Breaking the Enemy's Arrogance -- Step-by-Step

Robertsganj is the headquarter of Sonebhadra, the district carved out of Mirzapur, is yet to develop any self-reliance. We found during the election campaign that the district Hospital had only one medicine for every disease, be it malaria (very common in the area), diarrhoea or toothache – Paracetamol!

This area of Eastern UP, rich in natural resources, has factories and Projects – Dala, Churk, Chunar, Hindalco, Rihand and others – but local people are yet to find regular employment. Last summer, many in this area died of starvation; severe malnutrition is a steady feature here.

But while water, electricity, public health and education are next to non-existent, one is struck by the fact that virtually every village is connected by a kaccha gravel road. The reason? To help police reach these villages easily in order to nab ‘Naxalites’. These roads were speedily made over three years ago, when the region was declared to be a ‘Naxal-affected’ zone. But the workers who constructed the roads are yet to receive their wages! The roads have however served their purpose. Every poor tribal or landless labourer who raises his or her voice for wages, or resists feudal subjugation is by definition a ‘Naxalite’. This word, for the people, is synonymous with Communist; but for the police, it is defined to mean ‘terrorist’. And the roads have made it easier for the police to terrorise these ‘terrorists’.

When one enters these villages, one sees a couple of large pucca constructions; the rest are all hovels or low mud homes. Our candidate from this constituency, Comrade Ashok Kol, fought the elections with his hand in plaster and a sling, and severe injuries in his leg and ribs. On walking a short distance the leg would bleed, and in the jeep, it would swell up. His injuries were inflicted by the local land mafias when he thwarted a landlord’s son who forced his way into an adivasi home in Aruaon village and tried to rape a minor girl there. Rapes of poor women are a common occurence in the area, and rape is a favoured weapon of the landlords to break the will of agrarian poor who organise to demand proper wages.

In Magardaha village, the only landlord, Bal Mukund Lohia, owns over 3000 acres of land. The rest of the people, landless poor, rely on agrarian labour in his fields as their only source of livelihood. He used to pay them 10 rupees for 10 hours of backbreaking work! When these labourers came in touch with CPI(ML), they organised themselves and held a hartal. To break their strike, Lohia hired labour from outside the village, raising the wages to 25 rupees. But this tactic failed to discourage the movement or break its unity. So he resorted to the time-tested feudal methods. Right in the middle of the elections, a goon of Lohia’s raped a deaf and dumb daughter-in-law from a landless labourer household, who was 8 months pregnant. Labourers retaliated by gheraoing the local thana and forced them to file an FIR. Throughout the elctions, the BJP and SP candidates kept trying to pressure the villagers into withdrawing the case and take Rs.2000 in return. The night we reached this village, we witnessed a meeting of all the villagers, where they decided to continue their struggle and refused to barter their dignity. The next morning, 20 women from this village began a padyatra to campaign for CPI(ML).

That journey on foot with that team of women was a totally new experience for me. Walking in the relentless sun from village to village, with no water except the murky liquid to be found in occasional nalas, those women would sing songs that were born from the womb of movements and carried the mark of a newly emergent culture.

These songs, using traditional forms and tunes, managed to invest them with totally new meaning. The refrain of one song was - "We'll break the enemy's arrogance/Yes, Step by step we shall...", and it rang with their confidence in their assertion and emerging political and social identity, and their readiness for the long struggles ahead. Maaley, the red flag and local leaders' names were woven into the songs with effortless familiarity, as though life would be meaningless without these.

When someone asked – “There are two other parties apart from CPI(ML) who have put up candidates from our caste, why vote for your candidate who is not about to win?”, a young local comrade Vijay gave a truly educative answer. He said, “If the candidates who grab our lands and rape the women win, does that mean that we poor people should vote for them? As for caste, we all know that rich people have no caste. Rich and powerful oppressors have, with the help of money, managed to create some brokers within poor communities, who sell the votes and the dignity of the poor for money. We should beware of them.”

The election here was fought with scant resources, and victory was nowhere near. Yet, the election process itself was part of fierce class struggles that are maturing, and it reflected the unmistakeable signs of awakening class consciousness among the rural poor. q