Through The Looking Glass

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A make-shift shade for her children

 

I have been travelling through places I wouldn’t have put on my traveler’s map on a regular day. But circumstances twisted around in a way that yoked these places into my itinerary, memory and consciousness. In the last two months I have travelled through some of the most impoverished villages in India. These were villages in West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand.

Hollywood’s tag lines about the possibility of there being different universes, is true. And it is all contained in this one world of ours. Our problems are certainly not small, and we all deal with them in our own individual capacities. But most of us are fortunate to seek solace in people and fun trips and social-media complaints. We have an established identity and we take that with us when we approach officials to solve governance issues. We have the certainty of a solution and we move towards it with trepidation or confidence; but for the most part we find our resolutions. When government hospitals fail, we turn to private establishments. When private suppliers fail to deliver, we turn to the government with letters and important people with important names and money. When all fails we bank on the city’s thriving industry of enterprising wheelers and dealers.

But, there are people, our fellow citizens in villages who live a life of drudgery, without any escape in sight. Our worlds are completely different. A few hundred miles away from our smooth or potholed roads and shining cities with infrequent electricity supply regardless, lie vast stretches of villages where people are struggling with absolute apathy. They are our invisible lot. The disinherited, the ones whose voice we blank out and whom we do not see. They are projected in numbers as our economy’s inconvenience. But they are chugging along, stitching ways to make do without proper water supply, sanitation, electricity, or even a 12-month long food sufficiency cycle.

I have done village surveys before, this experience though was totally unexpected. I was expecting it to be grimy and dusty and I was expecting myself to get wide eyed and tired, but when the helplessness, enterprise, and matter-of-factly resilience actually hits you in the face, when you can give it a face, many faces in fact, and a voice and when you anchor it with stories you hear and have been part of, it is a totally different thing. It’s a different world, moving along on a different logic and a different paradigm all together. I met all kinds of villages and people, some close to the town, some were tribal hamlets about 40 kilometres into jungles. Each village was at a different social stage in how aware they were about their citizenship-rights and access to resources. And while no one conclusion can be drawn for the sake of simplicity and for the mind to grasp linear realities, I had to conclude that these are people with no one’s blessings.

The belt I travelled through is also the insurgent belt of India- the Naxal region. A few years ago India’s home ministry claimed Naxals to be the greatest internal threat to the security of the nation, but when you actually go there and see them as a collective, you wonder whether they are regular people demanding a right to life while the government with its apathy is actually the insurgent.

– Sharmila

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