Words and messages
A team of eleven has been short listed by the core team of Sangtin Kisan Mazdoor Sanghatan (SKMS) for an exposure trip to the Narmada valley. With Sudha and me tagging along, it is a thirteen member team that will be going on this trip. Jagruth Adivasi Dalith Sanghatan and the Narmada Bachao Andolan in the Satpura hills and along the Narmada valley are the main focus of the visit. Due to the long distance from Sitapur and the limited time that the families can go with one less wage earned in the day, I will be visiting the Adivasi Mukti Sanghatan alone.
Not having any training or experience in representing the Sanghatan, I was hesitant to take up the task of contacting these other people’s movements all by myself. Encouragement from the active members, my usual confidence in learning while doing, and time pressure made me go ahead and start making the phone calls and sending out the emails. Needless to say, I made sure I kept the appropriate people in the Sanghatan posted about the discussions and copied them on emails.
The NBA in Khandwa has started ‘Jal Satyagrah’ in different villages along the Naramada. The villages face submergence every rainy season as the water level rises due to the dams being built. The project affected people who have not been rehabilitated or resettled hold out and sit on a satyagrah in the rising waters. While corresponding with the NBA folks in Khandwa, after a lot of thought, I expressed our solidarity with the struggle saying, ‘I am pretty sure that our team will join in the jal satyagrah for the period that we are there.’
After reading the CCed email, I received some much sought after feedback from Richa, one of the representatives of the Sanghatan. While writing the sentence in question I was hesitant to make a statement on behalf of the Sanghatan, and added the ‘pretty’ to the sentence. But Richa had a point about the ‘our team’. The NGO sector, in sustaining its heirarchichal functioning, (ab)uses the phrase to include those working under them, but not those of a higher position than the speaker. And in the eyes of most village and regional level activists it has become a phrase that coopts their work without indentifying or giving due credit to those who worked hard. Further, the objective of SKMS is to build strong individuals and activists in their own right and not to build a team that can be called to action whenever the need arises. Given these two reasons, when talking about someone active in SKMS a phrase like ‘Sanghatan ke saathi’ or ‘partners of the movement’ is more appropriate and conciously employed. And I totally agree with her. Hopefully the wrong impression that the sentence might have created will be corrected during the trip…