Monday, January 24, 2011

“Woh desh main kya hain?”- Siddhartha Mitra

Siddhartha Mitra
23 Dec 2009

“Woh desh main kya hain?”,  Kopa asked me. (What is there in that country?)   
“Wahape bara bara makaan hain, rasta achcha hain, bohut  saare gariya hain,” I responded, “lekin aadmi aadmi se etna aasani se mil nehin sakte, jo yahape mil sakte hain.”(There are big buildings there, the roads are good, and there are many cars, but it is difficult for people to easily interact with each other, as is possible here.)     
We were sitting in a wayside small tea stall in Bairamgarh. There were only twenty or so odd kilometers to our destination of Lingagiri, and we had felt that it would be good to have a break and have lunch. Kopa knew the area well, and the shop keeper served us delicious warm idlis and hot steaming tea soon after we took our seats. The long ride in from Dantewada on Kopa’s motorcycle had left us exhausted, and the food gave us renewed energy and strength.     

“To aap kyon udhar hain?” (So why are you there?)     

Why? And, the hidden question, why I am not here? Why are you here if you stay there?     

“Mera kuch kaam hain, wahape kar raha hoon, lekin haan, is desh ko bohut yaad aata hain”, I said. (I am doing some work there, but yes, I do keep on thinking about this country.) 

“ Aayein, aayein, aap idhar chala aayein”, he said. “Idhar aap ko sab kuch mil jayaga.” (Come, come back to this country. You will get everything here.)     

“Haan, main aunga, kuch saalon mein”, I said. (Yes, I will return in a few years.)     

“Mein bhi giya tha shahar. Raipur giya tha training mein. Lekin bilkul achcha nahin laga. Udhar sab chota ghar hai, kamra bandh rakhne ko hota hain. Aur aadmi bhi sab apna kaam mein rahta hain, dusro ke liye wakt nahin hain”, he said. (I also had been to Raipur. I never liked it there the rooms are small, and one has to keep the rooms all closed up. People are busy in their own lives, and do not have time for others.)     

“Yeh to baat hain”. (Yes, what you say rings of the truth.)     

And if that is Raipur, what about Delhi? Mumbai? London? New York? The closed quarters, the isolation in a city of millions, the desperate rush all the people have to do what it takes to fulfill their own dreams?     

“Mera idhar hi achca lagta hain. Ketna hara hain, khulla aasman aur zameen. Aur humko aadmiyon ka beech mein kaam karne mein achcha lagta hain. Yeh social work karne mein mera dil hain.” (I like it here. The open skies, the green expanse. And I like working with people. My heart is in social work and working with the people.)     

And no wonder the people love you too.     

I saw it in every place I went with him. He was the voice of authority, to whom the villagers listened, yet he was at all times eagerly listening to any of their problems, and encouraging them, sharing a laugh with them. When in Lingagiri, he would be telling an eager and excited crowd of villagers about the upcoming health training programs, the passion and dedication came through in his voice. He genuinely believed that it was through the bettering of the lives of the people that the problems could be solved.     

I never heard him singing, but I had heard that his voice mesmerized people. He could spread his word of joy and happiness, yet convey his message, in the most pleasing tones. The Gondi language is a tonal language, and its sing-song nature makes songs even more appealing.     

And little did he know that in a few months, he would be languishing in the corner of a dark prison cell in Bairamgarh itself, perhaps only a little distance from this shop, mercilessly beaten and bruised, for some trumped up crime that he never committed?     

Does he know why this has happened to him?     

“We are not interested in those stupid crimes you have committed – the thought is all we care about”, O Brien told Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984.     

Does the state at all care who killed Punem Honga? Even if they claim that Kopa did it, which they very well know he did not, like they knew Binayak Sen had absolutely nothing to do with Maoists, does it matter to them?     

You see, Kopa, the problem is not that you might have committed such and such a murder or something as irrelevant as that. The authorities know that very well. Do not worry, some day you will be set free. Even if you are found guilty and asked to serve a long sentence, or perhaps after several years some “evidence” suddenly turns up proving your innocence. You will eventually be set free. Maybe, if they are feeling generous, with a word of apology.     

For you have committed a thought crime. You have dared to hope, more so in your own way.. You have dared to imagine a world in which the people of Bastar live in harmony with their surroundings, as they have every right to. Gantala Baby, Adavi Ramadu’s mother, also dared to hope that she might not have to move again. This is your crime. And Gantala Baby also has committed a crime by hoping - maybe she will have to be punished as well.     

As O’Brien went on the explain Big Brother’s ideology in 1984, “Humanity is the Party. The others are outside – irrelevant.”     

You are irrelevant. Yet, you are unable to see it and are intent on spreading the illusion. Therefore you must be stopped.     

Now, did you really not like Raipur? Why not? Are you sure? Don’t you think that the pattern of development that banishes people like you to the fringes of Indian cities is the correct way society should function? That there will be people who have everything, and some nothing, and that is the pre-destined order? Can’t you see the grand scheme of things? And for heaven’s sake, what is this nonsense that you are singing about green fields and open skies? Cannot you be happy watching the television, even if you have not learned to browse the internet?     

Or will some more blows with the rubber tipped bamboo cane convince you?     

You see, development cannot be stopped. In this world everything has its place, every person or object must be viewed as a resource. If that resource is not economically productive, it will be deemed unnecessary and will have to be eliminated.     

If you do not like going to Raipur, Raipur will come to you. And you will like it. We tried to make model cities by putting people into camps, even opened schools for the children there, but most people did not seem to like it! Perhaps it was because of misguided people like you? Don’t you know that it costs a lot of money, and we owe large amounts to certain mining interests who will not be named – these things do not come for free?     

Yes, there were one or two incidents of people being killed in camps like Matwada and in places like Singaram, but could you not see that those were an inevitable part of the process? We do not think you were able to understand the big picture. And who asked you to open your big mouth and talk about these killings to the whole wide world? What would they understand? Do they know what it is like in the forests of Bastar? Have they ever bothered to come here in all these years?     

No, they have not. Because they do not care. But we do! And we love you Kopa, just as much the people in Bastar do. It is just that you are unable to see it at this time. But we are sure you will understand. It just would take some time. And it would be good for your own future. Think of it. Say when you are older, and stumbling along like a lost soul in a street of some megapolis, you might still look up with a clouded vision to the lights that shine from the rooms in the buildings above, and perhaps ask yourself the same question again - “Kya hain us desh mein?”      

You do not want your life to come to that!     

Look at the tribals who have joined Salwa Judum, if they could believe in the vision, why not you? Ok, we had to pay them a bit. But we were willing to give you a lot more, and even “requested” you after administering ten of the best with the heavy stick; You were not “forced”, as the VishwaRanjan, the DGP of Chhattisgarh was, during his visit to Berkeley, when he signed the petition urging for Dr. Binayak Sen’s release after being offered a pen and a piece of paper by a member of the audience. Yet you hold on your dreams, your aspirations, and the misguided notion that people can live within each other in the midst of nature and have a fulfilling life?     

“When you finally surrender, it must be of your own free will”.     

Dreams die last, but die they must. The civilized world has lost that power to dream in which humans can reside in nature, and along with each other. Yet dream people must. For that, they must recreate those imagined worlds, through the internet and television and other appliances. But in that world, people who have dreamed on their own will be considered threats, something that must be eliminated or sidelined.  And it would be the dream only of a few select people, for there are not enough resources to make these dreams for all.    

Kopa, it will be difficult for you to surrender, but you can try. Only you can set yourself free.     

The dreams of the developed world require metals and other resources. Like the iron ore that comes from Bailadila in Bastar. The ore is washed in the river, as a result of which it flows red through Dantewada. As if the life of the tribals is ebbing away. Operation Green Hunt is meant to destroy everything that is verdant and vibrant, to hunt out what is green and living. It is not meant to capture this person or that; it is meant to break the will of the people and purge their minds of their false dreams and illusions, because of which they seem to stand against development.     

Kopa, even after this, you might never find the answer to the question – “Woh desh mein kya hain?”     

But it is because of you that I can question “development”, and somebody else will do so as well. And maybe, someday many more people will.     

I hope your spirit will always be that light in the dark, which will shine in other people’s mind as it has done in the minds of the people you have lived for.

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