People's Democracy

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


No. 11

March 17, 2013


Stories along the Way of Eastern Jatha

Debashish Chakraborty


Train Tickets in Rafiq’s Pocket

Angaar Ghaat, Bihar:

Howrah-Samastipur 150 Rupees, Diamond Harbour-Sealdah 10 Rupees. Mohammed Rafiq showed both the train tickets, taking them out from his pocket.


‘Buri Gandak’ lies alongside. The word ‘buri’ implies aged, yet the river here embodies anything but feminine allure. With spring on her both flanks, she is dazzling with the gleam of the setting sun. We are standing by the makkai (maize) cum tobacco cum wheat field of Rafiq which is 200 meters from the road that reaches Samastipur. Now it’s makkai time. The piece of field is small but land here in this region of Mithila is fertile enough, ‘kafee upzau’. The question is, for one who has a piece of such fertile land, why is he carrying train tickets in his pocket?


Rafiq has just returned with about four thousand rupees, the sum he managed to save from his income of last two and a half months, after lavishing himself just with daily bread and butter. Mohammed Rafiq of Angaar Ghat, Zilla Samastipur, had gone to Diamond Harbor of West Bengal to work as a bed mattress maker. Like every year, this year too, the contractor took him with others to reach Bengal with certain requisitions, destinations may vary from Domjur to Diamond Harbor, but the contract and the job is permanently temporary. Three thousand rupees a month. The amount of dust and split ends of cotton that have entered in his lungs is still not accounted by anyone, just as even Rafiq does not know how many mattresses he had made in these three months. From makkai to mattress, from farmer to contractual labour; these blends, define the lives of Rafiq and his like.


Rafiq is into tobacco too. These tobaccos are of three types. The finest lot would be used in making khaini or chewing tobacco, the second grade would end up being zarda and bidis would be made from the ‘ghatia’ (worst) leaf. The mystery of khaini is not simple. First there would be buds of tobacco, which needs to be opened with mild hands of the ladies or of children, and then a portion has to be dragged out from the tip of the bud. It is yellow, after drying it out, it would be blackish yellow. Then various types of spices, even the red chili powder, all have to be sprayed all over them. The mixture is called the ‘saresa’ khaini, the most fascinating of all khainis. Sold out in bundles, if calculated in quintals, a farmer manages to earn five and a half thousands at its best. When sold in markets of Kolkata, a quintal of the same prices up to 38 thousand rupees. The farmer is clearly not getting enough to suffice his daily means. So Rafiq has no escape from buying those train tickets.


Waves of migrant labour from Bihar are nothing new. Nitish Kumar is claiming that he has been able to reduce these waves. The state labour ministry has claimed in a survey that labour migration from Bihar has decreased almost by 40 per cent. And another account is saying that there are 52 lakhs of Rafiqs and others. Their collective revenue amounts to a robust 7,500 crore rupees per annum, which is 5 per cent of the GDP of Bihar.


Mohammed Hanif asked in a distorted Bengali that if whatever the government is saying was true then, where the ‘Nau jawans’ (youth) of his village are? Why there is so much hue and cry in Mumbai?


Before elastic chords became fashion, the pants of the kids were knotted with ropes. From that time onwards, Hanif used to come to the colony of the new central jute mill situated at Budge Budge, Kolkata. Hanif’s father was a labourer of the jute mill and he used to tie Hanif’s pant with the jute ropes, which is why the account of time is calculated in accordance with the process of tying the pant. His mother used to stay at the Narhan village of Bibhutipur. Later Hanif was a labourer of the same jute mill along with 14,000 other labourers. That defines another time frame, when labourers had to make a mad dash through the mill entrance.


Let us take the example of Bibhutipur itself. There is no resourceful work for a labourer on land; no industries exist in the proximity. So, what is the use of staying in such a village? The available work would be done by the female labourers only; as with them the work would conveniently be done for a daily wage of 35 rupees. A male labourer is not that cheap. So he has to leave his village and his family to search for a nominal livelihood. The son of Mithilesh Devi and Ram Ratan Paswan is working at some anonymous brick field near Delhi. Just as Jiboch Paswan’s husband is sometimes at Karnataka and sometimes at the village. Paswans live in adjacent rooms. The room which is equipped with glossy utensils and has a clean outlook must have its ‘aadmi’ (male) working as a migrant. And the ones with over used utensils or bartans has its male living in the village.


Idris Ansari shared his view: that earlier it was Bengal, and then it was Punjab, Ludhiana, Patiala, Ferozepur. Green revolution had created scope for many labourers. Who else, other than Bihar, that could have provided with such a vast pool? The new way of New India. Now it is Delhi, Noida, Gurgaon, Karnataka and Gujarat. Migration from village to village is outmoded now, the trend is, of being hooked to the trash can of the contractors.


The male population of Narhan were previously in the migrant agri-yards, now they are in ship-yards of Gujarat. Money reaches home from those places now, sometimes through courier and sometimes the postman delivers direct to home charging only five rupees for the service. Everyone has a savings account in the banks. To them, that is safe. The State Bank Bibhutipur branch at Narhan market has most of its accounts related to those migrants.


There is a hard-up tea shop with tea and a fly boiling in the burner. On the other side, the father of one of the migrants is making sweet cakes of various sizes and dimensions with date syrup. Discussions are generally like this: there is sad news of some ‘migrant’ returning home due to some ‘unspecified’ disease; about some who are awaiting a few who have not returned since long. Yet in the courtyard of the school, some gathering would resemble more or less like a mandi or haat of bicycles. That means the money to buy those, has reached home.


Because it is Samastipur, so there is no other way but to discuss on a different note. There would rather remain a gap if it is not discussed. This place had witnessed hard fought land struggles; many of Bibhutipur had given away their lives in the struggle. Those lands are still in the custody of the farmers, but day by day farming is becoming unprofitable. Agricultural workers are not getting enough work. The question has come up: what would be the future manifestations of land struggle? The ‘buzurgs’ (elders) and the fresh carriers of the red flag are seriously thinking these questions.


Darkness gradually spreads out in Angaar Ghat. The village ladies are off for home after completing their day of work: of filtering mustard.


Rafiq says good bye to me, ‘Khuda Hafeez’


Eastern Jatha Enters UP

March 11, 2013

Prakash Karat told media persons in Varanasi on March 11 that CPI(M) will move only with those who would stand for alternative policies in the elections. Otherwise the Party will fight separately. In response to questions on Congress and BJP propping up prime ministerial candidates, Karat said, Congress and BJP taken together, have got less than 50 per cent votes in last two elections. They will not determine everything in the coming elections. He also said CPI(M) was trying to expand its political influence in states other than traditional bases and will work harder in the coming days.


After five days of criss-crossing through the towns and villages of Bihar and addressing thousands of people, Eastern Jatha entered Uttar Pradesh on March 11. The jatha was received in Noubatpur in Chandouli district, by CPI(M) Uttar Pradesh state secretary SP Kashyap and other state leaders.


Chandouli, which was a part of Varanasi district till few years back has a long and courageous history of struggle. In Chakia, in this district, landless agricultural labourers and adivasis seized the land of Maharaja of Kashi, the most powerful feudal royal family in the entire area. The land should have been vested by the government much earlier which was not done. Twenty years back, people revolted under the red flag and seized more than 600 bighas of land in Musha Khan, Barat farm and Shadapur. The fight has its history of blood letting too. Poorest of the poor Musharas, Kols and dalits fought squarely every single attack for last two decades to retain their possession. In Shadapur, in 2005, royal family tried to evict them and forcibly run tractors in the 200 bighas possessed by the peasants. A brave resistance followed in which Ganga Devi and Triloki laid down their lives. However, the peasants still retain possession. In these places the peasants do farming, though the produces are low. No legal documents of possession have been given to them yet. There is a lack of irrigation facilities and no government facilities are available. Apart from farming, their livelihood is dependent on forest produces. But poverty has not cowed them down. With red flags on their shoulder, they are always alert so that the land is not lost.


Chakia has another distinction. Adivasis and workers have seized stone hillocks or Khadans too. These hilly rocks were given to private profiteers by the government for stone crushing. There was a rebellion of sort and workers now directly cut and crush stones in a large area.


These brave peasants and workers came in large numbers in Mughalsarai to attend the public meeting held in connection with the Sangarsh Sandesh Jatha. The meeting in the field of Railway Institute was also attended by agricultural workers in quite a good number.


Prakash Karat, addressing the meeting emphasised once again that though activities for next year’s Lok Sabha elections have already started, this Jatha has nothing to do with elections. Until and unless an alternative based on alternative policies is not formed it will be of no use for the people. CPI(M) is trying to mobilise people on alternative policies.


The next destination of the Jatha will be Varanasi.


Struggle to Realise the Dream of Sahajananda: Prakash Karat


Eastern Jatha in Bhojpur. Ara, March 10

Today is the birth anniversary of Sahajananda Sarswati, the leading figure of peasant movement in the thirties. He contributed to organise peasants in Bihar and in other eastern parts of the country and is widely revered. In Patna, the public meeting in Muktakash, an open air theatre, started with paying tributes to him. His and Hugo Chavez's photo adorned the stage. The gathering observed a minute of silence in memory of Chavez.


Later Prakash Karat said that Sahajanand’s dreams and fight are being carried on by the CPI(M). He spoke about Chavez and how he transformed Venezuela. He said, Chavez had united the Left and progressive forces and advanced towards implementing radical reforms in Venezuela. “Here in India, we also have the responsibility to develop such a unity”.


Karat continued, “We are fighting for alternative policies. We will welcome those parties and forces who would come forward to support these alternatives”.


Though it was a Sunday morning, hundreds listened to the speakers in scorching heat for hours. Among them were middle classes, transport workers and daily workers.


After Patna, in the last lap of Bihar, the Jatha crossed  river Sone to enter Bhojpur. The entire stretch from Ara to Buxar is the land of heroic struggles. That included the victorious resistance in 1857 under the leadership of Kunawar Singh. The rebellious sepoys even occupied British Treasury in Ara town. The defeat of British army for the first time in Indian soil took place in Buxar. In 1942, there was police firing and battle with British administration. After independence too land struggles continued here. The CPI(M) in Bihar was formed in Bhojpur. The people of Bhojpur are said to be brave, as the welcome address in Ara public meeting in Nagari Pracharini Hall mentioned, “peeth na dekhwa ba” (they never show their back).


Prakash Karat, who came for the first time to Ara, explained why the alternative policies and not somehow formed alliances are important today. He said that unity and united actions on these policies might be a possibility and CPI(M) would try to realise that.


In Ara, mainly workers of unorganised sector and employees were present. Intelligentsia of Ara town were also present in good numbers.


City Inside City: Depending On Garbage!


Laheriasarai, March 9:

Darbhanga city is not one! Then, one city reflects the rule of the king and has a fort-like palace or structures symbolising European artistry. The other city Laheriasarai where there exists a government office, market, hospital, bus-stand, series of shops for selling spare parts required for four-stroke bikes – all mundane necessities for regular survival. Also, there is a sad statue of Gandhiji. “You will surely miss the train if you see this statue on the way to station”, says my local friend.


But Laheriasarai has more cities. In front of the TV center power house, 80-85 dalit families reside in the slum of Alpatti. Some of the residents lost everything in the flood of Bagmati and Koshi rivers. The villages of Darbhanga face flood every year. The dead bodies of unidentified people or cattle drift in the flood. People who have land return to their villages for sowing. But dalits do not have any land. So they do not have any reason to go back. They migrated to cities. Some people of the slum in front of the power house, came for sweepers’ jobs which were accepted in the Maithili society. But the majority of the inhabitants of the slum do not remember the reason for their migration. They only know that they migrated.


Series of rooms or huts and all of them are attached to one another. The roofs of those rooms are nothing but the polythene sheets or tarpaulin. The walls are not made of cement and sand but built with anything available to somehow manage a demarcation.


“Do you have any electric connection”? To this, Harikishore Paswan, a 'resident' of the slum, told, that the angry eyes of the municipality officials, police and sometimes even bulldozers constantly stare at them. “In this background, electric connection is just day-dreaming”, he said. Often 'people' shout that these slums are encroachments on the government land or they say that these slum-dwellers are thieves and snatchers. “If there are two thieves among the four hundred people of the slum is it justified to evict”? Asks Harikishore. He offers ‘private tuitions’ even beyond the slum and treats common diseases in the slum.


Fortunately there is a drain in the backside of the slum. Small potholes have been created around the drain with knee-level enclosing – frames made of bamboo-straw. These are the toilets. Just a flash with a mug of water and it will be cleared. And who cares if these are dirty? Even the women have to use these ‘toilets’. The tube-well is situated 300 meters away. That too is not for the slum dwellers and is situated within another locality. The slum-dwellers have to get their drinking water from there. Not a day goes without a quarrel with each other.


Dukhini Devi and Sita Shaw work as sweepers in the ‘big houses’. Saraswati Devi works as a nurse-mother – “poor nurse-mother of the poor slums”, she herself says. But the children of the slum have been admitted to a school. Harikishore laments that only two litres of kerosene per month is so inadequate. The price of kerosene is Rs 50 per litre in the market. “You can manage with less chapattis, but cannot manage anything in dark”, says Harikishore. Nathni Shaw supports Harikishore, who talks to me with folded hands because he was talking to a ‘gentleman’ or a 'bhoddorlok'. Another inhuman practice taught to them as a tradition that needs to be practised in order to survive.


The garbage around the city is their reliance. Betagami Pokhra dalit slum, with almost 250 huts, is much bigger than the power house dalit slum. You can hardly identify the existence of services provided by the municipality there. These slum dwellers are called for cleaning of this huge garbage. “jitni janjal utni kaam, uohi bharsa, ram ram” (regularity of job depends on the volume of garbage), says a boy whose name I’ve forgotten.


They too dwell with the regular threat of eviction. Seven years back a fire suddenly broke out in the power house slum. But they doused its spread. These days, police and anti-socials are regularly coming to the slum. They ill-behave with the ladies and in this instance, obviously forget to keep distance from the dalits. The dwellers think that the frequent visit of anti-socials is an indication of the existence of businessmen behind them. Their eviction will satisfy the business interests. The unending hunger of the market tries to swallow them. Their battle of existence is a daily affair since 2001.


Only one political party supports this battle fought by Harikishore and his like. They are not very well organised in Laheriasarai, but they exist. They come with red flag whenever the bulldozers appear and resolutely stand in front of that.


Is this only the story of Laheriasarai? Or does it resemble Kolkata, Mumbai or any other in India?


In Chakia, East Champaran district, the rally was impressive. CPI(M) has strong support base here due to its sustained struggles, particularly on land issues. Landless agricultural workers attended in large numbers here.
Biman Basu, while addressing emphasised on unity of the toiling masses to broaden the struggle for alternative policies. Prakash Karat, talking on food security, said that while submitting 4 crore signatures on food security, CPI(M) demanded the prime minister that 90 per cent of the people should be given foodgrains for less than Rs 2 a kg through PDS. Enough foodgrains for that have been produced in the country.


Fight for gender justice

March 08


International Women's Day started for the Eastern jatha with a large meeting in Kalyanpur block of Samastipur district. This district has seen 31 martyrs sacrificing their lives in struggles against feudal oppression and for land. The last of these martyrs was a woman.


The meeting at Kalyanpur had a large number of women including a Zilla Parishad member. Jatha leaders Biman Basu, Jogendar Sharma and Subhashini Ali greeted the meeting and said that on International Women’s Day the ever increasing spiral of violence against women must be condemned. Bihar, like other parts of the country is witnessing a huge increase in the incidents of violence against women including rape and abductions. In fact abductions are once again taking place at a rate equivalent to the earlier regime.


The speakers said that the Sangharsh Sandesh was raising issues crucial to the safety and well being of women like the demand for universal provision of 35 kilos of grain at two rupees a kilo and guaranteeing gender justice. The speakers also said that the prevailing patriarchal mindset also must be challenged.


A noteworthy feature of all the meetings addressed in the course of the jatha in West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar has been the huge participation of women. Many of them are workers – MNREGA workers, beedi workers, agricultural workers and project workers like anganwadis, ASHA, mid-day meal workers and contract teachers.


On March 4-5, contract teachers including many women were brutally beaten by the police in Patna where they were demanding job security and government salaries. The jatha leaders have condemned the government brutality and expressed solidarity with the teachers.


On its entry into Darbhanga, the jatha was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd. Again women were conspicuous in their numbers and enthusiasm.