of cities where even a drop of water was sold for a price.
By the end of the decade, India had already stepped into a shining pedestal as the fastest developing nation, piggybacking on world’s largest number of human slaves toiling for minimum wages.
Deepak Singh, has been living off blood and sweat ever since he could remember. When he was not going to the brick kiln, he was working in a landowner’s field, during the harvest season, working as field hand. Shailu Singh has a small piece of land, 2 acres left, in which the family grows paddy. Also helpful were the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme projects that would take care of their expenses while they were not traveling to the brick kilns. The family stepped into the new millennia with enough savings to start a new life, and also built a small house on a piece of land.
For once, Shailu Singh felt he could surmise his life with a pinch of pride. The only problem being, the house was situated at the main village and not in Bhatapara, where the Satnamis are expected to stay. One fine day, Deepak Singh returned to see a group of Upper Caste men standing in front of his house. Incidentally, a School Master had purchased the very land where Deepak Singh had built his house. Despite a huge fight and a police complaint, Deepak Singh in the end had to part with his belongings as the village elders raised the house and police stood there guarding the action.
Today, Shailu Singh lives in a temporary hutment with his family of six and his brothers’ children. Last time, I met him in February 2017. Hey had just returned from Jammu with six months earnings, when suddenly they were asked to build toilets at home. Modi’s ambitious Swachha Bharat Campaign had come as a huge shock to the family, as they were ordered to build two toilets, each costing close to Rs 35,000. Deepak, just passed his school final examination had been looking forward to getting admission in College. He was trying to get a school leaving certificate and caste certificate since the last ten months but to no avail. With the toilet building dictat, his hopes of getting into college were dashed for a year.
The Novemeber 2017 de- monetization brought fresh lease of troubles for the entire family as they had to hastily retreat from the brick kilns without being paid a penny, to ensure they had no black money left at home. The MANREGA projects were now more assiduously distributed to Upper Caste relatives of the Sarpanchs, because they could not get jobs anywhere else. The unemployment, drought, massive cash crunch and overall slump in economy had once again pushed the Satnami populace to the brink of desolation. Shailu Singh is 65 years old. His haggard face bears the roadmap of his life’s journey that crinkle their way past his eyes that are now bereft of much shine. But, he looks at his grand-children and laughs- a clear, surprised laughter- probably hoping a better future for them.
As per Deepak, he prepares for another day of casual labour in a field or a roadside construction site. For four generations, they had been trying hard to earn enough money through hard work, seeing their Zamindars turn to Sarpanchs and Sahukars turn to Panchayat Secretaries. Nothing has changed for the Satnami Community.
The Author is an independent journalist, writer and Intersectional Feminist. I have worked with development sector for some time, and have contributed articles as an Assistant News Editor for The Hitavada News Editor, a Regional English Daily for 10 years. After working with media for more than a decade I have come to understand, stories ought to be told from the voice of the deliberately silenced echos, and those that are preferably unheard. For Dalits, Bahujan, Adivasis and Women, this world is a battlefield, their stories- are what we need.