Monday, October 26, 2009

DBDS #043 OCTOBER IN GUJARAT

Lyra Pinto, DBDS
The biggest preparation needed was a change of heart.

October was marked in red letters on all our calendars. It was the month for the crucial ‘planning’ Gram Sabhas, in which the NREGA works for the coming year would be decided. In more than 30 villages for more than a month, people had held meetings, planned, argued, attended training sessions, made lists, changed the lists, argued some more, and had finally zeroed in on what they really wanted for their villages in the coming year.

What was left, however, was that change of heart. Even among the leaders whom people had chosen to speak at the Sabhas, few actually believed, really completely believed, that they could have a say in local affairs. That control over the development of their village could be in their hands. Years of being ignored, threatened, and lied to by government officials had killed their belief in themselves. Still, people agreed to attend the Gram Sabhas and present their plans.

And then October came. What a joke! A Central Government circular declaring the start of the ‘Year of the Gram Sabha’ ordered that all Gram Sabhas be held on 2nd October instead of on the appointed dates. The order had been carelessly delayed at the district level, and reached the various blocks only on 1st October.

With no time left to change the dates or inform people, the block level authorities in Chhota Udepur promptly created registers showing miraculously high attendance at all the imaginary 2nd October Gram Sabhas. In Kawant, the Gram Sabhas actually continued according to schedule for a few days, till the authorities realised that such an order had been passed. In Jambughoda, the block officials had no clear idea what to do, and so declared that all Sabhas had been properly conducted on 2nd October. In Alirajpur, no one yet knows what happened. And in Kapadvanj, the authorities simply claimed they knew nothing about it at all and continued life as usual.

But for people in the villages, something had changed. This was not just another meeting that they hadn’t been told about. It was one they had given a lot of time and energy to prepare for. And talking to them a few days after the whole incident, we realised the reason for this change. People are angry, upset at being cheated, and determined to make themselves heard. With this anger comes a new courage, and with this courage, the conviction that the will of the people is stronger than any lazy officer or any stamped piece of paper.


The change of heart is finally here.

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