25, Jan 2018 | Ashok Bharti
“Sarkar Bani to Lenge Haq Se, Nahin Bani to Lenge Ladkar” (“If we form the government, then we will rightfully claim our rights. If our government is not formed, then we will fight back to claim our rights”). This has become the slogan of twenty odd women in Rewa district of Madhya Pradesh. These women are part of a Mahila Samman Yatra, which began on January 3 in the district. They were seen chanting slogans and marching towards Bhairambaba temple, which is located at the top of a hillock, about 9 kilometres from Gudh tehsil of Rewa. There is no connectivity to this temple and the nearest accessible pucca road is about 2kms away. The temple is popular among the Dalits and Adivasis in villages scattered around this hillock in Gudh tehsil; and they mostly have to traverse through trenches, strewn tree trunks, boulders to gain access to the temple. Such is the state of infrastructure in this part of the state!
Led by Arti Kol, as this team of twenty women of varying ages approach Bhairambaba temple, they start chanting in unison, “Jan Samman, Jan Samman” (“People’s dignity, People’s dignity) and “Mahilaon Ke Samman Mein, Arti Kol Maidan Mein” (“For the dignity of women, Arti Kol shall fight”). Chhotu Adivasi, a prominent adivasi leader of Rewa and president of state unit of Jan Samman Party is also seen present in the rally. There are about 200 people who have gathered, almost half of them are women.
Arti Kol is only 23 years of age, but extremely articulate. Welcoming the people gathered there for the yatra, she takes up the mic and narrates how society has been divided in two kinds of people – those who consider themselves as “Uncha (superior)” and us “Neech (inferior)”. “Yeh jo unchen log hain, yeh samaj me sammanit hain. Aur hamen, jinhen neech kaha jata hai, vah sare samaj me apmanit hain (“All these superior people are respected. And we, who are called inferiors, are humiliated in the society”), explained Arti. “Jis Din In Apmanit Logon ke Dimag Mein Yeh Baat Aa Gai, Us Din Vah Neechta, Gulami Aur Apman ke Sare Dhanche Ukhad Fenkenge (“The day these humiliated people realise the basis of their humiliation, they will destroy every mechanism of inferiority, slavery and humiliation”), asserted Arti Kol.
But she is not alone in the Mahila Samman Yatra. There is Shanti Gond, another woman leader, leading this yatra. She is 35 and can barely sign her name. Her parents died when she was still a child. She was brought up by her mother’s sister. She was married off to a person with three children from his earlier marriage. Now, she is a mother of five children. She is shy, but her shyness never deterred her to fight those “big” people who used to tyrannize her community. Only last year in March, she mobilized and led a march of about a thousand women to Sidhi Collector’s office to ensure that her community is not uprooted from their homelands at Baghwar village, tehsil Rampur Naikin in District Seedhi.
Seedhi district shares its border with Shahdol. And in Shahdol, there is Savita Baiga, belonging to the prominent Baiga tribe in Madhya Pradesh. She is about 38 and has two children from her marriage and lives in Byohari tehsil. Both Savita and her husband work as labourers. They gather Tendu Leaves, Aonla, Mahua and other forest produce to earn their livelihood. However, these are now becoming scarce. In August 2016, she led a 100 Km march to Shadol District with about a thousand men and women to seek justice with Baigas.
There is another confident young woman, Sunita Saket, a Dalit from Katra Tola, tehsil Mauganj, Rewa. She is married with three children. Like Arti Kol, she is also an eighth pass. Both she and her illiterate husband work as labourers to run their family. She has organized women in about 30 villages of her Mauganj tehsil in Rewa and are now part of this Mahila Samman Abhiyan. They have been travelling from one village to another to ensure that women in large numbers joins to make the first ever Mahila Samman Rally in the state a huge success.
In the yatra, there was also Mahangi Kol, who is 50 years of age. She is the oldest of all women leaders. She is not an orator, but she understands the purpose and has been with the yatra. She, along with other women, have travelled to villages in Sidhi, Satna, Shahdol and Rewa to mobilize women, to make them realise that they cannot get what they aspire for, unless they come out and fight. Last year on 9th February, she moblised more than three thousand women and petitioned for 5 acre land to each landless Dalit-Adivasi family.
Bhawani Sor is another woman who is part of Mahila Samman Abhiyan and she is concentrating on mobilising her community of Sor Adivasis, who primarily live in Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh. She has four children, all working as wage labourers. In Damoh, where she lives, upper castes wanted to remove their hamlets, but she fought and compelled the local administration to ensure that hamlets are not removed.
What is common among these women? All these women leaders have been associated with massive land struggle in Madhya Pradesh, known as “Jai Bheem – 5 Acre.” Launched on 1st January, 2013, Jai Bheem – 5 Acre is a vibrant land movement that Rashtriya Dalit Mahasabha founded by National Confederation of Dalit and Adivasi Organisations (NACDAOR) started to ensure that landless Dalits, Adivasis and poor gets land for their livelihood and dignity.
“Jai Bheem – 5 Acre” is now a war cry among the Dalit, Adivasi and other poor women living in Madhya Pradesh. Since 2013, this movement has become vibrant voice of and seen massive participation of women, which at times outnumbering men. Naturally, the movement has produced a number of women leaders. In 2015, realizing that the Madhya Pradesh Government was turning a deaf ear to their demands, these women blocked the busiest Board Office Crossing in Bhopal for hours, forcing Chief Minister to grant them a meeting. Before going for the meeting with the CM, Rashtriya Dalit Mahasabha had resolved to form a new political party, Jan Samman Party, to fight land issues politically. Though MP Chief Minister declared that the landless and homeless would be given land and house sites by the end of December 2017, not much have been done.
Given the failure of the CM to deliver, the demands of these women have only become more determined. As soon as 31st December passed, Jan Samman Party swung into action and launched Mahila Samman Abhiyan on 3rd January, the birth anniversary of Mata Savitri Bai Phule. Mahila Samman Abhiyan of Jan Samman Party, while consolidating the “Jai Bheem – 5 Acre” movement, has made clear that the new politics would be led by women. And the slogan “Sarkar Bani to Lengen Haq Se, Nahin Bani to Lengen Ladkar” has been the dominant mood of the yatra. After the success of this yatra, the Mahila Samman Rally at Padamdhar Park in Rewa on 10th March 2018 is now eagerly awaited.
(The author leads Million Leaders March and has also founded the Jan Samman Party)
Feature Image: Representational Image
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