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[2015 Update] Bihar Jan Sansad and Vidhan Sabha elections in Bihar

13 Dec

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. About 30-35 of us came together with Shiv Bhai (from Rajasthan). In the first session Shiv Bhai posed a simple question “Why do you spend time in and with the sangathan?” For the next 8 hours we were all saying why and it was so refreshing because none of us said that we were with the sangathan because the sangathan could ensure NREGA wages or settle land disputes or rations- most of us were there because the sangathan gave us an identity, it gave a voice that we lacked, the sangathan taught us to be equals with the rest of the society and above all we got respect!

And from there we started the 5 day workshop which marked the beginning of the cycle yatras. In this workshop all of us together with Shiv Bhai’s able facilitation came up with our own play.

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Meeting during cycle yatra

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Cycle Yatris during Raniganj Yatra

The post made at this time can be read in its entirety here.

The manthan followed by the Bihar NAPM conference initiated the discussion of going beyond the issue based approach, and it became our basis of intervention in the Bihar elections where the JJSS took a clear stand against divisive politics, reminding ourselves that no matter who comes to power after elections we would prepare ourselves to struggle for our cause.

The first yatras in July and August, invited people to a common district level Jan Sansad (held in Patepur, Vaishali; Mansahi, Katihar and Araria), where people raised issues of development, land,life with dignity, increasing inequality et all. Thousands came for the Jan sansad and raised very pertinent issues. This was refreshing amidst the very divisive political noise which was not throwing up the concerns of people and was concentrated on issues of identity. Post the Jan Sansads  a people’s manifesto was brought out. We then started another series of smaller village level meetings to disseminate the manifesto and ask our people to question various contestants on what they planned to do on these issues.

A detailed report on the Jan Sansad can be read here.

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Jan Sansad Meeting in Araria

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[2015 Update] May Day 2015

13 Dec

May Day is a very special day for us as we celebrate and honour the various struggles of workers world over. On this day we remember our past struggles and honour the contribution of workers in shaping the world. Every year we celebrate May Day in the form of a travelling festival (Mela). A photo album can be viewed here.

This year May Day was hosted by our Raniganj saathis at Raniganj High School, Raniganj.  Vaishali unit celebrated the May day in Raghopur Narsanda Panchayat.  This year we also held our general body meeting and elections with the May Day celebrations.

May Day saw a huge turnout of about ten thousand people.  We had members from Katihar, Saharsa,Purnea and Araria attending the mela and participating in the elections.

May day as usual had a stall for “Auzar” (tools) which our workers most commonly use like hoe (kudal),  basket, tagari…. . One educational stall was put up by Pratham for children. There was a stall to sell clothes and various small stalls for eateries.

People stayed till late afternoon and enjoyed the play “Ganga ho ya Gangai “ performed by Prerna Kala Manch, Varanasi.

Elections were held later in the day. Ranjit Paswan, a long time committed worker of the JJSS and Join Seceratry was elected as General Secretary . He replaced Kamayani Swami who was the General Secretary for four years (2011-2015). A fifteen member working committee was also elected unanimously by the members.

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The unsung Heroes: Every year during May Day meals of khichri are provided to all interested at a subsidised contribution…. Ranjay and Abhishek as part of the cooking team

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The new Sanchalan Samiti being voted in …

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A large turn out at the May Day 2015

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Visitors engage at the Pratham Stall

 

 

[Update 2015] Strengthening the Sangathan : Building democracy within

13 Dec

In its quest to be democratic and understand the larger picture of the work we do, the sangathan has regular meetings, workshops et al. As part of this commitment the JJSS working committee and executive committee meet on every Ambedkar Jayanti (14th April). This year Rahul Bannerjee of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangathan, visited our sangathan. He connected our local struggles to the exploitative structure of World Bank, IMF and WTO, emphasising the need to engage with the karyapalika (executive), nyaypalika (judiciary) and vidhanpalika (legislature). He also got a commitment from the executive committee that we will have a board at the centre and use it for further trainings. We have kept the commitment so far!

The JJSS elected its new working committee and General Secretary at its General Body Meeting on 1st May, 2015 which was attended by around ten thousand people. Ranjit Paswan was elected the General Secretary. He replaced Kamayani Swami. A new fifteen member working committee was also elected.

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The new General Secretary saathi Ranjit Paswan, addressing the gathering.

[2015 Update] Nasir Bhai’s intervention: Engaging with Media

13 Dec

Nasir Bhai, a  journalist, spent some time with the us and did a one day workshop for karyakartas on ‘interacting and understanding the media’. It was interesting to know the inside story of what a local block level journalist goes through.  At the end of the workshop not only did we get a hang of how to write a press release but also were more empathetic about a journalists’ work. Nasir bhai also spent a day with local journalists trying to give them a picture of development work and how a local group like the JJSS works. It has been a much happier interaction since then because there is more tolerance towards each –other since those days spent with Nasir Bhai in July.

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Nasir Bhai at Media workshop for sangathan karyakarta

[Update 2015] Summer Internship with the JJSS

13 Dec

A Youth team par excellence! And children’s camps

This summer for a whole month 15 young people, studying in class ten or above and who belonged to families of sangathan members, spent time with the sangathan doing buniyadi nirman work. Some young people from the middle class urban milieu also joined us and this is how the summer internship invite shared the idea of the internship. These young people were first trained in some basic children’s activities, and then went as one team to a sangathan village where they did a children’s camp. In this camp the interns played games with children, on the same lines as the children’s camps that had been initiated in 2014.

Back at the Araria JJSS centre the interns discussed their experiences of these camps, of being in different villages, having food in different households and travelling from one village to the next, many times having to do long foot marches.

Then they went back to the villages in smaller groups and when they finally went back to their village they were ready to do a children’s camp alone in their own village. Further at the centre we had discussions, activities and films, which helped the young people talk about issues of equity with regard to caste, class, gender and minorities (religious, sexual, language etc).

When the young people went back they had in practice broken the taboo of eating in Muslim households, even today inter-dining is uncommon amongst hindus and muslims!

The most recent exposure for the intern group was when Manira, from Youth ki awaaz trained the interns to make videos. Two videos that she has edited and are up on the youth ki awaaz site can be viewed here and here.

As an effort to build a larger understanding of the work the sangathan does sangathan karyakartas have been going to Sambhavna, this year Brahmanand and Jiten had a chance to visit Sambhavna for a 15 day course.

JJSS Summer Interns 2015

[Update 2015] The fundamental flaw with Aadhaar!

13 Dec

We have a fundamental critique of Adhaar, like many in the civil society, and it is clearly laid out in the Indian Express article by Prof Jean Dreze.  Further our own experience of corruption in the making of Aadhaar has been shocking.

Several of our members residing in various Panchayats in Araria complained about illegal charging of money by enrolment agencies for Aadhaar. Agencies were charging Rs 25-45 per person, so a family with 5 members ended up paying anything between rupees 125 to 225 for aadhaar enrolment. Those who are not willing to give money were simply refused enrolment and hence people have little option but to succumb to their demands.

Given the situation we raised the issue with the district administration, wrote to DG Enrollment, UIAID and became instrumental in filing 9 FIRs in Araria district along with ceasing and handing over to the police material like computer etc used for this illegal activity.

Despite warnings at all levels precious little was done by the UIADI and enrollment agencies will illegally collected crores of rupees from poor workers of Araria. A commentary on this whole episode was shared with you on our blog.

[2015 Update] The Meat Factory Issue, surging ahead yet not getting into communal divisive politics

13 Dec

A meat factory was setup in Simraha (Forbesganj, Araria) by Al Sameer Exports Pvt. Ltd against the wishes of the local people. There is lot of resentment against the meat factory primarily because it emits foul smell and partly because of cultural and religious reasons. Some political groups took advantage of the situation and gave communal colour to the issue so that it could have a wider impact throughout the district. In fact some political leaders went to the extent of saying that Meat factory would be setup on their dead bodies. Vicious and communal pamphlets were distributed in many areas. JJSS has a presence in that area and it also came up in our discussions. Initially we didn’t get involve in the struggle as its tone was quite communal and divisive.

The Meat factory started operating, people were very angry with the political leaders as they didn’t take the struggle forward. People got the impression that those leaders were “managed” by the factory owner.

In September 2014 just after factory became operational and started emitting foul smell, about one thousand villagers gathered against the factory and also dug up the approach road. Administration immediately took action and promised the locals that a dialogue would follow, till then let the factory run. Several of JJSS members were part of the protest including Ashish, Shivnarayan and Amar. Ashish was asked to address the gathering. He said that JJSS would help the struggle and would bring out all the documents regarding pollution control.

An RTI was filed and after few months we managed to get most of the documents we wanted about factory, management, pollution certificate etc. The documents revealed that the land was purchased privately and the farmers belonged to both the communities. That about 600 buffalos (and not cows) would be slaughtered every day. It also gave us information about pollution norms, water treatment process to be followed etc. We translated the documents in Hindi and distributed several copies of it. The fact that the land was sold by both the communities helped dismiss some misgivings about each other.

Since then JJSS saathis have been instrumental in organising several meetings with the people affected by the factory pollution and were able to dispel the communal feeling to a large extent. Amar, a long time JJSS member started taking the lead and organising became better. A local committee was setup to take the struggle forward (since sep 14 there was no communication with administration). The committee resolved to take the struggle forward by peaceful means and decided to push the gram sabha, to come up with a resolution against the meat factory. It also encouraged local saathis to involve themselves in the case at the SDO court. However around 8th august the factory started emitting foul smell with greater intensity. Two pregnant women had also died recently and people blamed the factory for that. There was lot of anger. On 8th August more than six thousand people gathered and blocked the National Highway and an Express Train was stopped. Meanwhile Police had already arrived but their approach didn’t help, they resorted to firing to disperse the people. The agitation took an ugly and there was some loot and arson in the factory.

JJSS saathis tried to stop the arson but their appeal for peace was not heard in the mob frenzy. The JJSS is now trying to support the few innocent people who have been falsely implicated in the FIRs registered by the local administration. We have also been appeal to the district magistrate, and in these special circumstances and with the Bihar elections intervening the factory is currently closed but no permanent solution to the pollution from the factory has been found.

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Officials meeting the villagers over the meat factory issue.

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