Samvaad Yatra: A different kind of a circus.

– Rajagopal P.V

(written ‘on the road’ in November 2011) 

The Jansatyagraha (Samvaad Yatra)[1] is like a moving circus company. We move from morning to evening but do some small performances during the day. Sometimes the performance is like a small corner meeting in a village or a big conference in a city or a press conference where you get a good number of electronic and print media friends. Sometimes they ask you to lift your hand and shout slogans because that is what they want to show in their newspaper.

In the yatra, we have Swamiji moving with a flag and at the end of every meeting. He will shout ‘Jai Jagat’.[2] He does not care whether it is Hindi speaking area or a Telugu speaking area. He only wants to popularize the word ‘Jai Jagat’ and people usually respond to it.

In the yatra, you also have Bharathi and Felecia representing Ekta Mahila Manch (Women’s Branch). They came in when Rajkali and Manju left. THis is the responsibility of Mahila Manch to keep the flow of women participants in the yatra. When Bharathi and Felicia are gone there will be two or three from Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Bharathi’s role is to carry a pot in which we have soil from Gandhi Samadhi (place where Gandhi’s ashes are resting in Delhi). People touch this pot with great respect. This is also symbolic in that we are fighting for land and soil. ‘Here is the soil from Gandhi Samadhi’, we tell them. We are also collecting soil from different struggles. By now we have collected more than 100 soil samples that will finally be exhibited when we arrive in Delhi as soil from various struggles from across the country.  We are sure that by the time we end in Delhi, we will have more than 500 packets of soil from 500 major struggles. Felicia carries the donation box into our meetings. She is very careful to put it in a higher place so that people can see the donation box. Someone who can speak the local language will generally announce why the two pots are carried and people are encouraged to give donations for Jansatyagraha. On the last day of our stay in a particular state, we open this box publicly and count it in front of everyone and this particular collection is handed over to the coordinator of the state to strengthen the work of Jansatyagraha. In Kerala, we collected about Rs. 9500 and in Tamil Nadu, the total collection was Rs. 7800. It is heartening to see how poor people line up with 1 rupee or 5 rupee coins and donate that money to Jansatyagraha with great reverence and hopes. Even the poorest will give a rupee with great love and affection. There were also people who gave Rs 500-1000.

In the yatra too, you have Albert from Kerala singing songs and taking care of logistics with Hari and Pitambaram. Pitambaram is a dalit leader from Kerala and he is inspired by the idea of bringing Gandhi and Ambedkar together. He will be a great support for Jansatyagraha action in Kerala. Gokaran has just arrived. He is in charge of Kala Manch (the cultural branch) of Ekta Parishad. During the yatra, he will manage the overall discipline of the team.

There are many other things happening in the yatra. Loading and unloading is a big task. Every evening you are in a new place and again next day you are in a new place. Washing clothes, drying, packing, putting everything in order and checking that we do not lose anything are all big responsibilities. Hari, Pitambaran, Gokaran, Pilaram and Swamiji are all united in keeping the circus going. When it is a team work, it is a pleasure rather than a burden. The funniest thing happened yesterday. When in a village after a meeting, everybody began to travel leaving Hari behind. Only after some time, did there come a panicked call from Hari that he was left behind. A kind activist brought him by a motorcycle and we proceeded to the next stop.

Finance is always a big problem in a program like this. In spite of all the support that you are able to muster you still need to spend on some items. Sometimes you stop for a cup of coffee and the finance man has to control to ensure that people are not moving beyond coffee to buy bananas and chikkies (groundnut and jaggery sweetmeat). During our travel in Kerala, finance became a major area of conflict. Pilaram had a tough time to stay to his budget. As we moved into Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, local people took more responsibility and financial management became much easier. Pilaram is also taking Hindi dictation. He plays multiple role and will stay with the yatra till the end.

Probably this is the last report that Ravi is going to type. He was typing day and night and he has the special capacity to type even in a moving vehicle. I wonder how can anyone run his fingers on the keyboard by looking at the sky but that is Ravi. Most probably for the next two weeks you will receive less in terms of reports and updates as he has to travel for his meditation where he will be joining his wife Priya. Ravi was a great help as a lot of my thoughts kept flowing because he was readily available when the thoughts are fully developed. Many of those reports and updates that you are reading all these days from the yatra were all Ravi’s work. All three of us, myself, Ravi and Ramesh were working together in putting together various case studies that came through our public hearing sessions in various villages and cities. These are the materials we can use for developing on our arguments and analysis on why land-reform is important to eradicate poverty and why eradication of poverty is important in order to contain structural and physical violence.

Ramesh Bhai is the leader of the team. He is constantly in communication with people within the state and outside the state. He is coordinating the team. Almost every day there is a review session where we are able to improve our way of functioning. One has to check how many consent letters are available, how many signatures we are able to collect, how many journalists we are able to meet, how many case studies we are able to collect etc. He has a big task in his hands and it seems like he is enjoying it. Lakhan is a full-timer in the team. He is gifted with different skills. He uses a still camera and also a video camera. In future, if anybody will remember Jansatyagraha Samwaad yatra, it will only be because of Lakhan. When the program will be over, what will remain will be those photographs and videos which I am sure the next generation will use to find out how larger campaigns can be organized and coordinated.

One other person who is making this circus possible is Mr. Shajee. He left his job to join us as a driver for one year. He is always smiling and happy ready to help and maintains his vehicle well. There is an ongoing framework of the team while new people keep coming and going. Every day is a day of learning. You witness a lot of suffering. We also see poverty and misery but there is something still driving all of us and that is the hope for change. In spite of all the odds, this circus team has decided to perform in a way that we can draw public opinion and support to make Jansatyagraha and beyond.

[1] The Samvaad Yatra (Dialogue Yatra began in Kanyakumari on October 2, 2011). For eleven months the yatris travelled across India in order to arrive on October 2 2012 in Gwalior where with 100,000 people they intended to march onward to Delhi in completion of the Jan Satyagraha—The people’s march for justice.

[2] The main slogan of Ekta Parishad. “Victory to the World”—coined by Vinobha Bhave

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