May 1st,2012 : It’s an amazing feeling when a rather meek Zindabad spoken by you on the Dice addressing some thousands of workers is met with a fierce and firm one by the crowd !
Such was the enthusiasm of our Mazdoor brothers and sisters who gathered for the first ever Mazdoor Mela in Katihar’s Mansahi block on the event of the labour day,1st May 2012. On my quest for some more peep into Indian rurality after the last year’s audit in Araria, the Mazdoor mela seemed like the perfect opportunity to enhance my perception !
JJSS has been organizing the Mazdoor mela or Labour day fair in Araria for the past couple of years and both have been huge successes. But this year, on the demand of our Sathis from Katihar it was decided to celebrate it in Katihar. It was a big risk considering the logistics challenges and lesser awareness in Katihar but at the same time it would be a new experience to mobilize the locales of Katihar in a way one had not imagined !
After a couple of sleepless nights spent in setting up the stage and sweaty acrid days spent in negotiations over the food, the logistics, follows ups on cleaning of the huge ground, we arrived at the D day. Pangs of anticipation had gripped us as the final touches were still left but the presence of our very capable sathis Ranjit Ji, Shibu Ji, Jiten Ji and Arvind Ji assured us that the end will be perfect . By 9 am more sathis Ashish Ji, Kamayani Ji, some student volunteers and people from Araria had arrived, which gave a new vigor to the team !
We had managed to make the crowd sufficiently curios the previous day during the stage set up activities at the Mansahi Hatiya ( local market held weekly ) and miking around various Panchayats, so it wasn’t a surprise when people started flowing in at as early as 10 30 am, and padyatras before. We started at 11 am with the captivating words of Ashish Ji on the significance of Labour Day around the world and the exploitation of the laborers still very prevalent in these areas of the country. Ashish Ji also called for the Mazdoor brothers and sisters to become one. speak up as one and demand for their rights as one ! The crowd became overwhelmed with slogans like “Duniya Ke Mazdoor Ek Hon “ and ” Har Haath Ko Kaam Do, Kaam Ka Poora Daam Do”
The day progressed with Kamayani Ji taking over the stage and letting the crowd know about the structure of the programme. She also discussed how NREGA was marred by corruption and the experiences from Araria as well. Her words provoked the crowd to think how Sixth Pay Commission made wages of one principal secretary over 1,00,000 rupees a month, about 3300 rupees a day as against the wage of 144 for unskilled manual labour and what were the reasons for such differences even though physical labour was more challenging and hazardous. Different sections of the society showed up at the Mela in solidarity. These included College Professors Chandana Jha and Pawan Kumar Jha who talked to the masses in length about their problems and gave their insight on various issues related to inequality as well as local MLA Manohar Prasad Singh from Manihari, who tried to convince people that he will be supportive of all the development schemes in the region.
Never before had Mansahi witnessed such gathering of Mazdoor brothers and sisters at such a massive scale ! The willingness to share and discuss problems on such a forum. whether it be a Sathi from JJSS , a student volunteer, an MLA or someone from the audience was too strong. People were willing to share and understand each others’ problems as well as looked for ways to find a solution. Many workers were found getting their queries resolved from our Sathis like ‘ Job card milne par kitna wage milega ( How much wage should we get merely by getting the job card ) ‘, ‘ What is the role of the nominee’,’ Requests that the post office should be able to serve more than 25-30 labourers in day, which it usually does since the number of labourers was more than 250 in the area.
Meanwhile the crowd at the stalls was growing at an untellable rate.! Stalls for labour equipments like Hasua ( Used to cut grass etc. ), Tasla ( Used to mix sand ), Ploughs etc. were put up which made these equipments available at a lower price than the market and also at a distance much nearer than the market. Other stalls were put up for clothes, toys and books. A stall by Pratham showcased innovative learning methods and invited children who were having difficulty understanding any particular subjects to come forward and discuss their queries . Even the administration had put up a health camp to provide primary health care facilities to these villagers. Many people got their check ups done here. The primary focus for each of these stalls was to provide the basic necessities of a labourer at the cheapest and affordable rate.A happy surprise was on being announced that the stalls would close for sometime during a particular programme , the people actually came forward and requested not to close the stalls !
The JJSS sathis presented songs on the problems of corruption, poverty, the struggle for food etc. These revolutionary songs sung by the union members and lead by Shivnarayan Ji and Jiten Ji were written and composed by them in the local dialect ! Slogans like ‘ Jab tak Bhookha Insan Rahega, Dharti Par Toofan rahega’, ‘ Naya Zamana Ayega, Kaun Layega. Hum Layenge’, ‘ Har Haath Ko Kaam Do, Kaam Ka Poora Daam Do’ floated and cut straight through the hearts of those present ! Later there was an interesting play by a the Modern Theatre Group from Begusarai. which came specifically for the Mela. The play captured the problem of distress migration in an interesting way. It depicted how the labourer fled to cities every year in search of better employment opportunities and how, due to this the women folk were left behind taking care of the entire house hold . The crowd seemed to be thrilled by the play and was forced to think if at all such migration was needed and whether the available resources could be utilized in a better way to provide employment opportunities in native areas only.
The mela was an innovative and engaging way to connect with the rural population of these areas of Bihar . Apart from the entertainment, it demanded and received involvement in a completely different way ! The people could be seen discussing their specific problems related to NREGA, Anganwadi and Pension schemes. It spread awareness in an indescribable manner. The curios gazes and look of acknowledgment was worth all the efforts that JJSS had put in for arranging an event of this proportion !
The most beautiful sight was when on our way back from the Mansahi Hatiya to the Katihar railway station every second person, whether on a two wheeler, or rickshaw or foot, could be seen carrying a Tasla for sure ! It was indicative of the fact that the imprints of the Mela would not just stay as these equipments but also as the awareness that we could bring in these areas which have stayed in the dark for too long !
Sushmita on behalf of Ranjit, Shivnarayan, Kamayani, Arvind, Jiten and Ashish
P.S: For a glimpse of the event, check out the photos on our page