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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Thinking about Baran, December 2010

I got a chance to speak about my experience of reporting on bonded debt among Sahariya tribals in Baran in Rajasthan at May Diwas celebrations organized by Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in Rajsamand district in May 2011. MKSS organizes a mela for May Day every year at Bhim in Rajsamand.

285 from Anumeha Yadav on Vimeo.

Roughly translates to: I had first traveled to Kishanganj and Shahbad blocks in Baran in December 2010 after listening to 16 Sahariya agriculture workers at a MKSS dharna in Jaipur for minimum wages in MNREGA. They said they had been in bonded debt since years, in some instances since two to three generations to rich landlords who were charging interests on small loans at rates between 60 to 70 percent. At the time, Rajasthan government ordered that these 16 families be freed of their bonded debt. Two weeks later, the administration handed each of them Rs 1,000 under a centrally-sponsored bonded labour rehabilitation scheme that has not been revised since 1978. But even this instance was not enough to goad the administration into acknowledging the problem. District officials continued to refer to “hali” system as a traditional agriculture practice in Baran and tried to wash their hands off the responsibility for a district-wide survey saying the agriculture workers had migrated from the neighbouring state Madhya Pradesh.

The extent of feudal exploitation in Baran is still unraveling. Since November 2010, more than 165 families have fled landlords’ farms with their families, in some instances walking over 80 kms over two nights to reach Eklera (the village where the first 16 families started work under MNREGA), to demand their bonded debt of years and decades be waived off and they be given their land occupied by the richer farmers. This summer, 40 Sahariya families in Sunda village in Kishanganj set up a community grain bank with assistance from the NGOs Jagrut Mahila Manch and Sankalp pooling the grain they receive under PDS so they do not have to depend on landlords for monthly wheat rations.
(video by my roommate and friend Hannah Pitt:)