Monday, August 28, 2017

Book Review - The Adivasi Will Not Dance

Photo credit HERE
Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar ‘s book  The Adivasi Will Not Dance, is a collection of articles that make a compelling story of the lives of the Santhals in Jharkhand. It deals with exploitation of the tribe, without getting political and boring in its content.

The book reads like a continuous engagement with different families. Carefully woven into the fabric of these stories are the tales of exploitation by men in power, whether they belong to other so called upper caste, politicians, business tycoons, who will do anything to reap in profits, even if it means displacing the original inhabitants of that place, stealing from them their right to livelihood and not taking responsibility for the displacement or the loss of livelihood. In a way, it is a common story arising out of many parts of India, but with a difference - the story finally leaves the reader with a lot to think about – why must we invade the lives of people in the name of development? Whose development is it anyway? Do we really need to access people’s lives and livelihood, and rob them of all human dignity to satisfy our greed? Do we need to then, put labels on them, for acting in ways that we find objectionable?

When we take away from people or a tribe their right to self respect, we have no right then to pronounce judgment on what they wish to do to make ends meet and to survive.

"Come November, Santhal men, women and children walk down from their villages in the hills and the far-flung corners of the Santhal Pargana to the railway station in the district headquarters. These Santhals—villages, entire clans—make up long, snaking processions as they abandon their lands and farms to take the train to Namal, the Bardhaman district of West Bengal and the paddy fields there. In the month that these Santhal families will spend in Bardhaman, they will plant rice and other crops in farms owned by the zamindars of Bardhaman."

The picturesque description above is like a poem in prose, flowing through the pen of an author whose veins pulsate with Santhal blood, music, dance and condition. The highly academic, but shy of saying so, professional medical doctor and avid reader and writer, Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, writes with passion on a subject close to his heart. He has seen the injustice and is disturbed by it. He must speak it out and write about it.

Sexually violated at most times, the Santhal women have learnt to fend for themselves too. They know what to get out of men in power. Recently, the Jharkhand Government burnt an effigy of the author and threatened to burn and ban the book, on grounds that it contained content that were unacceptable for Santhal women. They did not speak of their own hand in the conspiracy to keep the Santhal community forever hungry, exploited and sexually used. They did not speak of the way the public and private partnership has caused huge portions of Santhal land to be sold to corporate for coal mining.  But the para below, from the last lines of the book are self evident.

"‘Johar, Rashtrapati-babu. We are very proud and happy that you have come to our Santhal Pargana and we are also very proud that we have been asked to sing and dance before you and welcome you to our place. We will sing and dance before you but tell us, do we have a reason to sing and dance? Do we have a reason to be happy? You will now start building the power plant, but this plant will be the end of us all, the end of all the Adivasi. These men sitting beside you have told you that this power plant will change our fortunes, but these same men have forced us out of our homes and villages. We have nowhere to go, nowhere to grow our crops. How can this power plant be good for us? And how can we Adivasis dance and be happy? Unless we are given back our homes and land, we will not sing and dance. We Adivasis will not dance. The Adivasi will not—’"  

The last words could not be finished, because, when you stand against the men in power, your voice is shot down.

How long, will it take for man to realize, that finally you can’t eat money to ease your greed and the hungry Santhal community cannot live on your power over their bodies, their livelihood and their dignity?

The Adivasi Will Not Dance, is available in English, Hindi, Marathi, where it has been serialized and inTamil in print and eBook format.

Click HERE to Buy

You can read more of Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s writings HERE

Saturday, August 26, 2017

It's Raining Cash for Assam Floods

Photo credit HERE
On 12th August, 2017, the present Chief Minister of Assam, Sri Sarbananda Sonowal, had flown to Delhi to ask for fresh funds to save people, in a fresh burst of floods in Assam. Just prior to that, he had received close to Rs 1000 crores out of Rs 2350 crores allocated by Sri Narendra Modi for flood relief to Assam. (click to read here) The Prime Minister was unable to meet him but a high profile committee did. My question is, so, the question is, where has the 1000 Crore gone? Instead of being at the flood affected areas, why is the CM in Delhi instead?

In 1976, returning with my mother from Kolkata to Guwahati, the Kamrup Express was halted in New Bongaigaon, for change from broad to meter gauge, since there were no broad gauge to Guwahati directly. It was August. The rains had been beating down incessantly for weeks. The Borak river had swelled up to the size of a sea, with red water flowing tinted by the red soil. A large steamer, was ferrying the marooned people from one side of the back to the other side. There was no horizon at sight from whichever side of the bank you were.

My mother was as thin as a reed and weak from being a juvenile diabetic. I had to take her on slippery red mud to the ferry launch, holding her tightly so she did not fall over from being pushed by stranded, helpless masses of people eager to go on to the launch. At that time, the handle of the suitcase I was carrying, broke from being drenched by rain. We were all wet and dripping with rain water, but there was no stopping. We had to go on. The army had been deployed and they managed the crowd with their baton. There was no saying when one would land on anyone.

I pulled the suitcase under my arm and grabbed my mother closer. I yelled at people to keep calm and not push my mother. It was the worst hell I had gone through in my life - we were face to face with death, literally, until we reached the ferry launch. I pushed my mother against the railing and covered her with my body. The crowd beat on my back, but I did not let them hurt my mother. The launch started with not an inch of space between us. I was never, in my life, even love-locked to tightly.

The fear of water has not left my mind. Panic takes over, whenever I see water rising, although when we reached the other side, it was clear skies and we all took the waiting buses to Guwahati.

41 years have passed since then! The Brahmaputra and its tributaries continues to rise above danger level, every year the floods come, every year people drown and livestock and man are lost in floods. And every year the floods stop the railways from running smoothly.

41 years and the story is the same! Year upon year, the government allocates money for flood relief in crores! Joint Needs Assessment Report of Assam Floods, 2017 (Click HERE ) is many times better than the cursory on done in 2015 and 2016 too. Joint Needs Assessment Report of Assam Floods, 2015 (  Click HERE for the Report on 2016. Action complete. Report presented.

What then is the action, beyond report writing? Oxfam International have come to help at ground zero, when ministers are flying hither thither for yet more funds to save people from the floods!

Click HERE to see Oxfam in Assam.

Please to note, gateway to Assam, GUWAHATI has been marked out to be one among "100 Smart Cities Mission" by our Prime Minister, Sri Narendra Modi's  to be completed by 2022.

Read the latest News HERE