The Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan (JJSS) grew out of an NREGA survey, our initial yatras (usually pad yatras-foot marches) were ‘kam mango yatras‘. In the usual padyatra we would walk from one village to the next, do a meeting, sing songs, help people apply for work under the NREGA and then ask the villagers to give us food and shelter for the night. Then the sangathan decided to organise a ghumantu mela (mobile fete) on may day (1st may) every year and yatras were designed to ask people to join in large numbers for this mela. These yatras, were not only pad yatras but also auto yatras, as the area to be covered was much larger. The largest pad yatras happened in the winter of 2013 when hundreds of JJSS volunteers along with the administration and other supportive civil society groups covered the entire Katihar district inspiring them to apply for work.
However, in May-June this year there were intense discussions on whether the JJSS would attract people only as an organisation focusing on implementation of government programmes or whether we would find new saathis who would come to be with us for the larger cause of equality and justice, for building a better world. It was this discussion that became the impetus for organising a path breaking ‘chintan shivir‘ and natak karyashala (theatre workshop), from 30th May to 4th june. Thirty active saathis of the JJSS came together in this shivir, and Shiv Bhai facilitated the entire workshop.
i remember on the first day Shiv Bhai initiated a discussion on why each one of us chose to be with the sangathan, give it time and our resources? And we started speaking one after the other, the power it gave us…. the reasons ranged from finding an identity to using personal time meaningfully. Some of this got captured in the JJSS brochure as follows:
“पहले हम गाँव से बाहर नहीं जाते थे, गाँव के बड़े लोगों से बात नहीं कर पाते थे| आज मैं बाहर अपनी बात रखती हूँ और संगठन की संचालन समिति मैं भी हूँ|” – आशा देवी (टोला पैरवा खोडी, पंचायत भोजपुर, प्रखंड अररिया, जिला अररिया)
“पहले मैं किसी के सामने बोल नहीं पाता था, मुखिया और जमींदार लोगों के सामने बोलने की हिम्मत नहीं होती थी, संगठन से जुड़ने के बाद आज मैं अपनी बात रख पाता हूँ और डर नहीं लगता” – हरदेव पासवान (ग्राम अमृता, पंचायत बरैठ, प्रखंड सोनवर्षा जिला सहरसा )
“संगठन में आने के बाद हमने गैर बराबरी के खिलाफ संघर्ष किया और करीब दो सौ परिवार अपनी जमीन पर बस पाए हैं जो दूसरों के कब्जे में थीं” – पृथ्वी चंद ऋषिदेव (पंचायत कोश्कापुर उत्तर, प्रखंड रानीगंज, जिला अररिया)
“मेरे गाँव में डायन कह कर एक महिला को बगल के ही एक पुरुष ने खूब मारा और मरने कि हालत में उसे छोड़ दिया | हम सभी संगठन के साथियों ने रात में ही उसे अस्पताल में भर्ती कर के उंसकी जान बचाई और उस पुरुष के खिलाफ थाना में प्राथिमिकी भी दर्ज कराई” – रीना देवी (पंचायत सिक्कट, प्रखंड बरारी, जिला कटिहार)
“पहले कोइ आवेदन ले कर सरकारी दफ्तर जाता था तो कमरे के बाहर ही खडा रखते थे, डर लगता था, चपरासी अफसर डांटता था तो बेज़ती लगती थी, एक एक बार घर जा कर रोता था, पर अब कोइ अफसर चपरासी डांटता है तो पलट कर धोप्ता हूँ, मैं समझता हूँ कि मैं उनसे कम नहीं हूँ, उनके बराबर हूँ. डी.एम. से भी बात करने में मुझे अब डर नहीं है!” –जीतेंद्र पासवान (कामत टोला, पंचायत चितौरिया, प्रखंड मनसाही, जिला कटिहार)
“हमने 2012 में अपने इलाके में लोगों को संगठित किया और पिछले तीन सालों में सैंकड़ों लोगों को नरेगा का काम मिला| मैं पढ़ा लिखा नहीं हूँ पर संगठन से जुडने के बाद बहुत कुछ कर रहा हूँ इसलिए गाँव के लोगों ने मेरी पत्नी को वार्ड मेंबर भी बनाया चुनाव में हमने अपनी जेब से एक पैसा भी नहीं खर्च किया!” – दीपनारायण पासवान (उफ़रैल चौक, पंचायत आमगाछी, प्रखंड सिकटी, जिला अररिया)
i remember when this session started one after the other everyone was talking, i went into the rasoi (kitchen) for something and an active saathi accosted me saying nothing much was coming of the session that everyone was just speaking. i too felt similarly and assured this saathi that once we break for tea we would naturally move into the next session. But tea happened the sun started going down but the session just continued. Each one spoke, as enthusiastically as when the session had started and that is when i realised that collectively remembering our stories was making each one of us stronger, making each one of us realise how little role getting the NREGA wage had to do with why we were with the sangathan. it made us realise our most important reason for being with the sangathan was that the sangathan had made us stronger, it had made us become more articulate, it had made us capable of raising our voice against injustice, it had given us dignity and a new identity (an identity which brought us respect).
And that set the tone for the theatre workshop, the yatra was not going to attract people to the sangathan for facilitating work under the NREGA, it would focus on our strength – our sangathan! Our coming together in turn would better government systems, make the accountable to us on various issues and programmes including land distribution, PDS, NREGA etal.
The next four days Shiv bhai in his usual unassuming, non-directive style helped us come up with a play of our own, scripted and enacted by us, agricultural-migrant workers, small peasants – just us.
The play has beautiful songs, the songs are ours and the music is ours, it is the song and music of resistance, of rebellion. The play starts with a group of men sitting and playing cards and a couple of women doing household chores, till the local landlord, calls out to one of the women, gitya mai (gita’s mother) asking her to organise a group of workers to remove the weeds from his jute field. All workers who are jobless in this lean agriculture season happily organise and start work in the field. When they ask for water to quench their thirst they are given water from far away, so that their lips won’t touch the upper caste landlords’ utensils. The middle caste harwaha (landlords man who ploughs his fields) and is his ‘servant’ ensures that the purity of the landloard’s utensils is maintained.
At the time of payment the men are paid more than Gitya mai. But when Gitya mai, the woman worker protests, the landlord gets very upset. None of the male workers belonging to the same caste and class as Gitya mai stand by her, instead they all instigate her husband saying that she has become too loose, that she picks up a fight with the powerful landlord. The last straw in the camel’s back is the harwaha who clearly tells the husband “kulanand you better fix your wife, she deserves a good beating for her behaviour”.
The acting ends with a freeze in which kulanand raises his hand against gitya mai… but the play continues as the sutradhar (narrator) comes in asking about the various forms of hierarchies depicted in the play. Each one gets identified by the audience – caste, class and gender. The sutradhar ties this in with the need for change not just in the relationships depicted in this play but the way society works when it comes to religion, lingual minorities etc. In the first yatra the elections were not discussed but given that the present yatra in being done in a time when Bihar elections are coming up it is natural to talk about our role in choosing a good MLA. In remembering the track record of all parties contesting elections.
There is a leaflet at the end of the discussion that is distributed.