DROUGHT stories from Rajasthan, the land of droughts and famines, were aplenty during the dharna organised outside the State Secretariat in Jaipur. One such story, by Vijay Dandetha, has found its way from the oral to the written and is particularly poignant.
Unable to get work nearer home, a married couple decided to migrate leaving their two small children behind. There was no food in the house so the mother hung a pot from the ceiling and told the children that she would come in the evening and feed them with what was in the pot.
They left with a heavy heart since they had little hope of seeing their children again. When they returned after many months, about to enter their house, they heard the elder child tell the younger one not to cry, that their mother would soon come and feed them from the pot. The parents entered. The mother brought the pot down. Finding no food in the pot the children finally died. People can survive hunger for a long time, but not loss of hope.* * *
"Let me tell you a story from my village, Lasani," said Birdhibai Pavar. "A few days ago, Dhapu, a blind woman whom I know well, came to my house. Dhapu asked for some rotis for her grandchildren who she said had not eaten for some time. Dhapu has a grown-up son, Kishan, who is unemployed. The children were his, one was five and the other two-and-a-half. If the children were hungry, I was certain Dhapu was too for much longer, for at such times the children are always the first to be fed. But Dhapu did not ask for food for herself. People in our villages do not admit easily that there is no food in the house."* * *
There are different types of tears born out of painful depths, be it sorrow, hurt, humiliation, frustration, helplessness or powerlessness. It was some of these latter emotions which made Nanibai of Barar village (Rajasmand district) cry intermittently as she related her story. "Mai kaisai pragati karu (how do I progress)?" she kept asking. Nanibai had tried all possible means to overcome her problems, but they persisted. "My husband has been bedridden for the last 16 years. I went to the work site and sat until 11 a.m., but was still not employed. The next day I went back at 6 a.m. But again I was turned away. This even though the sarpanch has recommended that I be employed. During the whole period of the drought I was employed for 12 days for which I was paid Rs.297. How long can this last? How do I get medicines for my husband? How do we eat? Mai kaisai pragati karu?'' Nanibai is from a household classified as below poverty line (BPL).
Many similar stories were told. As Shanker Singh, an activist of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, said, the dharna gave further insights into hunger. Not only was it a democratic space where the views of all were heard, it was also a uniquely humane one. Individuals unknown to each other developed deep bonds as they shared the adversities of pavement life. For some, like Ladu Lal Regar of Daulatgadh village in Bhilwara district, the dharna venue became a home he did not have. An orphan, destitute and suffering from epilepsy, shy Ladu seemed to be thriving at the dharna. If the dharna had such an empowering effect on some, it was certainly an action with power.