02 June 2014

At a meeting in Mahan


It is late evening in Uttar tolah (neighbourhood) in Amelia village. The sun begins its descent over the green hills and the lights of the closed Essar plant twinkle faintly in the distance. There is a tangible buzz in the air as mats, dhurries and plastic sheets are laid out on the ground under a mahua tree. It's the location for a meeting to discuss the soon to be held Gram Sabha elections. Children play nearby and curious goats and cows watch as people gather slowly. Old men with lathis, young men and women trickle in slowly.

The on-ground team Priya, Avinash and Vivek, greet familiar faces and knots of people stand together exchanging news and catching up. It's about an hour later that the crowd has swollen enough to occupy all the mats and spread beyond to sit on nearby rocks and on sturdy roots of trees. Jag Narayan, Kripanath, Vijay Singh and Har Dayal, the faces that dot every meeting arrive and Jag Narayan stands up. And it starts.

Slogans rent the air. Jag Narayan pumps his fist into the air shouting 'Awaz do' (shout out) and people answer him in one thunderous voice - 'Hum ek hai' (we are united). Sending tingles down my spine, the slogans do what they're supposed to do brilliantly. It makes one want to jump up and take on the world! They send the energy in the atmosphere rocketing upwards and the meeting is off to a pulsing start. Meeting after meeting, just when you think you have no energy left, the slogans begin and you shout along till your voice goes hoarse. The sense of community, camaraderie and solidarity with the cause is intense. The whiff of revolution is unmistakable.

Simple, rhythmic, expressive and often humorous, the slogans are highly effective in conveying the spirit of the fight for Mahan. The people of Mahan use slogans with great inventive detail.

Expressing demands
Jungle humaare aap ka, nahi kisike baap ka. (The forest is ours, it doesn't belong to someone's father.)

Ladengey jeetengey. (We'll fight, we'll win.)

Sarkaar humse darti hai, police ko aage karti hai, police humse darti hai lathi ko aage karti hai, lathi humse darti hai, jail mein humko bharti hai. (Government is scared of us, puts the police in front, the police is scared of use, uses batons on us, the baton is sacred of us, they put us into jail.)

SP DM sharam karo sharam karo. (Superintentendent of Police and District Magistrate have some shame.)

Human rights issues
Policewaalon ki taanashahi – nahi chalegi nahi chalegi. (Dictatorship of the police will not do.)

Har jor zulum ki takkar mein sangharsh humaara naara hai. (In the face of every atrocity our struggle is our slogan.)

Principles of non-violence
Humla chahe jaisa hoga, haath humaara nahi uthega. (Whatever maybe the attack on us, we will not raise our hands (in violence).)

Priya talks about the initial days in Mahan when a few MSS members shouted slogans. The villagers found the whole situation funny and refused to join in. Today, they craft topical slogans, compose songs for the revolution and greet each other with zindabad.

Kripanath especially, has a well-honed literary sensibility that he has put to good use. He and Ram Lallu Singh Khairwar have written songs that they sing at various meetings. These songs and slogans are used extensively in the movement and communicate the message of the people of Mahan loudly and clearly.

A particular slogan the movement uses - Lok Sabha na Rajya Sabha, sabse upar Gram Sabha (Neither Lok Sabha, nor Rajya Sabha, above them all is the Gram Sabha), became part of the movement when the well-known socialist, the late Sunil Gupta, better known as Sunil bhai visited Mahan and addressed the villages. He led the villagers as they chanted this slogan reiterating their demand for a free, fair and lawful Gram Sabha. Jag Narayan recounts his meeting with the famous activist and the message that he had for the movement. Sunil bhai had said that the difficulties they would face would be immense but because they were on the side of truth, they had nothing to fear.

It is dark as the meeting ends and the village is shrouded in darkness. Slogans pierce the air and everyone is on their feet. As we slowly walk back to the hut where we will spend the night, the anticipation of change that is fast approaching stays with me. As the people of Mahan say - naya zamaana kaun laayega, hum laayenge hum laayenge. Witnessing the determination of the people of Mahan, in the face of continued threats by goons, lawsuits and the imprisonment of family members, filled me with admiration. Their optimism, humour and sense of community remain undiminished.

There is a revolution coming. It will not be like revolutions of the past. It will originate with the individual and with culture, and it will change the political structure only as its final act. It will not require violence to succeed, and it cannot be successfully resisted by violence. ~ Charles A. Reich

Sridevi is a content writer at Greenpeace India.