The young rebels of Jhumra hills

Babita Mahto, who has been with this Local Guerrilla Squad of CPI (Maoist) a year, said that joining the party gave her a sense of purpose and immortality.

“So many women in the Mahto community kill themselves due to the stress from dowry, tilak [social ceremonies]. If I die at home, my parents will mourn for some months; we had a daughter who died, they will say. But here, there are so many of us who will remember — there was such and such didi [older sister], our comrade; she died for the people.”

An article based on this and other interviews with Maoist rebels in this area appeared in The Hindu.

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Lunch break atop bauxite hill

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Day four: At Saket labour court

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On Thursday, by 11 am, Mannu was at Pushp Bhawan gate. It was the second conciliation hearing of his case.
He climbed a floor up the staircase, and joined the queue in front of the Assistant Labour Commissioner office. More people came up slowly, cutting through the queue to trace where their names and turns figured on the cause list.
Mannu’s case against Ikai, a textile designer store where he had worked for four years, was eighth that day in a list of 51. Fashion, media studies, hotels, several other establishments were on the lists.
It was getting crowded but the queues also moved up quickly. One by one the names were called out. Very quickly each person came out. In each case, the employers had not turned up. The worker who was had complained was assigned by the conciliation office to come at a date a month from that day.
After another at least 45 days passed this way in dates, the labour conciliation office would consider sending the case ahead to a labour court in Dwarka.
“This is faltu, meaningless,” Mannu scoffed and laughed, as he waited. “The employers don’t turn up, and this office exercises no powers to make them even send a representative. The dates go on and on, there is no point to this.”

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A middle-aged trade unionist, was also there. He had come there as office routine. Several of the Okhla industrial case landed at Pushp Bhawan. He consulted a man who had worked in a paints factory and filed a case against the firm for not paying minimum wages. Then he came towards Mannu and enquired into the case status.
The union functionary did not outrightly describe the process as useless, but he too said that nothing ever happened. Did the labour commissioner office not have any powers, or did they choose to not do anything? “They won’t do anything. They won’t do anything till a thousand workers assembled here and they felt the pressure from them,” he continued. “But the workers won’t come I think because they have job insecurities.”
He took the papers Mannu had in his hand and looked at them. The application had been written by the unionist’s boss, the district head, a medical doctor who met both patients and retrenched workers at his evening clinic. He asked a few questions from Mannu, when had he put in the request, was the last hearing last month.
“Namber Aath, Mannnu..!”
Soon, the labour commissioner’s assistant called out. Mannu made his way with ease, he knew the space and the routine so well by now. It moved even more quickly now. The tall labour official who towered over everyone even while he was seated did not look up even once at who had come in. There were three empty chairs in front of him. His assistant, a woman to his right of the desk, looked up. After confirming no one had turned up from the company for reconciliation with the worker, she quickly scribbled a next date, “11 June, next month now,”, she said, passing the paper she had scribbled on to Mannu to sign on and accept the next date.
Mannu was out of there in less than a minute.
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On a bench on the tea stall outside the court complex, Mannu was quieter than he had been when he had gone inside. “This place makes one feel very frustrated. It is like it is designed to break one’s spirit instead of helping it.”
It is better when I go outside the factory gate last three days with a cardboard protest. Here at least 3-4 workers stop by and ask what happened, my former colleagues come and shake hands with me when they see me there.
Here it is isolating. Pointless.”
He laughed at the unionist’s suggestion. “If 1,000 workers gathered, why would they come here or to the union office at all. They would then resolve the issues as they thought fit.”
“But I don’t tell the union about my gatta protest. When I mentioned it, the district head said “Mannu, you are always interested in bujhdil, cowardly, protests. A worker’s fight takes long patience, he told me. I seem to lack that, he said.”

Bijolia begins again every October

Every year, the mines slows down and stops at the onset of monsoon, and then resume after harvest. Right now, the stone pits are still full of green water from the rains.
The work is on pause for everyone to return from home after Diwali. Many young men, a few women whose homes are nearby, who did not leave, sit around tea shops, and in the common spaces waiting. But it feels strange. When they speak, it is as if not like the mood of a break or rest, as they wait for the full mine operation to start in another fifteen days. Over and over, it is a: What, but this. This sucks, this kills but this, if they will just increased our wage but this. Maybe I was missing something, but they seemed to be saying, this work seems to ruin everyone’s lives when it exists, and yet even the last resort is ruined if our work is replaced by machines. In the evening, returning from the conversations at tea shops and squares, it seemed like I had been talking to pools of distressed, tied down to stones, in pain people over and over.
Though in late afternoon sun, slumped by the temple wall, Nand Lal Bhil and Ratan ji Bhil cracked one joke after another about Nand Lal’s impending death. “I almost left the house, then I got stuck in the hedges and came back,” Nand Lal grinned. “But I have a ticket (Silicosis certificate) from the Government. At any point, I may have to leave again..”
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Nand Lal had worked in the mines breaking stones for the same contractor forty years, since he was ten, till he fell too ill to work. He was treated for tuberculosis for five years. A year and a half back, the hospital diagnosed him with silicosis. “I had energy, enthusiasm, health, everything. Then one day life took it all, like grime from skin.”
“This is how disease, death befalls.” he said.
“It strikes you, like lightening.”
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Oldest mountain

Bijolia Khurd khaan. Sandstone quarries in Bhilwara, Rajasthan.
Bijolia in Bhilwara and Dhabi in Boondi have some of the oldest and largest stone quarries on the Aravalli, India’s oldest mountain ranges, now eroded to stubs. Workers who live by the quarries and mines work with their hands, using chisels and hammers to cut stone into slabs, which contractors measure at the end of the work day. They earn Rs 3 for each foot of stone they cut, in eight hours, today, Subhash Mehr, Rajesh Yadav, Keshu Ram Jogi cut 70-80 feet stone at Sukhpura khaan.

What we cannot say about bureaucracy

“..the situations created by violence — particularly structural violence, by which I means pervasive social inequality that are ultimately backed by the threat of physical harm — invariably tend to create the kids of willful blindness we normally associate with bureaucratic procedures. To put it crudely: it is not so much that bureaucratic procedures are inherently stupid, or even that they tend to produce behaviour that they themselves define as stupid — though they do do that — but rather, that they are invariably ways of managing social situations that are already stupid because they are founded on structural violence.

…Comparative analysis suggests there is a direct relation, however, between the level of violence employed in a bureaucratic system, and the level of absurdity it is seen to produce. Keith Breckenridge (2008), for example, has documented at some length the regimes of “power without knowledge,” typical of colonial South Africa, where coercion and paperwork largely substituted for the need for understanding African subjects. The actual installation of apartheid in the 1950s, for example, was heralded by a new pass system that was designed to simplify earlier rules that obliged African workers to carry extensive documentation of labor contracts, substituting a single identity booklet, marked with their “names, locale, fingerprints, tax status, and their officially prescribed ‘rights’ to live and work in the towns and cities” (Breckenridge 2005: 84), and nothing else. Government functionaries appreciated it for streamlining administration, police for relieving them of the responsibility of having to actually talk to African workers. African workers, for their parts, universally referred to the new document as the dompas , or “stupid pass”, for precisely that reason.

Andrew Mathews’ ethnography of the Mexican forestry service in Oaxaca likewise demonstrates that it is precisely the structural inequality of power between government officials and local farmers that allows foresters to remain in a kind of ideological bubble, maintaining simple black-and-white ideas about forest fires (for instance), that allow them to remain pretty much the only people in Oaxaca who don’t understand what effects their regulations actually have.

..Bureaucracies, I’ve suggested, are not themselves forms of stupidity so much as they are ways of organizing that stupidity — of managing relationships that are already characterized by extremely unequal structures of imagination, which exist because of the existence of structural violence. This is why even if a bureaucracy is created for entirely benevolent reasons, it will still produce absurdities.”

—-‘Dead Zones of the Imagination’, David Graeber.

in life as in a strange garment

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

For the Anniversary of My Death, WS Merwin, 1967.

River basins

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manual for drought management.