Life on the train track, the Gujjar way

May 28th, 2008 - 4:26 pm ICT by admin  

By Sahil Makkar
Bayana (Rajasthan), May 28 (IANS) There is a certain stillness in this centre of the raging Gujjar storm over tribe status. With buffaloes being milked, men playing cards and youngsters running camel carts, it could be a pastoral village scene instead of the epicentre of a movement that has paralysed life in many parts of the state. But scratch the surface and the tensions over their future spill over. Thousands of people from the traditional shepherd community have gathered in Bayana, about 150 km from Jaipur, waiting for some action over their demand that they be included in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list rather than as other backward classes (OBCs) and get a bigger share of the quota pie.

For the last six days, the Gujjars, most of them dressed in white kurta-pyjamas and dhotis, have been squatting on the railway tracks near the Dumaria station, spreading out for a kilometre on either side in a sea of white.

Their numbers have been swelling with each passing day since last week Friday. The deaths of at least 37 people in the escalating violence seems to have egged the movement with about 5,000 people, including children and women, gathering here. All waiting for a sign that the government has given in.

And while they wait, they have busied themselves in the everyday business of life — arranging for food and water, and shelter that will enable them to continue their protest.

“Running camel carts and erecting small hutments has pumped life and courage into us for keeping alive the movement,” said Shiv Charan Khatana, who has come from Dausa district, about 100 km away, to join the movement on the tracks.

Like others, his allegiance to Kirori Singh Bainsla, head of the Gujjar Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti, seems complete.

The men and women, who have have been pouring in in large groups, first mark their attendance by touching Bainsla’s feet in the small paddy hut constructed right on the track. About five minutes later, they take their leave to join the multitude of stick and sickle-wielding people of their community — that counts for 50 million people all over India.

The youngsters are busy too. The railway track, which till a few days ago connected New Delhi to Mumbai, is now traversed by camel carts.

“We are making fun of the system. The government cannot run trains on these tracks but we are running camel carts. We will do whatever we feel like,” said Guman Singh, a young Gujjar.

Others are milking buffaloes, smoking bidis, or spending their time discussing their uncertain future as the day stretches interminably in the simmering heat.

Many sit inside the tent with the 12 corpses of those who died in the clashes, paying their condolences to the grieving families or taking care of the dead by arranging for ice slabs every few hours.

About 200 people have taken on the task of cooking and distributing food, including chaach, or buttermilk, to the protesters, many of whom have been there since the beginning.

While some food is cooked at the spot, it is also ferried on tractors and trolleys from 84 villages around the area. Water comes in the same way.

There is no shortage. Each household has contributed five kg of wheat.

“I am preparing food for my people. It really gives me a sense of satisfaction. After all, this is not one person’s fight. It is a fight for all of us,” said Ramvati.

The elderly have their own job to do. They sit under the shadow of trolleys, tractors, playing cards and engaging with visiting correspondents.

It could be the lull before the proverbial storm, before the agitation takes a more violent turn, the government decides to give in, or clamp down.

Either way, the wait continues.

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