State Committee Member @AAPMaharashtra ।
Liquor free Chandrapur
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Liquor free Chandrapur
We are aware that after the districts of Wardha and Gadchiroli, the tribal district of Chandrapur in Maharashtra is on the way of becoming 3rd LIQUOR FREE DISTRICT in Maharashtra. Pro and anti liquor lobbies are mobilizing support for this movement. In this winter session of Maharashtra Legislative Assembly in Nagpur, 5000 women from villages of Chandrapur walked 200 kilometers over three days, to Nagpur, leaving all their household work to demonstrate against the sale of liquor in their villages. These were daily wage earners, mostly illiterate ladies, who struggle everyday to get 2 square meals. What made these women leave their work for a task which is perceived impossible? What gave them the courage to defy their husbands, to whom they had to return when the protest ended?
To tell the complete story, we had with us Mrs. Paromita Goswami, whose organization- Shramik Elgar played a key role in mobilizing these ladies. She was invited to talk on the platform of Sevankur; a youth camp, where students and professionals across Maharashtra come to listen to role models, who have lived life differently, and to find their own ‘why’ of living.
Since then, the issue has gained momentum. Maharashtra government announced a committee headed by Minister Sanjay Deotale to look into the demands of liquor free Chandrapur and other aspects of the issue. It is a great decision. The only problem is that there are seven members in the committee and not a single woman!
Meenakshi Dahiwale, a member of ‘Ramabai Mahila Bachat Gat’ was murdered by liquor sellers for participating in antiliquor movement. Village Golewadi, District Bhandara.
Liquor sellers in Chandrapur formed an association and took out a demonstration of 10,000 people demanding that liquor should continue in the district.
The issue has spread to other districts, where ladies are mobilising to make the government aware of the miseries created by liquor in their lives.
The following interview covers the story of beginning of this struggle, along with the evolution of the person who played a key role in this- Paromita Goswami.
Most of the interview is in reported speech, the sentences in italics being in Direct speech.
Paromita Goswami-A master in social work from TISS, worked in Mool tehsil of Chandrapur, mobilized 5000 ladies for banning liquor. Now feared even by the bureaucracy for her work. She is an Ashoka fellow, a prestigious recognition in the social sector. This is all we have heard about Paromita, but we got to share some aspects of her personality which touched all of us. Interview by Roshni Tapase and Rushikesh-
How do you trace your journey to Chandrapur? How did you come into the social field?
Everybody gets an environment, and its search in Paromita’s case starts before her birth. Her family was affected by partition. A Bengali family migrated from Chittagong.
Her father came here at the age of 7. Worked in whatever conditions were existing. Then he became an armed forces officer, but never forgot his roots, and his family was aware of this sacrifice. She grew up in the army background; her mother was a teacher in Kendriya Vidyalaya, simultaneously doing mountaineering, being a lyricist and poet at the same time. Her mother made her learn Swami Vivekananda’s speech by heart; Paromita grew with those words, and understood the meaning later. Her grandfather was the second Bengali to become an FRCS (fellow of Royal College of Surgeons, London). He was the Founder of Communist Party in London. Posters of Lenin occupied the walls of their house.
For Paromita, getting better education was a priority. She was made aware of the army bubble; the limited world in which the families of army men were confined, and that there is a world outside that bubble. To get out of this, she realized that the best way was to see the real India. Her father was posted in Ranchi, Jammu, Jodhpur and Assam. She grew up singing Dogri songs with friends and learning languages. There was no feeling of belonging to a particular state. She learnt Marathi thoroughly, for the aspiration of becoming perfect at least in one language. So, it was all effect of family, surroundings and friends that guided Paromita further in life.
Paromita feels-‘There should be a conflicting trait/ character in every person up to some extent to go against Traditionalism. In her family, she had a reputation of having an anti-establishment nature.
We should feel bad about the present conditions. If a simple citizen asks for his rights, this is seen differently. Why should the art of working sincerely and obeying not be the normal way in case of public servants? Proper functioning of bureaucracy should be a norm, not an accident.
What brought you to TISS?
We, the present generation are post 1991 people. She knew what the conditions pre 1991 were. Insecurity, lack of opportunity prevailed in those times. Her generation lacked this confidence and risk taking behavior seen today. When she reached MA final, a friend showed her TISS brochure. She liked it, and also disliked Calcutta. Wanted to move out of it and go to Bombay, for opportunity to do something on her own. Without finishing MA, she came to Mumbai, accidently. What she had thought about TISS was not there. Bengal has a mass based culture. Lakhs of people came to streets at short notice. So she thought that social work is mass based and political, which was depoliticized and made professional at her institute. She kept her heart beating- Hrudayache thoke shuru thevale. Took whatever she found useful from TISS- discipline, planning, and research. She disliked the language at TISS, which consisted of Jargon- which is not related to common man.
After completing MSW, she did not get the job that she liked, and there was a headmaster- Janaki Andharia- who gave her an opportunity of research project- ‘how to create Village level activists’.
Meanwhile, she came in contact with Shramjeevi sansthan. She worked with them for three years in Thane. She was teased by her friends that she was not working in village, as it was near Mumbai. As Mumbai grew, there was lot of illegal construction. Tansa, Bhatsa and Vaitarna rivers supply water to Mumbai, and to provide water to these illegal buildings, water tankers pumped water illegally. This disturbed the peace of local tribals. They raised their voice, which led to murder charges being put on some activists, including Paromita.
How did you come to Chandrapur?
After being accused for false charges, she was bound to stay in Maharashtra by court’s orders. She decided to work in the remotest area of Maharashtra and destiny brought her to Chandrapur. She met the collector Mr. KB Bhoge and asked for a job. UNICEF was involved for- Primary Education Program at that time and wanted people to work. She was asked to coordinate the work in urban slums. Meanwhile, Paromita did an LLB to utilize her time; and made friends, who could realize that some work should be done.
But this was not her destiny. Nothing could keep her away from villages. Then news came that police fired on tribals after taking them wrongly as naxalites. A young tribal-Chinna Mattavi died. She was the jail visitor of national human rights commission. She went to meet the arrested tribals in Chandrapur jails. With others who felt the same, she decided to take up the issue. Police did not want to recognize their mistake and labeled the tribals as naxalites. When you do the job, you learn things automatically. I also learned the legal processes when there was a need. Character notes were being made wrongly against tribals to prove that Chinna was a naxalite. The case was heard by Nagpur bench of high court. The judiciary was really sensitive and for 4 days court postponed all other cases and continuous hearings were taken. Interim compensation of 2 lakhs was released. The govt. went to Supreme Court and refused to honor the court’s decision. 6Years after this, when the case was still in the Supreme Court, Khairlanji happened, and immediate compensation was given to families of tribals when there were violent protests. Wherever people took arms, you gave compensation. Chinna’s mother was hoping to go through the constitutional way. How can you refuse to look at the rightful demands of a non-violent person? This was the question which made her restless and perturbed.
Paromita and Chinna’s mother sat on a hunger protest outside Nagpur assembly. Ramdas Kadam, opposition leader, took them to RR Patil, then home minister. For two minutes, they both were talking among themselves. Paromita was getting frustrated. She said sir aap mujhe 2 min dete kya?
And without waiting for a reply, she started firing words. What mistake did this lady make? Why do you teach democracy? What is the message for activists? Is being nonviolent a crime? Why do we have to resort to violence to get our voices heard?
And then …
Justice was done to Chinna’s mother.
Whenever you are called by a person who is in need, and then go immediately. This assurance and courage is what is needed when a person is in a problem.
We do not understand the language of common man.
A person who is on the wrong side always has guilt and fear in his heart. A man’s conscience needs to be awakened. [said in context that even the corrupt policemen listen to you when they know that you are fearless and true.
Don’t keep all information in your mind- Only the important things. Be aware- What are our laws? Learn the law (Forest rights acts etc.).
The area where she started working is home of Kollam adivasis. It comes under Jyuti taluka and consists of 82 revenue villages. The demography of the area changed with time. From absolute majority, the tribals were converted to a minority. Land records are absent. This escalated the difficulties to give the tribals their land. She went to the villages. Initially, time was spent in understanding the records. Problems were different, and involved different legal actions and procedures. Here it would be apt to give few examples of problems – Non implementation of records, No records, records with the landlords, grabbing the land by force, loss of records etc. The initial step was ‘Classification of disputes’ and Paromita believed that the whole issue will be solved only if all these are taken together. The first morcha involved 22 people. The tribals were an oppressed class. Their ladies were beaten by landlords. Some action was to be taken.
In the fervor of activism, we should not make everybody our enemy. So it was thought that police support is necessary to make them speak for the tribals. The land was surveyed and land possession was given back without people killing each other. This was a peaceful struggle and most of the times, disputes were settled amicably.
What brought you to liquor ban?
The problems of the area that you are working come to you eventually. Economy of liquor in villages is different. Social acceptance to alcohol is coming. Effects of it are disastrous in the rural poor. Domestic violence, poverty, child abuse, diseases and premature death are a few consequences more common in the rural areas. The movement is from 10 years. Social awareness was low. This issue was closely linked with ladies and the revolution ultimately came to surface as a morcha.
What made the working laborers and daily wage earners leave their work for ‘daru bandi’?
This is a relationship of 10 years. She understands the pain of people. They also pour their affection on her.
People wanted her to do it for them. They also had support of men.
When the strength increased, they thought of dropping off. But help arrived. Old ladies who participated in spite of declining them said, ‘ghar me maar khake marne se accha hai morche me maren’. This was not a show of strength, but feelings, that the ladies were harboring for years altogether.
What were your difficulties as a lady?
I never realized the difference. We are reaping the benefits of people who came before us, Jyotiba and Savitribai Phule. And my being a lady provides me greater acceptance due to the credibility I bring being a lady.
How can we help?
They can help in Website designing, spreading awareness in their institutes and the community. A high powered committee is being appointed on the issue of ban on liquor in Chandrapur. Now when this committee comes, there will be rational discussions and students from universities can independently assess the real situation in Chandrapur. College’s debate should occur and a concrete and rational opinion should come up.
We can also organize a Training program to understand the issue.
Why shouldn’t there be a vote to start a liquor shop rather than closing it? Only those villages where ladies vote to start a liquor shop should be given license.
There are anomalies in the Prohibition Act which need to be addressed- according to the directive principles of state policy; the state has to take stand against liquor, and not pro liquor. Laws are different for each type of liquor. Gram Sabha sits and bans only the country liquor by majority of the members after declaring the date of voting 7 days prior, during which liquor is freely distributed. A 7 day dry day should be declared.
Any experience of the Yatra/ morcha?
One man hit his wife for participating in the morcha, and was tied by the wife, only to be freed when he apologized. Ladies of a village created a pandaal from Saree when the pandaal owner declined to serve them. This is the development of spirit in the ladies. They can now stand up for what is their due.
Now ladies from neighboring districts are mobilizing themselves and this shows the gravity of problem.
What do you expect from youth entering politics, bureaucracy, and business?
I feel that less people should enter my field. Join any issue, there should be an issue in each area… so the skill of people from other fields can help and bring skills and viewpoints to activism. I am not saying that no activists are needed. In an Army- tank, food, water, soldiers, artillery…everybody is needed. I expect everybody to work with full commitment in their field. Our SP rejected 23 new liquor licenses. His power was used for us. By a 28 Dec GR (government rule), on 31stDec, all liquor shops closed at 12. So that one SP is important for me.
Our collector Mr. Bhoge opened schools for everybody. Abraham Lincoln wrote to his Head Master, ‘when you teach about bad, there are also people working for better future. Teach about them also.’ Publicly appreciating such people is important. Activists not needed everywhere.
What can students do?
At your own places you can work, keep writing whatever comes to your mind. Your own thoughts become clearer when they come on paper. Spread awareness about issues that concern you.
The time spent with Paromita was memorable. Her genuine nature and friendliness created an impact and now it is up to us to carry her struggle forwards. The cause for what she marched 200 kms with 5000 tribal women can be scoffed off by educated elite even if someone thinks about it. Such is the perception of impossibility of her goal, but this did not discourage the tribal ladies. Are we so incapable, or education has made us more insensitive. This lady kept her heart beating. Now it is our turn to check ourselves.
- April 24, 2011 by yuvarajasthan in Society