People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 09

February 27, 2011


The Rally

G Mamatha


IF you wanted to see real India, you should have been at Jantar Mantar on February 23.  If you wanted to know about its diversity-language, culture, dress, you should have been at Jantar Mantar. More than that, if you wanted to understand the problems faced by the working class, aam aadmi and their anger, you should have been at the Jantar Mantar. One need not go touring the entire country to learn about the lives of our country people, as a ‘yuvaraj’ is doing at times to discover India. They could have as well come to Jantar Mantar and chat with some of the participants of the massive rally organised by the central trade unions. There, at Jantar Mantar, had converged hundreds of thousands of the builders of our country, India, without whose labour nothing would exist – neither you, me nor the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the buildings we live, or the vehicles we use for our travel. Forget about our luxuries!


Women from Manipur, with their distinctive attire and language were seen together with those from Bhavnagar, Gujarat. Power generation employees working in projects on Jhelum marched together with the employees of electricity distribution company in Tamilnadu. Bankers and insurers matched their step with the anganwadi workers. ASHAs and NRHM workers who strive to strengthen your body defence mechanisms were seen together with employees of our country’s defence factories. And there were your fisherfolk, building workers, domestic workers, municipal workers, road transport workers, railway workers, miners, steel workers, quarry workers, rickshaw pullers, postmen, telephone linemen, railway gangmen etc. Mind you, there were even retired pensioners – all of them were bound together by common anger against the government policies that are ruining their lives. Interestingly, this rally also saw the participation of the INTUC, whose president happens to be a member of parliament from the ruling Congress party, together with the other central trade unions. This, in itself, tells us the extent of discontent among our working class and common people.


While we were walking, I noticed two young executives with tie, shoes and all, files in hand frighteningly saying, “Oh, Oh, come on let us rush, Ye log hamare piche hi hai, (these commoners are just behind us). Hearing this, an old pensioner replied, “Don’t be afraid babu, hum aapke piche nahin pade hai, hum sarkar ke piche pade hain.” (We are not behind you, we are against this government) and, “Is mein tho aap se aage bhi hai hum.” (And on this, we are even ahead of you).


In the rally, there were many young and middle aged, who understandably are here for their better future. But there were many elderly people too, who were retired from their service. Why? “Arey, it’s not just for our pensions. We might not live for more than a handful of years, but it is for you”, lovingly they said. Yes, how right they are! And I remembered the story of the old man who was planting mango seedlings, not for him to eat, but for us to reap!

Women with tiny babies including infants in their laps were raising slogans against the government policies. I found tribal women from Odisha, who wore nothing else except a saree wrapped around them. I asked them, “Maa, are you not feeling cold?” They replied, “Beti, of course it is cold, but it is not unbearable. What is unbearable is the daily hunger we face in our homes. It is unbearable when my child asks me, “Maa, can you give me some more ganji (gruel) for me to go to school, and I don’t have any”. “I want my child also to be like that”, she said, pointing to some of the children returning from a school adjacent. “And for that, I am ready to bear this cold, and much more”. She is an ASHA worker from a village in interior Odisha who works for the government, but doesn’t get any wages. Of course, she is not a ‘bonded’ labourer, hasn’t the government abolished bonded labour? She is a ‘voluntary worker’ and free to leave her job, whenever she feels like! Now, do you still think that cold bites her? Think again, it is the government that stings!


A little further, I found a woman from Maharashtra, I could easily make her out due to the distinct way the women there wear their saree. I asked her where she comes from. And noticing that she is carrying a three-year child in her arms and luggage on her head, I sympathetically enquired whether it was not too heavy for her to travel from that far with what all she was carrying. Replying that she was from Mumbai, she scorned at me and said one’s child and clothes are never a burden for oneself. Suddenly, I recalled some scenes I see in Delhi, where some mothers are followed by ‘aayas’ carrying their children and also a fact that I read in some newspapers. It seems, now some fashionable affluent women are taking their ‘aayas’ also along with them to holidays abroad to look after their babies. Thank goodness, but for them, many women would not have got employment and also opportunity to fly and travel abroad!


Coming to the women I was talking to again, when I explained to her that I did not mean to offend her and was concerned about the difficulties that she had to endure for coming to Delhi, she said this was nothing compared to what she does everyday in Mumbai, India’s richest city. It seems, she carries two big buckets of water at a time and walks 2-3 kilometres for her home. Yes, there are no typos, she is from Mumbai and carries water from a distance of 2-3 km everyday to her home and it is not just one trip for her but multiple in numbers. She believes that this government is meant for the rich and is extremely corrupt and sneeringly mentioned the ‘Aadarsh’ scam.


Suddenly at a road intersection, a section of motorists were honking their horns. Hearing them, one of the rallyists shouted, “Abey, do not blow your horn, do you know who made your vehicle, I did!” Yes, they were the workers from the Honda plant in Gurgaon, who created ripples in the National Capital Region with their struggle a few months back. But now they are part of a huge human wave assertively marching for their rights. They were telling about how they had interacted with many other fellow workers who too were facing contractualisation, lack of minimum wages, uneven working hours and arbitrary punishments. Though their banner says they are an independent union, they said they are happy to be part of this massive rally, walking shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of others, sharing and learning from their struggles and experiences.


At this point, an electricity lineman from Tamilnadu who was walking a little behind and overheard the other worker, said, “Oh, what a feeling it was, to see all those big cars stop and give way for us! All the other days when we go to work walking or on cycle, these people nudge us away from the road, as if it is their own lives and time that matter and are important and ours don’t!” Ah, isn’t this what is called class perspective? Read the newspapers of February 24 and you would understand. They are concerned with the traffic jams and the investment banker who threatened not to vote for the parties which had mobilised such a huge number of people and thus prevented her car from free passage!


This brings me again to my colleagues in media. It is not that they were not there to cover the rally. There were hordes of them. And cover, they did, with their own class perspective: talking of the traffic jams, missed appointments, students unable to reach their colleges, etc, etc. They published interviews of the executives caught in the traffic jams and their hardships but never bothered to interview the workers who had come from afar, why did they come and what difficulties did they face in their travel.


Media houses sent teams to cover the Egyptian and Libyan people’s protest against their ruling classes. Very good! They covered those protests. They were also about better conditions for working people, against rising food prices, growing income inequalities and of course, asking their dictatorial rulers to quit. They covered Tahrir square but not Jantar Mantar, the reason is simple. They do not want to project the ire of our country people against our ruling classes. Remember, protests in Egypt did not stop even if Facebook and Twitter services along with the internet were blocked.


I felt happy to see my brother channawallah doing a brisk business. For once, he might have earned his two meals for the day. Ah, by the way, I forgot to add, for a change, it was only “we” who were able to eat from our dear channawallah, while the big car babus couldn’t – their favourite Mc Donalds was closed, so was the Cafe Coffee Day, where it seems ‘many things happen over a cup of coffee’. Interesting, while our many hours of work doesn’t give us enough money even to smell coffee, forget about drinking it, these bada babus can make happen, many things, over a cup of coffee! We can also make many things happen in our lives and that of the country – just by strengthening and continuing our protests. The media might not acknowledge today, but the government will be forced to acknowledge. If it refuses, we too will refuse and this means political wilderness for them.


The message from Jantar Mantar on February 23 is quite simple: Ignore at your own peril.