|Mallika Writes: Just Speaking
May 1st - DNA
They were pouring in. A motley lot, speaking different dialects and representing all our State. It was yesterday afternoon with temperatures soaring. But their own temperatures were even higher, frustration, anger, grief brimming out of them. The occasion was a public hearing, organized by Citizens Resource and Action Initiative to give voice to people suffering in the vibrant state, a voice taken away by the din of publicity and propaganda. No money had been paid to them. No vehicles provided, no free lunch. Just a platform to share their woes, their sense of injustices and of being the left behind.
A representative of the Kutchch Machimar Sangathan spoke of the carrying capacity of the creek in which they fished and how the liseces given to the power plants went way above this capacity endangering everything and everyone. Where they had brought in tonnes of fish a few years ago, today they weighed their catch in kilos. The 8000 families in Bhadreshwar who have depended on fishing for centuries wanted to know, “Is it just they we have to buy drinking water at Rs 12 per litre when the government gives it to industry at R 3 per litre? Whose water is it? Who has first right?”
The disabled, represented on stage by Mangubha, himself sightless, spoke not only of the disdain of the authorities but also of the non implementation in the State of any of the directives of the Supreme Court via-a-vis what their dues were. Not even 10% of all the employable disabled of the State find employment, nor do they get BPL cards or any other facilities.
Opposite the Kotarpur Water Works live over a thousand people in a hundred higgledy piggledy huts. Two hundred feet away from the water works which supplies fresh water to our city, they have not a drop of water. For washing and bathing they go to the filthy river. For drinking and cooking they beg from kind “society” people or the temple. Pay your taxes they were told repeatedly and you will get the water connections. They have paid their taxes but have not been given receipts. “Without the receipts, we have no proof. Whom do we force, to get our receipts? When will the system give us this basic amenity?”
Hundreds of farmers from Dhandhuka were represented by Raghubha. Since 1972 their small holdiongs have been slowly eaten up by the government for industry. The complaints they file are at all levels, the block, the taluka, the district and even Gandhinagar. They get one stock answer, they will be heard when the land court is called. But it never is. “It is not only our land that is being destroyed. It is our very culture” says Raghubha.
A group of widows from Padhar village spoke of the harassment they have been facing at the hands of their woman sarpanch because they demanded amenities in their huts, which they have been occupying for over a decade. When they got no response they filed an RTI – and were immediately threatened by the sarpanch with an eviction notice.
Dozens of women spoke of no drinking water, of no BPL cards, of crooks running fair price shops and their allegiance to the local elected leaders, of the nexus of these leaders with those higher up who demanded that they bring in busloads of people for public jaunts. Other women spoke of the nuicance of husbands running spurious liquor sills and police and sarpanch complicity which lead to no arrests or punishments when girls were raped or molested by drunks.
The lovely and vibrant Jasuben from MAriya in Kutch sang a song of lament about living in a place without the shade of a tree or a well to ease your thirst and wanted to know why politicians who came in air conditioned Indicas to take them to vote never came in the same cars to give them their BPL cards or what was their due.
Again and again voices raised in desperation, in anguish, in hope. Something must change, something must be made to change. Surely, this common sharing and understanding must be the first step towards that new tomorrow?