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Magazine Editorial

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Category SHODHYATRA-27
Title Curious kids, radical activists, indolent systems 27th Shodhyatra, May 28 to June 3, 2011, Silli to Hundru, Ranchi, Part - II
Abstract When tribal children are so creative and imaginative, why should not we attempt better responsiveness for fast learners? We met many curious kids but also saw lot of examples of indifferent administration. It is very surprising that despite all the claims about paying attention to violence prone regions, we do not find much difference in the character of bureaucracy. The rich biodiversity doesn’t spur any attempt to add value locally and build a value chain around them. After all, does our task end with raising issues? It is likely that NIF will take some of the distinctive practices for fast track validation and share the results of those trials back with the communities soon. We will lose any right to critique the state of affairs locally, unless we create better benchmarks of accountability, let us see….
Details Village elections after 32 years and still no delegation of powers  The next morning, the shodhyatris walked through the forest and along a railway track to reach Jidda village, situated on a small hillock. Krishna Munda, the sarpanch (village headman), was very upset that many of the families below poverty line (BPL) were enumerated as above poverty line (APL). The panchayat elections were held after 32 years in Jharkhand. The local leadership largely comprised youth and women. They had aspirations to deliver but it seemed that the bureaucracy was not yet willing to let them do so. Initially, several village headmen had met informally and decided not to send any forms that did not meet the local judgment of the gram sabha. But when other headmen got coerced, he had no choice but to fall in line. The survey of BPL families, done by the administrative staff before the election, was not reported accurately. This is an issue, which is causing lot of discomfort at many levels in a large number of panchayats. The lack of delegation of 29 different functions to the village panchayat so far was also a bone of contention. Without responsibility, it would be difficult to fix accountability. He was very clear that the forms he had sent were under coercion and did not reflect a just position.   All for a sweet pain in the legs  Most villages had a sarna (sacred grove), bhasna (cremation ground), hargadhi (for various rituals) and jahar (for prayers and animals sacrifice). The ladies shared their rich repertoire of the local vegetables with the shodhyatris. Among the wide variety of vegetable was susni (Marselia minuta L.). Susni was notable for making people slightly sleepy and also introducing what the local ladies said, ‘a kind of sweet pain in the legs’! They also cooked the tender leaves of bamboo and a vegetable called as phutkal (Oxalis corniculata Linn.). In addition, saroti/gundri (Alternanthera sessilis) was also cooked. The raw fruits of dambu were also consumed. Valsa Munda shared a recipe for controlling jaundice and loose motions. The barks of seven trees were soaked in oil for three days and the filtrate was given in the early morning to keep people healthy for rest of the year. These trees were hurra (Terminalia chebula Retz.), baheda (Terminalia bellirica (Gaertn.) Roxb), neem (Azadirachta indica A Juss), mango (Mangifera indica L.), karanj (Pongamia pinnata (L) Pierre), jamun (Syzygium cuminii), dhela (Alangium salvifolium), and chironji (Buchanania lanzan). Tying rakhi to save trees  After Jiddu, we stopped at Hedlabeda and interacted with the local community. Mahadev Mahato from Hazaribag shared his experience of conserving forest and enlivening the environment of school at several meetings. In his school, he had planted a large number of trees and flowering plants to improve the environment for the children. We pleaded with the local communities and school teachers at every stop to plant flowers, make the school environment better and try to put inspiring slogans (as witnessed in abundance during Anantnag shodhyatra in J&K) on the walls. He had persuaded local communities in hundreds of villages in several districts to allocate at least ten percent of the forest for conservation. He would announce a particular date in consultation with the locals when everybody would gather in the designated forest, perform a small pooja and then tie a rakhi (a small red ribbon) to each tree. They would then make a commitment to protect that tree forever. They will meet every year on that date at that place to commemorate the event. The process has become very popular and can go a long way in conserving some parts of forest as sacred forest everywhere. Reflections and creative children  In the night, a meeting of shodhyatris took place where everybody reflected on their learning so far and how their inner yatra was progressing. Next morning, the shodhyatris engaged the students into some creative thinking. Some of the interesting ideas mentioned by children were: (1) Why couldn’t the plastic waste be melted and used for layering on the road (Rajesh Kumar Mahato was not aware that a Professor in Madurai and an entrepreneur in Bangalore had actually established experimentally that mixing ten per cent plastic waste in bitumen could save cost and improve the quality and life of road. He was on the edge) (2) Neha Kumari felt that a machine to cut vegetables was necessary while (3) Soni Kachchap thought about a masala grinding machine (4) Manjay Prajapati and Manoj Rajwar suggested a remote control mechanical plough for the field. These were kids from 9th to 11th class coming from rural areas, mostly tribal with limited exposure. But their imagination knew no constraints. Such a remarkable diversity of ideas convinced everybody of the enormous potential that exists among the kids. One girl made an extremely sensitive point, which touched the heart of every shodhyatri. She mentioned that her father would fight with her mother under the influence of alcohol and thus it became very difficult for her to study. She wanted a common room, to be created in the village, where such children can study and also bring their younger siblings along. This idea could really solve a major problem of dropout and poor performance of tribal kids. Later, the students also shared the recipes they had made of various local plants and a compendium of local plants and their uses. There was enormous interest among children and it is hoped that many more ideas will follow for the IGNITE competition.     From extremism to human right protection During the shodhyatra we met, among others, a former member of the Maoist Coordination Committee (MCC) who had gone from CPI (M) to CPI (ML) to MCC in search for radical answers to the problems of social inequity and continued injustice. He had volunteered to help in shodhyatra. He also shared his knowledge about herbal healing. During the days when they indulged in violent struggles, they needed quick fix solutions for healing wounds and cuts. Tridax procumbens L (Sherfu) leaves apparently healed the cut very fast and stopped bleeding almost instantaneously. He had joined the mainstream without compromising with his commitment to a non-violent but just social order. There is a need to expand such space for more and more activists to lobby on behalf of the poor so that they get their due. We have to accept that in the absence of such activists, the bureaucracy steeped as it is in the history of exploitation, will not let justice be done. Even among the bureaucracy those who do wish justice to be done will find such activists very helpful and supportive of the cause of fair and just public order. There can be no better way of finding peaceful alternatives for the current violent struggle going on in the region.   Curiosity about internet on hills On the way, shodhyatris met women who had to fetch water from about four km away and faced lot of difficulties in managing daily chores. There were also men who played cards on the roadside, as if indifferent to the travails of the women folk. The use of liquor was quite common and opposition to the same among women was also quite evident. This is a reform long overdue. At Singhari, the shodhyatris stayed in a high school on the top of a small hill. The experience here was remarkable in many respects. There was a student, Rahul Kumar Mahato, who had figured out which hill top had the best internet availability. After passing a competition, he was given a password for a website from where he could download questions in different subjects every day.  He would submit the answer through mobile phone and get the response. Such a desire to learn and get feedback is rarely found even in cities. Here is a tribal boy who has created rigorous benchmarks for his learning every day. His sister was equally keen to explore opportunities for learning. When various innovations were shown to the children and others in the village through a cell phone based projector, there were many innovations that students wanted to implement or fabricate in their village.   Etwa Bedia was a social worker and was trying to pursue various activities for community development in this area. He lost his father when he was still very young and had to discontinue his studies. Thereafter, he devoted himself for local development. In 1979, he tried to form an organization and began with prohibition and some other social reform. He has taken up many activities in water conservation. The payment under NREGA has not been made for the last two and a half months. If the stone lining was not done, most of the wells would have sunk in and the walls would have collapsed. The entire labour would go waste. This was one of the most urgent concerns of the community.   Towards the end or a beginning? Next day, the shodhyatris walked through the forest and the fallow fields towards Hundru. On this stretch, many fields were ready for sowing. Farmers in this region appeared to be a little more resourceful. The diversity in the forest was modest. On the way, shodhyatris saw a patch of forest having been conserved by the community with no lopping or chopping. The climb through the forest on the way to Hundru Fall was tough for some of the shodhyatris. At Hundru, shodhyatris interacted with the school children and also met head swami of Ramkrishna Mission along with some senior officials of the government, state head of Mahila Samakhya and a few other local community members. The children were provoked to come out with new ideas though the response remained a bit subdued. All the shodhyatris started reflecting on their journey so far before departing for their homes. Some missed their train and thus got additional opportunity to see Ranchi and its neighbouring region. Some went back to one of the villages we had already visited to wait for the train next day. Some of us met the Chief Secretary along with the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Science and Technology and the Director of the State Council of Science and Technology. The discussions for over two hours were very meaningful and the feedback from the shodhyatra was treated with a lot of attention and respect. Hopefully some change will follow, may be not, time will tell.
Volume No. Honey Bee 22(4) & 23(1) 33-36, 2012