Sunday, January 21, 2007

Stubborn ignorance

Its taken me more than I had expected to start writing this post. Evrytime I would just open the new post window and stare at it. I knew what I wanted to write, it was inside me, but it wouldn't come out for some reason.

A few months ago, the farmer's suicides in Vidarbha District of Maharashtra got some media footage. As time wore off, the media, as usual and expectedly, forgot about it. My department, as I have always known is the pro-activist sorts. Hence this year, for our study tour we were packed off to Waifad, a village there. In Waifad, we were broken into groups and asked to study and make films on different but significant aspects of the village. I was assigned in the School and Education Group. Our work began the day we arrived. Two days after we had been there and seen some of a lot that we had to see, I suddenly found myself introspecting. Standing on one a roof (which is the only place we got network) I looked around at the sun washing all the farms with its brightness. I saw the school a few minutes away, where we had spent gruelling hours working and getting shocked by what conspires there.

I looked over the small houses, some like shanties and some big, palatial homes with an angna, jhulas, TV and the works. I looked over the small trees, neem, cotton and other trees associated with barren lands. And I thought, " Will this change my life?? Will these experiences, whatever we have seen here, the desoluteness, the helplessness and the lost cause effect my character in anyway?? will it mature me, make me more receptive to human problems and open the doors to the world to me??" It seemed likely then.

The next day, we visited Dorli.

Wardha is one of the main towns of Vidharbha andWaifad, is a thirty minute ride away. Another 20 or so kms away is this village called Dorli.

As soon as one enters the village, there is a banner which wishes a local politician happy birthday and then says below it, Hamara gaon baech do, please!!

Dorli, has been in local news recently because of a very surprising reason. Sick with debts and financial problems faced by the people there, the entire village has put itself up for sale. The village along with all its farms, houses, animals and everything. This was the main destination of our trip. As soon as we get down our Minibus, an Old man comes ambling around, pats the pockets of my professors bomber jacket and says in Marathi, "Give us money"

My professor is a Visual-hungry man. He looks at every scene as a shot of life in a film. He puts his camera on, and speaks to the man. He tries to find out why they are so deperate. The man keeps repeating that he needs money, he asks for a lakh, five hundred or even just hundred rupees.

Somehow, there's no pity or empaathy for these people. I dont think any of us, were sorry for them, or felt like pulling them out of this situation. This lack of understand could not be explained then. But somehow, seeing the old man begging for money, in the foreground of a huge hut, which had a dish antenna sticking out, refused to stir any emotions in us. When we questioned him abt the dish antenna, he said that the man who owns that hut is very rich. Huh?? But I thought that the entire village was so poverty stricken that they wanted to sell their homes out. We asked him if that man too was a part of the entire scheme of selling the village. He said, well I guess the man need not sell but since the entire village is collectively doing it then he cant back out alone can he.

Alright, so the one man, who has enough self-esteem to not beg and has enough sense to make money too has to bend in front of these men. As the Deputy Sarpanch took us through the village, he put up a great show about the poverty surrounding them. The extreme mendicancy they were reduced to. We reached a clearing and took a break. I was busy taking Cutaways with the camera and my prof went and planted himself among a group of villagers. He asked them what their problem was, one of them replied, "we have nothing sir, government gives ur packages which finish immediately, the rates we are given arelow, and the rainfall is unpredictable" So why dont you leave farming?? "we dont want to menial jobs.."why not?? Do you have an option now?? "No we will not do any work, government must give us money"

For a minute before this interlude, me aand my friends had been discussing that giving whatever money we had in our pockets would make no difference to these people. Not only would they beg for more, they would even curse us. Plus giving them money was equivalent to giving them fish to eat, tomorrow if they need more, they wont know how to fish.

And here was my prof, teaching them that if they just came over to Mumbai once, get some kind of a job,. come back to the village in the farming season, and once it finishes resume your job in town. This way you are earning a solid income to feed and clothe your children. But no. These men refused. They did not want to get up on their lazy ass, get out of their cocoon and approach the world outside. If moer money was required, the farmer would suicide. His family would get one lakh from the government out of this wont they??

These people I call farmers, are actually farm labourers. They majorly dont own farms, or if they do they are very small, hence they work on the farms of the other "rich"people in the village. Their yound children visit (please note the use of the word) the school at Waifad apparently to study. The school is a private one, hence the government gives them grants on the basis of their students' performance in standard 10. From first to ninth standard the students are passed through with exams which are just namesake. In standard ten, the exams that are held are university exams, hence the classrooms are locked from outside, and the teachers pass around guide books with marked answers. Those students who are intelligent to passs on their own, do just that, pass, on their own. And the rest, pass with flying artificial colors. The honest students are disillusioned. They get lower marks then the duffers of the class. Once all these students graduate to a junior college in town, the honest ones stick through till twelfth and the artificially colorful ones drop out in the first month itself. Those who dropout, convieneniently forget to mention it at home, and keep visiting the town daily with money to spend on frivolous or negative activities. These dropouts dont learn farming because their parents think they are educating themselves and they are not even literate enough for the lowest of desk jobs anywhere. What we are left with is a generation of misplaced and useless youth. Youth who need money. When out of frustration and need, their fathers commit suicides, these youngsters start evaluating life in terms of money. When my father killed himself, the government gave us a lakh, if my mother will also kill herself after a few months when she is established as the bread winner the government will give us one more lakh. They count death and money on the same fingers. These youths.

No this experience will not enlighten my life ahead. No this desoluteness, helplessness and poverty will not open the door of the world's problems to me. I will just move on, thinking that there are people in this world who have lost their self esteem and their strenght to money. Their are people in this world who are best studied and then forgotten..


Anonymous said...

On a somewhat different tangent -

A few weeks ago I was in Dallas catchin up with old friends. In India, these guys were born and brought up in the hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh. Though they did well to study and are in enviable jobs out here in the US, the stories they narrate are completely unrelatable to me -
The sheer abject poverty and helplessness of the people there. The condition of the farmers. Way in which the casteism is so greatly prevalent even within the so called educated sections of the society (including my friends homes). How the laws are broken and tailored. How the politicians, netas, civil servants, goondas impact the lives of the common man there and how they are dummy kings of the soil.

All said and done, I think, people like me (and I perhaps also speak for you and many others like us) have not seen the real India. We've been priviliged enough to be born and brought in the cosy environs of our homes with our families. The people that we generally interact with with closely wud also be from similar strata of the society. And we form an image of India based on whatever limited we see in and around us. Sadly, it is a very very small portion and the real India is hidden from us (if for good - I don't know).

Its a really interesting topic that you have touched upon here. And I think it brings to light an aspect that I always thought is prevalent. But, never know until we hear such eye witness accounts that aren't too many anyways.

pragni~dreamcatcher~ said...

JImit- like it is obvious.. this is not somehting a lot of people are interested in..but thats fine.. i erally think there's nothing tht can be done..unless these people help themselves, they can not be helped.
And about UP and Bihar ppl, these young men are hardworking.. they come to mumbai, they slog day in and day out.. Anywhere you go to Mumbai, you will see more than a few UPites and Biharis slogging their asses out.. they want to help themselves.. and these Marathi Manoos, refuse to move their btuts at all. They just want the Govt to keep providing Packages..

'nonnymus said...

Striking isnt it? how some people have it all and dont use it? and how some people use everything they have and still end up with almost nothing. but the things is, that a large part of the Indian mentality is like this, they either dont know whts good for them, or r either too rigid or too lazy to grab it. Much as we harp on about our wonderful history and diverse culture, the hard cold fact is tht millions of Indians rot away clueless...
Wonder if there's a concrete way to change all this??

Pragni~fabricating dreamz said...

i dont think so..