My own feelings about the Anna Hazare movement are mixed, or you could say confused. I like the way the movement is bringing an arrogant government to its knees, and though I don’t know if their version of the Lokpal Bill is the best way to fight corruption, I appreciate how they have exposed the UPA’s farce of a bill. I get the point that fellow-travellers Nivedita Menon and Aditya Nigam are making about democracy and political movements, but as one unit of ‘the people’, I don’t see why I should support a movement just because it is popular. Perhaps it is my elitism and naivete and cynicism. Or perhaps I’m just confused by now. The taste of the pudding is in the eating, and I’d like to see where this takes us.
While I sort out my confusion, I see a message on Facebook, attributed to Anu Ramdas, that says:
kafila’s 4 prominent authors write a series of con articles about how valid the media crap fest around baburao hazare is. running away from big media, indeed! don’t look too hard at the caste/religion of these paid ‘public intellectuals’.
Since I don’t see why Anu Ramdas is any more a representative of the Dalit community than Jai Karan, I am taking the liberty of reproducing in full Jai Karan’s interview to The Times of India:
Govt has let us down, Anna is our only hope
In an indication of the kind of effect Anna Hazare has had on the nation, Jai Karan, a sapera in Badarpur, on the Delhi-Haryana border, who can’t read or write and is jobless most of the time, tells Shobhan Saxena that the anti-corruption crusader is his only hope. Excerpts:
How do you make a living since you are not allowed to keep snakes or perform with them anymore?
Most men here have formed been and dhol parties, and we perform at weddings and birthdays. We get some work for four-five months during the wedding season. The rest of the year we sit here and wait for work. Our situation is hopeless
The government doesn’t allow you to follow your traditional profession, but has it done anything to help you get alternative jobs?
They have done nothing at all, only promises. Five years back, the Delhi government invited us to perform at Central Park in Connaught Place, and Sheila Dikshit promised to give us jobs. We are still waiting. We have been demanding jobs for our children in zoos and forest departments because we can handle snakes, but no one has bothered to call us.
But the government invites you to perform at cultural events. Doesn’t that help?
Rarely. More than 70 saperas were invited to perform at the Commonwealth Games village during the Games. We were paid Rs 200 per person per day. We were supposed to get complete sapera dress but they didn’t give us shoes. I think Suresh Kalmadi swallowed that money too. They spent thousands of crores on the Games and gave us Rs 200, making us walk barefoot in front of foreigners.
Have you put your demands for jobs and education in front of the government?
Yes, dozens of times. But nobody listens. We have submitted petitions and raised slogans. No one has done anything yet. They have killed our profession, snatched our snakes and abandoned us. We have no hope from the government which is itself drowning in scams. Now, Anna Hazare is our only hope.
Anna is campaigning for a strong Lokpal. How will that help you?
Anna is fighting against corruption and we are the worst victims of corruption . If we go to a government office for a job, the officials ask for bribe. If we want scholarships for our children , they ask for bribes. When we tried to make BPL cards, they asked for money. Because we didn’t have money to bribe them, they gave us Above Poverty Line cards.
How will a Lokpal check all this?
If there is a strong Lokpal, we can go to him and register our complaints. At the moment, there is no one to complain to. The corrupt are not scared of anyone and they openly ask for bribes even for things which are due to us. When we go to government offices with our caste certificate , they ask us to go away, saying ‘You are not Scheduled Caste’ .
But you have a SC certificate…
Yes, I have, but it’s in English and I don’t know what it says (shows the certificate issued by deputy commissioner, south district. It says saperas are SC). This is a useless piece of paper. We have no education. How can we get jobs without education? It’s better that the government gives us licenses for performing with snakes. Then we won’t have to beg before politicians, and bribe the officials for education and jobs. At least the future of our young men will be secure.
Do you expect the government to listen to your demands?
We expect nothing from the government. If there is a wedding or a party in your house or neighbourhood, please call us to perform. At least, we will make some money.