Idle morning thoughts.
Girish did the early tea trick again and so he and I managed to be ready, pack and leave the lovely VNIT campus by 8 am. The clothes I had washed the previous night were still a bit damp, so I wrapped them in the khadi towel I am carrying, and put the lot in plastic bag.
Nagpur is the like second capital of Maharashtra, particularly as the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly holds at least one session there every year. The Chief Minister and all the Ministers shift to Nagpur and are assigned individual bungalows. There is also a mini-secretariat and also the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court. Since I had read in the paper that coincidentally it was the 75th anniversary of the Nagpur bench, we decided to drive past the majestic sandstone building. From outside the compound (since the century would not let us in) the reminded me of the Supreme court of India, that haloed institution which we still turn to protect our constitutional liberties and rule of law.
Even though like all of India’s major institutions, the Supreme Court as well as the High Courts have suffered a decline, there has also been progress. For example, it is possible to get the list of court cases to be heard in front of each bench, straight from the internet (http://causelists.nic.in/nagpur/omon/index.html ). Similarly the text of judgments is also uploaded. Despite this, as we know in the case of MFIN vs the State of AP, the Hon’ble AP High Court has yet to even list the matter a second time after giving a perfunctory interim relief. In the meanwhile MFIs in AP are barely able to function; in spite of being RBI regulated institutions and in spite of registering with the authorities under the new AP MFI Act.
One has to be a real optimist to retain faith in India’s institutions. Yet what is the alternative? Even if tomorrow there is a revolution, the day after, we will need to establish reformed institutions. So one might as well reformed institution and skips the revolution institutions. As I had said in a lecture on access to finance by the poor at the University of East Anglia, UK in 1995, technically a revolution means 360 degrees of turning, which actually brings you back to where you have started from! Thus I prefer semi-revolutions (180 degrees) or even quarter revolutions (90 degrees).
In fact for those of us who have learnt coordinate geometry, a quarter revolution is the best recipe for change since It gives rise to an orthogonal variable. The property of two orthogonal variables, such as x and y is that they are completely independent of each other and it is the myriad combinations of x and y which generate new possibilities. To take this to three dimensions (beyond which my spatially conditioned mind is unable to visualize) X Y and Z, are three orthogonal variables each at 90 degrees to the other and therefore capable of assuming values independent of the other two.
What is the significance of this to my Shodh Yatra? If we will look at economic growth, social equality and environmental sustainability as three orthogonal dimensions this contemporary choice before society is to find ways of organizing itself such that these three variables are mutually well balanced. We spent the 20th centaury in a tug of war between economic growth and social equity, with the latter winning for a while in communist countries, but eventually economic growth prevailing everywhere. But this led to a point where both the United States and the Soviet Union, and later China became major destroyers of environmental sustainability. Now in our quest for economic growth both India and China are leading be blind march against environmental sustainability. Not that we have achieved a balance on social equality either.
Our next stop was the Hitavada newspaper building. My colleague Mahender had been kind enough to send me a news item reminding me that this was the 100th anniversary of this paper, established in 1911 by the great freedom fighter – Gopal Krishna Gokhale. This time there was guard who let us into the premises so that we could look around and take photos. He also told us that there would be an exhibition of 100 years news paper starting Feb 6th which will be inaugurating by President Prathiba Patil. ‘The Hitavada’ (The People’s Newspaper), which was launched as part of the freedom struggle by Gopal Krishna Gokhale in 1911. This is the largest selling leading English daily of Central India. It has editions from Nagpur in Maharashtra, as well as Chattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. In 2011, it will be starting its another edition from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh.
By that time we were hungry for breakfast. As wereached outskirts of Nagpur town, we settle down at a dhaba and order poha with samosa and mava jalebi. This is basically made of milk solids deep fried in sugar syrup! Great for one’s calorific intake early in the morning,. I guess. Girish tells me this is standard item in his breakfast throughout the erstwhile Madhya Bharat province. After breakfast we got out into the rural part of the Nagpur dist towards Kuhi, hoping to cross into Bhandara dist via Amphora. My plan was to avoid going by the NH6 form Nagpur to Bhandara.
Our first stop was Dongargaon with a population of 1800 but with more commercial activity because it was feeding about 10 other nearby villages. Since there were five of us, we decided splitting into two groups with Samir and I going to one side and Girish and Anand and Anooj was other side. We walk for a while and then settle down in front of a cycle repair shop. The second group first went to a cobbler’s shop. His name was Janeswar Kuikar. He did not go to school and has been into shoe repair business for the last ten years. Though he has his own house, without electricity, he has no agriculture land. He comes from a family of four brothers and one sister.
Janeswar is married and has a school going son and daughter. His wife occasionally does wage labor for Rs 50 a day. For himself he claims he earns between Rs 25 – 50 a day. Why so little, we asked? “People are wearing plastic shoes these days and when those break, they simply through them away. Only few older leather shoes and chappals come to me for repair.” He himself has never taken a loan but he says if he got one, he would start stocking shoes and chappal and increase his income by selling them. His wife is a member of the Bachat Gat (SHG) and had saved Rs 100 per month for the last few months.
As they were talking to the cobbler, several people gathered, most of them curious farmers. The conversation turned to them. Girish asked if all was well and they smiled saying no all was not well. So what are their problems? “The cost of inputs – seeds, fertilizer, pesticide, labour keeps going up where as the price of produce fluctuates. Sometimes we have to take loans from moneylenders at 5-6% per month. Other times we have to sell the produce to middlemen at a throw away price and still pay a commission of 1.5%.” There was a long discussion on the cost vs price of soybean. They talked about the fact that there was neither crop insurance nor any way of minimum price support. Thus the farmers are first at the mercy of nature and then the mercy of traders. On top of these are occasional shocks – like disease in the family jaundice, malaria was common.
Girish said “We are told that farmers of Vidhabha, people like you, are facing many problems. We also have read about suicides in the paper. Has there been any incident like that here?” They denied any. They said the nearest they know was two suicides death near Kuhi. So we asked them what the reasons were? Mostly they said it was a sense of hopelessness that anything can be done and then persistent humiliation, though no physical violence by the Shaukars trying to recover their loans . Interestingly over 75% of the 20 odd people group by now said they have bought insurance – mostly the LIC money back policies.
Ambedkar Should Be Happy
Rambhau Ganvir, proprietor of .Gaurav Furniture Maker and Electrician +91 92266 55532 belongs to the scheduled castes for whom Ambedkar fought. He has 6.5 acre agricultural land in nearby Dubna village. Learnt furniture making 33 yrs ago when he was 15, and had just finished 9th. He went to Nagpur, as an apprentice, introduced by a cousin. He studied till 12th by night school , while earning Rs 3 per day. Then in 1981, he went to Haryana with a customer, who promised better wages of Rs 250 pm . That person died soon after. So he went looking for work and joined Hero Cycles as a helper, growing to be an expert bicycle mechanic. Then he came back to Nagpur and joined Cheap Cycle Stores at Rs 475 pm.
Rambahu got married in 1985 and soon after, through another cousin, joined the Maharashtra State Electricity Board as an unskilled worker. But as he picked up the work and passed the exam, he got a wireman license in 1995 and later a Supervisor license in 1998. His salary went up to Rs 2500 pm. He was asked by the private contractor, Agrawal Electricals, Nagpur to join as a licensed supervisor at a salary of Rs 4500pm. Worked for two years and then had an electrical accident, in which he got badly burned. But the company gave no compensation. So he left them and also sold his house in Nagpur and shifted to the village.
He said he had forgotten farming so he took two years to relearn. Then he had cash needs also so he started making furniture. He sells a bed for Rs 6000 and earns net Rs 1500 in five days plus left over material. Legs are turned on wood lathe and beading also on job work. He has two sons, one doing MA, another in 11th class. and a daughter in BA. He would like them to be self employed rather than be wage workers. His daughter is doing dress designing course, with a fee of Rs 20,000 for two years. All three got scholarships without much hassle.
He has three bank accounts (incl one for Gaurav Furnishers) but only for saving. Tried loans under government schemes – Mahatma Phule SC Finance Corportion, but had to go too many times so he gave up. He has not taken any loans He had two life insurance policies from LIC. He says he was “duped” to think it covered medical emergencies. As he got nothing from LIC after his electrical accident, so he surrendered the policy.
Rambhau wanted to stand for the Gram Panchayat elections but as he had no caste certificate, he got his son to stand, since he had a caste certificate based on school records. But he lost the election. Why? Other side distributed liquor to the voters. But he has not given up. He is building his base by getting the women of the bachat gat to do some furniture work with him to increase their incomes.
Balchand Mahadev Chandankhede, owns a bicycle repair shop since the last two months. Before this, he worked as cycle repairer in another local shop but was not paid regularly. So he decided to leave and that shop keeper still owes him a few thousand Rupees. He only does bicycle repair (not motorised two-wheelers) but he does repair punctures for two wheelers. He says his daily income is Rs 100-150.
He has his own three-shop pucca house which was built by his father. He has rented out one shop Rs 1000 per month and he uses another for his cycle shop and lives in the third one. We asked “Why don’t you keep some bicycles for renting?” He said, “It is a good business because I can earn Rs 15 per day but a bicycle costs Rs 3000 -3500. So even if I have to keep five for rental, I do not have the money. One can recover the cost of the bicycle with maximum one and half year, whereas with own maintenance a bicycle can go for at 6-8 years.”
Did he try to get a loan? “Yes I tried under Mahatma Phule [scheme]. I swear I went to Nagpur at least 50 times to follow up for the loan. Finally I told the lady there if she thinks I am her brother (she was also scheduled caste) then she should do something to give the loan. Otherwise I will not come again. I said that. Then she sat me down and filled up a number of papers and said I will have to come one more time, which I did. After a month I got the loan.”. We asked him whether he had to pay a bribe and he said no. What about repayment of the loan? His answer “I still owe Rs 3500.”. Does he have a bank account? No, but he saves Rs 10 every day with the Gruhalakshmi daily collection lady who comes from nearby Pachgaon. He does not have life insurance and has not heard of health insurance.
His father had 19 acres land which he divided in to four parts one for himself and three for his sons. So Balchand got about 5 acres which he has given on lease partly. For two acres he gets Rs 25000 per annum. He says because of his land even though he is SC he does not fall in the BPL list. Therefore on his ration card he only get 10 kgs of wheat at Rs 7.50 per kg. He has one son whose is in second year college and two girls who are still in school.
I asked him where was children born at home or in hospital. He said all three were born in hospital, the last two in Nagpur. Is it a problem to go to Govt Hospital? “No problems at all. Just go there with the wife well before the delivery and get children
But even among SCs, there are grades
Rajesh Baburao Dongre from Mandar is a Maang, one of the lowest in the pecking order of scheduled castes. But he has a mobile phone. He is a trumpet player of his uncle’s band in the summer season. Earns Rs 3000 to 4000 pm in April and May. Then comes the rainy season and he becomes an umbrella repair man. He gets parts from Nagpur. and goes from village to village, barely earning Rs 60-100 per day. Then in winter, he becomes a kabadi. He buys plastic waste and also sell new plastic goods. Earns Ts 50 to 150 per day. Bicycle is rented at Rs 15 per day. He rides 10 km each day. Sells waste plastic to Ayub Seth in Mandar. He buys new stuff from Nagpur in wholesale Hansapuri market, paying cash Rs 3000 each time.
Rajesh has three sons, the eldest being 16. “He has failed 8th so he is learning to play the band. Not the trumpet though, as it is hard work. He is learning to play cymbals. The other two are in 6th and 7th respectively”. There is no fee as its a Zilla Parishad school. Dress, books, mid-day meal are all given free. Rajesh’s wife makes jhadus, bamboo items like soop, bendwa and topli. There are 15 Maand families doing this. Shortage of raw material.
Rajesh has no bank account, nor has he taken any loan from the bank. Why not? “My father took an Indira Gandhi (IRDP) loan in 1983 and could not repay. So he is a defaulter of Bank X, Y branch [ details withheld by blogger to protect him] so I am treated as a defaulter also .” As we thanked him before leaving, he suddenly said, “Saab my heart is going dhak dhak. You have talked to me and taken my photo. I hope I will not be in trouble.” We spent over fifteen minutes re-explaining our purpose and reassuring him that we will not use the information in any way that harms him. Later , Girish told us of the concept of “criminal tribes” that the British had created. Whenever there was a theft or a murder, they used to round up men from certain communities, such as Pardhis and Maangs! That explained why Rajesh was so nervous at the end of our interview.
Namdev Lutey has been a chilly farmer and broker for 15 years. He produces 50 – 100 quintals of chilly per acre and has 15 acres under chilly. Chillies are dried under the sun and it takes 20 days – alternate days spreading on the ground, sorting and then storing in piles The price of raw chilly is Rs 16 per kg and they lose 40% weight when they dry it. He employs 50 – 60 women at a wage rate of Rs 70 per day in the process of sorting, grading and drying. He sells at Rs 70 per kg. His estimated income this year will be Rs 16 lakh. But Namdev claims it is a very risky business because of the danger of rains as well as price fluctuations. Whole area is chilli production
The Tented Colony of Naths and Giris
On public land in Mathni, about 8 kms before Maunda, we see about 60-70 hoiuseholds, all living in makeshift tents made of plastic sheets. Men, women and children. We think it must be migrant labour which has come for a construction project.
The whole colony is made of plastic tents, but barely four feet high at the crest, so that one has to crawl in or squat. The tents thus only serve the purpose of sleeping under. Most of the other activities – bathing, cooking, playing cards, repairing clothes, are all done in the open. Defecation is also in the open, but at some distance from the camp ground. The children mill around in a desultory way and the men roam around in an aimless manner. The women, however, are neat and clean and go about their home making work with cheer and enthusiasm. But they don’t work out of home. What do the men do? “All the Naths go begging. Some days they get Rs 100, some days nothing, some days some food grains.” Unlike their neighbours, the Naths do not offer any palm reading or jadi-booti in return for money.
Where do they come from? All from different places. Some from Wardha district, some from Amaravati, some from Nagpur. How did they meet here? “We have few places we can pitch tents in, so we tend to congregate, after the first few have managed to get permission from the locals.” Even as we are talking, a ferocious looking man arrives on a motorcycle, with a hunk riding pillion. He glares at us and says – who are you? We explain we are from a “bank” which works with poor people and we are doing a survey. He tells us, “Dont bother with these people.They will go away soon.”. Now it was our turn to ask who he was. “I am developing this plot by the side of where these people have pitched their tents.” Are the tents pitched on his land, we ask. “No they always squat on government land, but it does spoil my prospects of selling these plots I am developing.” He tells one of the women that they should move soon and rides off on his motor cycle. We ask, “What happens when people ask you to move?”. “”Oh, we don’t put up any resistance. We just go away.”
We have a video,( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldPwC4RgAtE ) showing children and young boys saying they will be begging as that is all they know. That includes Suresh Sadashiv Khanduse Sanishe (Nath). Age 19. Resident of vill Malegaon, tq Teusa, Amravati. Has done no study, has no mobile. Like wise, Anil Ashok Sawant. Nath of Vill Shindula Daskath, tq Teusa, Dt Amravati PS Nangaonpet. And then there is Arjun Lakshpati Babar (Nath), who has a polio affected leg. He has studied up to 7th and has a mobile phone.
But there is hope: We meet Sunil Shivlal Bhurani, a Giri, resident of Khapri, Tehsil Narkhed, Dt Nagpur. He says he is the only person in the entire colony who has passed 10th class. He has a mobile. And as we talk, a smart young man drives in on a motor cycle. That is Anil Shivlal Bhurani (Giri), Sunil’s elder brother. He sells attar perfume at Rs 20-40 per bottle He is also matric pass. He is married and has a child. How did he buy a motorcycle? “I took a loan from an Urban Coop Bank. I have paid off the loan through EQIs of Rs 5470. ” We ask him why do so many other youngsters in the tent colony follow his example, study and then do some business? His answer ” We Giris learn about medicines and herbs from our fathers. I learnt how to make attar from my father. But these Naths are like that only. They only teach their children to beg from childhood onwards.”