Abki Baar Hamara Adhikar – Voices from the ground

Shivnarayan Yadav is angry. He has channelized this anger to mobilise people to participate in a rally in Delhi on December 2nd, 2014 against the policies of the new Government. Shivnarayan works with a local trade union of unorganized sector workers called Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan (JJSS). Everyday he gets calls from workers about payments due to them for work they have done under MNREGA. He had been in such situations himself several times as a teenaged worker in the local plywood factory and later as a migrant worker but this is not just about him. Hundreds of workers in Araria whom he has unionized have not received wages for work done under MNREGA for more than six months now. Protest at the Raniganj block and at Araria district headquarters and innumerable meetings with the officials did not result in payment to workers whom he addresses as saathis.  Each time he gets to hear the same thing – “There is no fund, we can’t do anything, please wait for the funds to come”.

He also sees that there is lot of money all around.  The walls of the Araria Collector’s office is being raised and fortified, ministers zoom past on four lane highway in posh cars, government employees are getting wages and the local contractor is building a road in the neighboring village. But no money for work done six months back?

Every morning when he tunes to the radio he gets to hear about the MNREGA. “Demand work, it is your right”, “If you don’t get work, you will get unemployment allowance”, “Payment in bank in fifteen days”.  This makes him angrier.

Funds were always an issue but this time it is worse. Protests, Gheraos, letters to the Principal Secretary resulted in payment of wages after delays, but now there is only one response – There is no Money. The worst part is that officials are not lying, it is actually true! He read in the newspaper in bold, “MNREGA work is stalled in the state due to lack of funds – Nitish Mishra, Minister, Rural Development, Govt of Bihar”. He has heard people say that the Modi Government is planning to restrict MNREGA to only 200 districts. He can’t make any sense out of it. He has been to different parts of the country as a migrant worker and knows that everywhere in the country people need work. He thinks about what Ranjit Paswan, his coworker, said “this is a plan to kill MNREGA slowly! What better way than to slowly reduce the districts and choke MNREGA without funds”.

Is baar zila se kaam nahin chalega, chaliye dilli sarkar ko batane ki hame kaam chahiye, Anaj Chahiye, Pension Chahiye, Zameen Chahiye, izzat ki zindagichahiye- yah hamara haq hai” (This time we will have to protest before Govt. of India , local protest will not work. Lets all go to tell the govt. that we need ration, pension, land and life with dignity). He tries to be as loud as he can while speaking at the village meetings.  His saathi, Bhrahmanad Rishidev, is very cautious about the mike working well. Sangathan has a hand held battery run mike and speaker. He keeps on tweaking the volume knob to make sure his saathi is being heard. Brahmanand is a dalit worker from Kharhat Panchayat of Raniganj. He is a meth and has worked every year in MNREGA schemes. What he cherishes the most is the Sangathan that workers have been able to build around MNREGA. He starts with the importance of union when he is asked to speak, “This is the first time we have unionised like this”, “and this is because of MNREGA”.  Brahmanand has been with the union since 2010 when JJSS workers came to his village in a pad-yatra. Four years later, it is not just MNREGA they fight for. PDS dealer, land issues, corruption and so many other issues have come up since then. “Aur koi raasta hai kya?” “Ladna to padega hi”, “Dilli jakar unko batana hai ki ham kya chahte hain !”(Is there any other way?We will have to fight. We have to go to Delhi to tell them what we want !), he exhorts the gathering and finishes with the slogan, “Rashan penshan rozgar, lekar rahenge apna adhikar!” (We will fight for our right to ration, pension and work!)

A national level call to come together in Delhi on 2nd Sec, 2014 by several campaigns to defend the hard won entitlements of work, food, land, forest, etc. under the banner of “Abki Baar Hamara Adhikar” has galvanized many such small groups across the country. Several groups have expressed solidarity and more than 150 have joined the platform which seeks coming together of people’s movements working on different issues across the country.

For this time, the attack is real. Soon after taking charge, the BJP government announced its plan to amend labour laws, MNREGA, Land acquisition Act, Forest Rights Act, and issued directive to extend deadline for implementation of National Food Security Act (NFSA). Some of these acts like MNREGA were passed with full support of BJP MPs during the UPA government. It is clear that changes have been planned to please the corporate world without paying any attention to the demands of the “other” India. The call to resist these changes echoed with several social movements that had worked very hard towards enactment of these progressive laws. It has united them to fight for the basic rights of the marginalised and to press before the country the vision of development they have nurtured through decades of work with people.

People of Narmada BachaoAndolan who have been fighting for 30 years to save their land are frustrated by the proposed changes to new Land Acquisition Act. Government wants to do away with the consent clause of the Act which is so essential to prevent forceful acquisition. Workers of Hamal Panchayat (Maharasthra) and MKSS, Rajasthan who had spearheaded the campaign for social security pensions to all are all worked up because the Government has proposed cut in social sector spending without any debate in the parliament.

“We always knew about the pro corporate agenda of the Government but did not expect them to attack progressive legislations so fast”, “yah corporate kisarkar hai” (This is a Government of the corporate), “it brings good times for corporate class but tough times for working people” are some of the statements being made at the meetings of core organizing groups of the rally -NAPM, Right to Food Campaign, Pension Parishad, Rashtriya RozgarAdhikar Morcha. “AbkiBaar Hamara Adhikar” is the slogan they have coined. They have used the election slogan of the BJP and twisted it for peoples’ rights.

Shivnarayan is also nervous. It’s the peak of the harvesting season. He can do only evening meetings. Throughout the day his sathis work in fields and return only in the evening. It is going to take five days to go to Delhi and come back. This is not the first time he is doing this but not in the numbers he has in mind – no less than 700 saathis from Raniganj and no less than 2500 saathis from Araria.  Then there are funds to raise ! His Sangathanhas decided to raise 3000Rs from each village. Fifty donation boxes are doing the rounds. Funds are crucial to ensure his people get two meals in Delhi. Rest they will manage with dry rations that he is asking everyone to carry. It’s not a smooth sail. Only the other day, in Koshkapur Uttar, a local middleman peeved at the gathering of the workers in the village and beat up Shravan Rishidev, a dalit member of the JJSS in Koshkapur. In another Panchayat the donation box was forcibly destroyed! But who said struggles of the marginalized were going to be easy?!

On 30th evening Shivnarayan is marching up and down the Araria Court Station platform. Two other teams have boarded a day before. He can’t exactly count the number of sathis but the number looks big. Seemanchal Express has a number of unreserved coaches. It specializes in taking the migrant workers to Delhi. Today same workers are going to make their voices heard. There is a lot of trouble boarding the train. Someone gets hurt but nothing can be done now, the coach is packed! Sangathan banners have been tied to the windows, flags have been placed, all set to go !

At 2am of the 2ndDecember, in the wee hours,Shivnarayan’s group reaches AnandVihar terminal in Delhi. He is frantically calling out at sathis to prepare to board the local EMU (train) which will take them to Shivaji Bridge and then they will walk to JantarMantar. A small group is not able to board, Shivnarayan jumps out of running train. “Let’s catch the next one”, he shouts.  Finally at 10 AM they are all there. 36 hours of train travel have been worth the effort. They are all hungry, tired but what comes out aloud from them when they see thousands of us there “Abki Baar! Hamara Adhikar!”.

Written by Ashish Ranjan for the Movement of India (MOI).

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