26, Mar 2021 | CJP Team
Varanasi is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Its citizens are a hardy lot, they always find a way to come out stronger from any adversity. But one has to ask why should they have to suffer to the point of taking up menial jobs just to survive? CJP team met Rajesh Kumar Sahni, a master’s degree holder who has been forced to become a fish vendor.
“I’m a resident of Varanasi. I got my Diploma in Fisheries from Pantnagar University and also have an MSc in Fisheries, but today I have to sell fish to provide for my family,” says Sahni. He used to work in a supervisory role in the Fisheries Department of the Banaras Hindu University (BHU) before the department was shut down in 2014.
CJP ran a #CJPagainstHunger effort from March-July 2020 to help people during the Covid-19 induced lockdown. Determined to deepen associations with communities like Migrant Workers, Women led Urban Poor Households, and Urban Daily-Wage earners, we launched campaigns like #MigrantDiaries and #LetMigrantsWork. CJP also launched the #CJPfellowships to empower myriad marginalised communities. The Purvanchal Weaving Industry Fact-finding initiative aims to produce a report that will become a powerful analytical and advocacy tool further leading to programmatic grassroot initiatives to battle discrimination and division. Please Donate Now to help CJP reach more such communities across India.
Sahni has written four books and authored many articles and papers on his research in his field. His book on fish culture titled Neeli Kranti (or Blue Revolution) is part of the Agriculture curriculum. “I am planning to release a revised edition in 2021,” says Sahni adding that he is also working on a new book. “It is titled Handbook of Fish Taxonomy in River Ganga Basin,” he says.
Sahni has won many awards for his work in the field of fisheries. “I was awarded the Srijan Puraskar for my writing by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Also, when Uttar Pradesh was under Mayawati, I was awarded the Sarjana Puraskar. I have also received an award from the President of India,” he says, proudly displaying his books and awards at his fish stall.
Speaking about sales he says, “When the lockdown started, I could only sell one kilo of fish a day, but these days I am able to sell ten kilos everyday. This income helps me run my household and feed my family.”
Sahni sets up his stall at about 2 PM every day and shuts shop by 7:30 PM. But the bigger question is, if a highly qualified, award winning professional is forced to sell fish in order to feed his family, what does that say about India’s economy? Isn’t education supposed to pull people out of poverty? Is one epidemic all it takes to demolish this house of cards?
Now imagine the plight of the unlettered. Varanasi’s vibrant weaving industry is run by lakhs of men and women who are skilled in weaving and other allied activities, despite receiving little or no formal school or college education. Many are barely able to sign their own names. But their products such as Banarasi sarees are world famous for their exquisite quality.
But, if a master’s degree holder was forced to sell fish, imagine how an unlettered weaver or artisan fended for his or her family. It wasn’t just the unplanned lockdown, but also policies preceding it, along with institutional apathy that are to blame for the socio-economic mess the region is in today.