A novelette by Bharat Dogra
Introduction–How different will be the world 50 years from now? If the tendencies of domination and exploitation which are a major cause of distress even today get aggravated greatly in the future conditions of escalating climate change and other serious threats, how will life shape up then, and where will humanity then search for hope?
Chapter 3- Revolt
Anita had slept late after a very tiring day but still she could not have a sound sleep as she was troubled by many apprehensions. She kept tossing and turning in her bed and then suddenly got up. The clock showed 5 minutes past four. So at last this long awaited day has come, she said to herself with a sigh.
She lay down again and quickly said a silent prayer. She did not know to whom exactly she addressed the prayer, but she still hoped that this will be answered! This was her way of seeking solace in very difficult times.
She may not know to whom she prays, as she is not particularly religious, but she always knows what she prays for. She prays for the well-being of the entire world, and in particular she prays for the success of those who are struggling against injustice in difficult conditions.
She got this habit of praying from her grandmother. Granny loved her very deeply and as a child Anita liked spending a lot of time with her. Granny did not tell her fairy tales. She told her stories of her younger days as an activist when she participated in several struggles against displacement, land-alienation and against injustice of various kinds. These were the stories Anita liked best too. Snuggling close to Granny, she would immerse herself in thoughts of a young lady helping the poor to protect their homes and farms. Mostly she saw the Granny in her young days in this imagination, but sometimes she also saw her own version of a young woman in these roles, helping farmers and other villagers with great courage.
Unfortunately Grandmother herself had to face displacement at the age of 82. This happened when TT 17 was being created.
Her son, Anita’s father, was a very respected farmer in their village. At a time when the ravages of climate change were destroying farming in several ways, Anita’s father had gained prominence for innovations which were based on protecting farms and farm productivity in many interesting ways, mainly by observing natural processes carefully over long periods and adopting ecologically protective methods. This enabled him to get good productivity of many diverse crops at a low cost despite all the problems created by climate change and adverse weather conditions. He also started a campaign for saving and exchanging traditional , local seeds which enabled farmers to get good crops in the middle of fast changing and uncertain local conditions. The food grown by them was very healthy food and easily fetched a good price in the market.
Thus he came to be recognized as a leader by farmers of not only his village but of several nearby villages as well.
Hence when the threat of displacement suddenly appeared these farmers approached him to guide them in resisting displacement. We all have worked so hard to create very good farming which can counter even the threat of very hostile weather, the farmers told him. We could achieve this only because of your guidance. Now you should guide us also to resist and defeat this new danger of displacement.
Anita’s father accepted the challenge and the entire family was firmly behind him. What they did not realize at that time was that the forces behind the creation of TT Area , and hence behind their displacement, were extremely powerful and also very cruel. They could easily find out that Anita’s father was fast becoming an extremely important leader for the emerging resistance.
Anita’s father was frequently going to the city to fight the case against displacement . One day while returning from there he was suddenly attacked by unknown goons and killed. The resistance started breaking down from this day and people starting shifting to marginal land in CC Area, leaving behind their fertile, well-cultivated fields with a heavy heart.
Anita will never be able to forget this day in her entire life. She just sat helpless with her mother and grandmother and it seemed their tears will never stop. Anita’s entire life had been centered most prominently on her father and she had a strong feeling that all was lost.
Finally it was up to her mother to start picking the threads of life once again. She realized clearly that she had to take up the responsibility of keeping the family going. After their displacement and resettlement in highly degraded land in CC Area, there was no livelihood support and to keep the family alive and to support the education of Anita she reluctantly accepted the offer to be a domestic worker in TT Area.
Granny died soon after. Mother would leave early and then return at night, drained of all energy. Anita grew up in conditions which required her to work very hard and be very bold as a teenager to survive.
The burden on her increased when her mother became ill. She was also mentally unstable after some time. Anita realized much later that her mother had also been subjected to sexual exploitation at her workplace. It was at this stage that she had given up her job.
Soon Anita accepted all responsibilities of the small household, caring for her mother, taking up odd jobs to keep life going. She could not go to college.
She had grown up as a beautiful young lady and all the distress she had suffered could not suppress her great beauty which she carried with great grace and dignity. She soon had several young men as suitors. Somehow she could not say yes to any of them. Her father’s death had left a lasting impact on her and she soon devoted herself to visiting more and more villages to meet people and find about their problems and distress.
She endlessly discussed with them how these problems can be resolved, how the many-sided injustice they faced can be checked. Their story often was her own story. Their problems became her own problems. From such earnest and sincere inter-actions some solutions began to emerge. This is how she had spent the last decade of her life—going from one problem to another, one small struggle to another.
She had survived all this time because the authorities treated her as a woman who was taking up only small issues, but gradually the small issues taken together had been moving towards something bigger. The authorities had sensed this and she was being relentlessly followed by their intelligence persons who reported about the growing influence of Anita among the people of CC Area 17. In fact, the intelligence people reported, her reputation as a defender of weaker sections had even spread to other CC Areas.
As she had been moving tirelessly from one settlement to another all over CC 17 area, people had been increasingly impressed by her deep commitment and complete sincerity. More and more young men, women and teenagers in particular appeared to be willing to throw themselves heart and struggle into any struggle started by Anita. At the same time elderly and experienced people had been deeply influenced with her never-questioned honesty and deep sincerity and saw a real ray of hope in her.
While her beauty in very simple dresses initially attracted people, it was the grace and dignity with which she conducted herself and treated all others that brought more durable supporters and friends. Finally it was the deep sincerity reflected in almost all her words and actions which left the most lasting impact on people.
Among these many supporters and friends Anita had found some lifelong friends. There was Janet, much elder to her but still a very dear and most trustworthy friend. Janet was from a billionaire family in TT Area but very soon she realized the injustice and hollowness of the life in TT Area as well as in her extremely rich and influential family. So one day she left it all and , together with her friend Lin, set up an organization to help some of the poorest people in CC Area. The authorities tolerated her because of her family links but kept a close watch on her.
Ashfaq and Mohammed were two other very close friends , ever willing to rise to the defense of Anita against anyone and everyone, and at times Anita had a tough time trying hard to curb their over-enthusiasm.
They had started their activism in a fit of anger, paying a heavy price. They had lodged complaints of trafficking from their slum, and when they found the police party siding with the traffickers in a burst of anger they attacked the policemen.
They were captured easily when more policemen were called, thrashed badly and sent to jail. When they returned from their year-long jail sentence, the once sturdy and strongly built men had been reduced to a shadow of their former self. Slowly with family care they got back some strength . Then one day Anita came to their slum. She explained to people that only courage is not enough and hurried action taken up in anger is often counter-productive. We have to painstakingly and slowly create unity and organizational strength before we can hope to achieve any results., she said.
After listening to Anita and later discussing these matters in more detail the two young men decided to join her path of struggle as co-travelers. They have been together since then . Both the young men have become more disciplined now, without reducing their courage.
Julian and Mani had started as environment activists. They were beaten up badly by the police when they were protesting against a highly polluting unit being set up near a thickly populated slum of CC area. Anita went to see them in hospital and took care of them. In the course of their discussion she emphasized the need to integrate anti-pollution struggles with livelihood struggles. At this stage the two young men joined hands with her.
As Anita lay in her bed the memories of her various struggles kept lingering in her mind and she also thought about her various close colleagues and friends who had been with her through all the difficult struggles. Today is the much awaited big day for all of us, she thought. Today the first big meeting of the representatives of all the units of their struggle committee of CC 17 is scheduled to be held in a forest. Everyone has been waiting eagerly for this day, even friends in other CC Areas.
But then the TT Authorities have also been keeping a close watch. Who knows what repression they may unleash today.
Anita tried to brush aside all apprehensions and got up with a flourish. The clock now showed 10 minutes past 5 and Anita quickly got busy .
But even while getting ready memories of early days kept coming back to her. It appeared to her that her father and mother were somewhere close to her, speaking to her. Bless me, she said quietly but with great emotion, I am going to need all your blessings today.
At 8 am she was all ready to leave her home in CC Area 17 for the fateful day.
This was roughly the same time when Cyrul was entering the security building in TT Area 17 to make his own arrangements.
Let us leave for the forest.
Thousands of people in CC Area were saying this to each other around the same time in various parts of CC17.
People noticed also that dark clouds had appeared in the sky and there were telltale signs of a gathering storm. This worried them no doubt but this did not deter them. They continued their march towards the forest.
Do not stop.
To prevent too many people from reaching the forest the authorities had banned all vehicular transport on this day, particularly in the area closer to forest. But people were determined to reach by walking. Or else they used vehicle up to permissible distance, and then walked.
In slums and settlements, in villages and hamlets, people ate a modest breakfast and left for the forest. A heartening feature was that the number of women was no less than that of men. Some friends came with them to the edge of the settlements and there were hurried last minute consultations before saying good-bye.
Come let us go now.
There will be some big decision today at last.
We have waited long enough.
It is time for action now.
Even as thousands of people were gathering in forest, the armed forces were also moving in. While Cyrul had left the detailed planning to his field commander, the general understanding was that at least two hundred rebels will be killed today to create terror and to discourage people from further participation in this revolt. In addition a large number of leaders were to be arrested today only, and their capacity for any participation in any future rebellious activity was to be permanently destroyed over the next few weeks of their detention.
The field-commander had instructed his soldiers to let all people go unhindered to the forest meeting. In fact soldiers were not even to make their appearance at this stage. Let all representatives go to the meeting and our intelligence unit will record in detail what they say and do there. While the meeting was in progress, soldiers were to occupy all vantage points on return paths and fire on people returning to their villages and settlements in small groups, killing many, injuring many more.
As the forest meeting started, soldiers quickly emerged as per the plan and occupied these positions. Now their guns waited for their victims.
However far from these soldiers who had been given the task of smashing this revolt in its very early stage in the most cruel way, another group of soldiers who had no role in this activity was also taking a keen interest in the forest meeting. This group was led by Peter, Commander of Gate 4 Armed Unit.
Ten huge gates had been built in the high wall surrounding TT 17 which were very heavily guarded with one highly trained and well-armed unit assigned to guard each gate. Peter was the commander of the armed unit guarding Gate 4.
Circumstances had pushed Peter into the TT army, but he had a very different family background. His grandfather had sacrificed his life in a well-fought struggle for democratic rights. His father tried to follow a similar path and in the process all the family property including their residence was auctioned. The family including Peter’s parents and younger brothers and sisters had to live in great poverty and poor health.
It is in these compelling circumstances that when the well-built and energetic Peter got an offer to join the army he accepted it although reluctantly. He was talented and rose quickly in the ranks. With increasing income he settled his family well in their ancestral place and cleared all debts.
Although with his efficiency he won the praise of his superiors and with his kind words the affection of his juniors, Peter’s heart was not in the army. On the contrary the growing injustice and even cruelty against CC Area and its people first distressed him and then made him very angry as well. In this situation the work of Anita and her colleagues appeared like a ray of hope to him. Fortunately there were several soldiers of lower ranks in his unit who were from CC Area and he tried to keep himself well-informed on the social movement gathering force in CC Area. The forest meeting was not far from his gate and he could keep track of the activities.
Thousands of villagers had assembled in the forest. Representatives from various villages, slums and settlements had taken their seats in a highly disciplined way.
Janet started the proceedings—Sisters and brothers, a warm welcome to this very important meeting where you have come from various villages and settlements of CC 17 as their representatives. The foremost question before us today is whether we together choose the path of struggle and opposition against this system of injustice and oppression, or whether we agree to by and large stay with this system, raising only a few small demands here and there when something special happens. Everyone knows and understands that once we adopt the path of struggle and opposition then repression will be unleashed against us: this is well known to all. Now the big question is despite knowing this well, how many villages and other settlements are still willing to join the path of struggle and opposition and form broad unity for this.
By turn one lead representative from each settlement will be called to speak here. While the lead representative speaks all other representatives from the same settlement will stand up to either support or reject what the main representative says. Each representative is given only two to five minutes to express her or his viewpoint, so that lead representatives of all settlements and villages get a chance to speak.
Almost all the representatives expressed their strong commitment to join the path of struggle, although some also added that several precautions and safeguards should be adopted to make the struggle less dangerous.
Then Mani rose to speak—the expressed opinion of almost all representatives has been to support the path of struggle. Still, to re-confirm, all those who are in favor of the path of struggle may kindly raise their hand.
The hands of almost all representatives went up.
Mani concluded happily—So the decision in favor of adopting the path of struggle is taken unanimously by this gathering of representatives of all the units of our organization in CC17.
This announcement was followed by a lot of excited cheering and clapping.
Next Julian rose to speak—Now it is the time to discuss our charter of demands. We had asked all representatives to make a written submission after a discussion in their settlement. We have received all these submissions and there is a lot of commonality in the various demands mentioned by our various units. This will be presented now by Anita and in any case I know that by now you are all very eager to listen to her.
Julian departed with a smile and Anita took over.
There was a surge of emotion and expectation among the gathered people who greeted Anita with applause and cheer. They had been sitting with great discipline but now several people got up partly to welcome Anita and partly to get a better view.
Soon order was restored and Anita began her address—
Sisters and Brothers, today the moment for which we had waited for a long time has arrived at last. This moment just came when representatives of almost all settlements and villages of our CC Area took a unanimous decision to together take up the path of struggle and opposition against the present-day system of intolerable discrimination, cruelty and shocking violation of justice, a system based on return of unacceptable colonization of majority of people to meet the luxury requirements of a minority of elites.
— This is a historic moment not just for CC17 but for all the 53 CC Areas of our world who are looking upon our valiant struggle as a source of inspiration. It is truly an act of great courage for almost all our representatives to embark on a path of struggle and opposition while knowing very well the extreme difficulties and repression that await us on this path. We will explore all possibilities and mobilize all sources of support. Despite all our sufferings we still retain faith in humanity and we hope to find help in unexpected places from many kind and justice-loving people.
–It is no small matter that such a gathering has taken place at all in this highly repressive and controlled system. We had deliberately asked to restrict the number of people coming from any one settlement to just a handful, or else many more would have come.
–I have firm faith, all my colleagues have firm faith that the struggle we launch will show a new path to our deeply troubled and threatened world—the path of justice and equality , the path of peace and environment protection, the path of caring for all human beings and forms of life.
The entire gathering broke into thunderous applause and many people rose , shouting slogans with clenched fists flung high above the gathering. It took some time to restore order and then Anita could continue her speech—Yes we need all this courage but in addition we will also need a lot of patience and an ability to continue the struggle in very difficult conditions. This ability will be tested soon , perhaps starting today .
— Our ultimate aim is to end this entire discrimination between TT and CC and create a system based on equality for all, a system of true democracy, in which all work together on the basis of equality to meet the real challenges of protecting environment and establishing worldwide peace. But we realize that we cannot achieve this immediately and so for this first phase of our struggle we have to prepare a more limited charter of demands. As Julian just explained, this is based on the submissions received from all of you.
–Our first demand is that the new phase of displacement that has started with the expansion of TT 17 area and its transport infrastructure should be stopped immediately. Most of us have already suffered a lot from displacement, our life and livelihoods have been most rudely shattered, we cannot take any more of this.
Secondly the working time at farms, factories , mines, quarries and construction sites should be restricted in the summer to protect the life of workers from intolerable heat which has become so common under the impact of climate change and global warming. I have seen many of them fainting in the blistering heat and some of them even die. Further all work-sites should have much better facilities for protection from heat as well as cool rest places.
Thirdly we desperately need much better protection from floods. On the one hand climate change leads often to such heavy and concentrated rain in a few days that we have extremely heavy floods anyway and on the other hand flood water moving towards TT Area is also diverted towards our CC Area. This has devastated a large part of CC Area repeatedly. So we demand much better flood protection measures and a complete ban on any diversion of flood from TT to CC.
Last but certainly not the least, what has been most distressing, insulting and humiliating for our people is that many of our sisters and even children are being routinely trafficked to TT 17 and other areas where they are subjected to the most degrading exploitation. Hence we demand immediate drastic action to end all human trafficking .
As I said earlier, our real objectives are much, much wider but we cannot make all these extensive demands in the very first meeting. Hence we are highlighting mainly these four demands whose justification is so obvious that these can easily get very wide support much beyond CC 17 . In fact hardly any sane person can say that these demands are not justified and it is better to start with such demands which also mean a lot in terms of reducing the distress of our people. Will the representatives who support these demands raise their hands?
Once again almost all hands were raised.
Will anyone like to add something very important which has been left out?
Ashfaq said—Yes, I have a suggestion. The security chief of TT 17 Cyrul Lee is extremely aggressive and he is responsible for destroying the life of many activists of CC 17. So we should demand that he should be removed as Security Chief of TT 17 and replaced by a more reasonable person.
Do we all accept this additional demand?
Once again almost all hands went up in acceptance.
Now I hand over these five demands to Janet to prepare a more formal representation of our demands.
Janet stepped up gracefully to accept the necessary papers from Anita. In fact anticipating the endorsement of these demands by the gathering she had already completed the documentation work to a large extent and now only minor changes were needed to prepare the final charter.
Everyone realized that the meeting is about to end. However before the meeting could be declared to be over, the organizers had the very important responsibility of quickly conveying a secret message to all participants. This could not be announced publicly as this had to be hidden from the secret intelligence persons who had also mingled in the gathering.
This secret message was soon conveyed to all representatives quietly—no one will return to their village or settlement! Everyone will take a zig-zag path for a few minutes to create confusion among the authorities, but then reassemble as quickly as possible at Gate No. 4 of TT 17 which was located quite near to the meeting place!!
As they found out much later, the meeting was organized in this distant forest by their leaders precisely because of its proximity to Gate 4 !!!
To be continued….
Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author whose work has also been recognized in the form of several prestigious awards. He has written extensively on environmental and other increasing threats of future years in books like ‘Planet in Peril’ and ‘Protecting Earth for Children.’ His collection of Hindi short stories is titled Sachai Ki Kasam ( Under Oath for Truth) and collecton of Hindi poems is titled Kathin Daur Mein Ummeed ( Hope in Difficult Times).