Jindabad! Thats how people associated with MKSS (Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangatan) greet each other when they meet! So Jindabad! Thanks to couple of MKSS veterans in the SmartVote team, I went to the May Day Mela held in Bhim, Rajasthan (travelogue).
Now, I'm a Conservative visting one of the current dens of Indian Socialism! MKSS has been the biggest incluence in UPA govts popular socialist iniatives RTI (Right to Information Act) and NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarntee Scheme). So I decided to be a keen observer/listener on this trip. Here's what I heard from some interesting people.
I was only hoping to say Namaste to her, if I ever get a chance. But I ended up being a guest at her residence for two days! First in Devdungri and then in Tilonia! Within 2 minutes, we (with one other person) were arguing about the origin of Dravidian languages and sankritization of Tamil! Infact, I didn't ask anything about her work at all in two days. But I found her to be fiesty. We spoke in Tamil and she inquired how fluent my Hindi was. The week later, this had a disastrous consequence for my office colleagues since I took to my text book Hindi with gusto!
Mr. Charming! If organizations have such cool minds, they are bound to be successful. I sat thru a late night conversation where Nikhil spoke at length about what MKSS has achieved in the last 20 years and where they have not been perhaps successful. The next morning, I invited myself to a meeting Nikhil and few other activists were having wth a group of villagers from Dholpur. Let it be recorded that it was my first Hindi speech to an audience as big as 12 people! As someone said, Eternal Vigilence is the Price of Liberty. I see such vigilence being put into practice atleast with respect to Narega (thats how NREGA is pronounced) in some 4 districts of Rajasthan.
I didn't get a chance to speak to him. But heard him crack folksy jokes and keeping the volunteers engaged.
One of the core members of MKSS, he went with Aruna to collect the Ramon Magsaysay award. Heard from him, the events leading upto the formation of MKSS. These stories have become some sort of a legend now. In a nutshell, villagers provoked by Aruna/Nikhil/Shankar rebelled against a local feudal lord, then faught with authorities for higher minimum wage (asked for ~23 bucks then, its 100 now), asked authoritizes to itemize and declare spending in their villages (sowing seeds for RTI act of 2005), ensured that job schemes meant for famine relief did actually get created (later influcened NREGA) and are now busy forming village level NREGA Employees Unions. Incidentally the burning issue these days is more more pay (150 bucks). History repeats 20 years later!
Sarpanch Pathi of Vijayapura Village:
He is a MKSS supporter, who later became the Sarpanch of Vijayapura Village. His wife is the Sarpanch now. This proxy candidacy created much anxiety. But Vijayapura is touted as a model village. They have written all spending under NREGA on public walls! I enquired among other things, what he/his wife are doing to properly run the PDS (ration) shops in their village.
Ram Charan Singh:
A veteran RTI pioneer. He visited a government office 73 times to get some information about his village panchayat, which the Sarpanch was unwilling to share. This one man satyagraha resulted in Ram Charan Singh being sued by a vindictive government and the cases are still pending!
She is a member of the National Commission for Child Welfare. Don't know if I got her office name correctly, but she influences education policy at the national level. Heard from her about the 'Right to Education' which both as a fundamental right and as a welfare scheme has come into effect since April 1, 2010.
Unnamed MKSS activist:
Sorry I forgot his name, but he helps spread MKSS message in villages. He is from a tribal community and his anecdotes were awesome. In his community, the bridegroom is supposed to spend few months in the bride's home. The elders will observe his behavior and only if found good, will they give the bride in marriage! So this MKSS activist got married in this fashion.
For the wedding, he had arranged for a horse ride to the marriage hall. Now a tribal man riding a horse was too much for the upper castes (or even for Caste Hindus) since he is a tribal man! There was lot of commotion and he eventually did not take the ride. But in a somewhat sad twist, he refused to go live in the brides home permanently as is required in their system. This resulted in the annuling of their marriage. But the story doesn't end there.
Our man got arranged to be married again after some years. This time he had his way and how! He went to the marriage hall sitting atop an elephant! But but this time, he had gained a lot of clout and the village conditions had changed. So the upper castes couldn't do anything abt the elephant ride. Incidently he some kind of a known 'stones for rings' expert who counts several politicians including former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Babulal Gaur among his clientale. (husssssh ... he admitted that all his ring stones have no effect whatsoever on future events except perhaps on the personal confidence of the wearer!)
Talking of marriages, in a conversation, I mentioned that marriages are one of the greatest causes of financial ruin in this country. I was merely paraphrasing Swaminathan Aiyar here. So we inquired about the cost of marriage in a typical Rajasthani village family. A Sarpanch puttar (a Sarpanch's son!) first explained that in Rajasthan (atleast in that part) there is no dowry but instead the groom has to pay a bride price. But the girls family also bears some costs. He estimated the cost of the latest wedding he had attended to be about 80,000 rupees from both the families.
He mentioned another wedding where the father clubbed the weddings of all four of his daughters to reduce costs! Thats by 'delaying' the elder daughter's wedding to 23 years so that the youngest turned 18!