Saturday, July 24, 2010


“Even the wind is providing resistance,” jokes Himanshu Kumar, about the difficulty of his cycle yatra. His face has a dark tan and his partner Abhay Sinh Rathwa complains, “Even when we have a downhill climb, he has to stop to take a leak.”

RESISTANCE and LEAK are the two operative words applicable to their cycle yatra. What he is doing is no less than an attempt to leak the government’s covert agenda to subjugate its rural mass and blind the urban mass to this fact by manipulating the media, by hook or crook. Mostly, it is the latter. It is his own little attempt at resistance, against a govt. that took away all that he had selflessly built over 18 years in rural Chhattisgarh last May.

Himanshu Kumar with his cycle in Pallu Village in Northern Rajasthan on 21st July 2010. 

A Gandhian inspired as much by his own progressive father who has worked with Vinoba Bhave and Gandhi as by Mahatma Gandhi himself, he left the comforts of his fairly urban UP existence to live amidst the villagers as Gandhi had asked of the nation’s youth. Being the only one of his ilk in Dantewada he even implemented many govt. schemes, helped set up schools and bring medicine to the tribal masses of the region i.e. bring ‘development’ a rhetoric the govt. is using to subjugate the same masses now. Everything was fine until the govt. covertly backed the Salwa Judum, a citizen’s militia, illegally armed and trained them to wipe out the Maoists. Not many ask why Judum started in 2005 even when the Maoists have existed since the late 60s.

The Salwa Judum unleashed a reign of terror on the already deprived and malnutritioned adivasis. Over 700 villages were burnt (644 is the govt. figure) and there’s no count of deaths (those that you get are mostly of townsfolk, and usually does not include the tribals killed deep in the jungles). Rape visited the socially evolved adivasis of Bastar, who did not have an equivalent word or even a conception of the same, for the first time. These are the things he wants to highlight through his cycle yatra.

This and the fact that when Himanshu raised a voice against this injustice, his ashram was razed to the ground by govt. forces in a brazen display of state might. When he still did not shut up as was expected of him, and talked of a satyagrah, a foot-march and a public hearing to address the state’s atrocities on its people, they did not even ‘permit’ that. When he still sat fasting under a tree outside his home in Dantewada this Dec-Jan, they moved in on him.
All my bags are packed and I'm ready to go... 

Word reached that under its usual modus operandi, it was gathering ‘evidence’ against Himanshu Kumar and he’d be arrested, just like another selfless worker, Dr. Binayak Sen who the state kept in prison for two years, without a shred of evidence until the supreme court chided the state police and released him. The charges leveled against Binayak, as it would have been with Himanshu, was of conspiracy against the government.

By an ironic twist of fate, this charge of being anti-govt is actually true. But there’s a corollary. In a nation where for over 6 decades successive governments have led the nation down as poverty and malnutrition grows at an alarming rate (and so does the riches of the rich), and where corruption is all in a day’s life for the average Indian, isn’t rebelling against such a ‘govt.’ and such corruption, the greatest, single patriotic act one can imagine?

But that is the hypocrisy that we the middle class Indians refuses to see. We rile against the corrupt bureaucracy, but never revolt against it. The middle class lets its steam out often in fantasy, be it in films like ‘Akrosh’, ‘Krantiveer’ or the latest ‘Rang De Basanti’ which shows a group of youth taking the law in their own hands and murdering a politician. Everyone cheered in the theatres, but in real life, we the middle class bay for your blood if you challenge the status quo, no matter how despicable it may be. The reality, as Himanshu always says, “Everyone wants a Bhagat Singh, but in their neighbors’ home.”  
Abhay on what he calls the 'uncle cycle'... 

There’s an unwritten ‘social contract’ between the middle class of India and its successive governments. The govt. maintains a show of democracy, often actually delivering it in cities (again only for the middle class, not the poor), while the middle class maintains a show of ‘all iz well’. But is all really well for the citizens under this nation’s constitution?

34% of the people in this country are chronically malnutritioned, not even getting one meal a day. 50% of the world’s population of malnutritioned children ‘live’ in India and according to a recent survey reported in all major newspapers (read English papers) just 8 Indian states have more poor people (421 million) than those of 26 poorest African nations combined. INDIA IS IN A STATE OF EMERGENCY, the likes of which the world has not seen. The likes of which did not exist even when the Britishers ruled over India.

In hindsight, you are bound to agree with the Britishers who had said that India will be in chaos, if they left. The middle class often keeps repeating another line like a mantra over a rosary, ‘the Britishers were better rulers of India than Indians’, not realizing that they are lamenting their own inefficiency and impotency. Since 1947 India indeed has been in chaos, sold off to the greed of its opportunistic elite and a middle class aspiring to be that elite ruling class.
The Bicycle Warrior... 

In a city where over 65% of its people live in slums, without even the basic facilities afforded to them, the richest Indian is building the world’s most expensive home, pegged at Rs. 8,000 crore, 27 floors of which meant to house a mere 5 people. We the middle class join the chorus in celebration of the abject shamelessness of this act. Not just this, but the same richest Indian, even gets an article written in the New York Times (written eloquently by an Indian) comparing himself to Mahatma Gandhi. Add another adjective before ‘Shining India’ – shameless.

On the opposite spectrum, is a dying, impoverished India of the neglected masses who when they try to resist oppression against them, are called Maoists, the filthiest abuse one can imagine in the nation today.

And if you are a middle class Indian, who raises your voice against this gross injustice, you are despised, nay hated, booed and yes, you are called a ‘Maoist Sympathizer’.

Dr. Binayak Sen was imprisoned for two years for the same ‘crime’ of seeking justice.
A sweaty Himanshu looks like the cartoon character Pyarelal from the Tinkle comics... 

It’s like the story of the king who loved his kingdom and the people who equally loved him back. But one day, an evil sorceress poisoned the well from where the entire population drank water. Slowly, the everyone went mad because of the poison and they saw the king and his ideas differently, wanting to lynch him for being different. When the king learnt the truth, with a dejected heart, he drank the water from the same well, and finally ‘all is well’ again in the kingdom.

If you refused to drink from the well that we the middle class drinks from, you’ll be ganged up against. Look at Arundhati Roy, labeled a Maoist and hated for supporting what she calls ‘the single largest resistance against oppression anywhere in the world.’

They call her a foreign spy, another standard middle-class allegation for anyone opposing the system, saying she is getting money from international agencies for helping keep India down. Strange, for it is the same international agencies who also hate her for exposing their schemes. The Indian Middle Class accuses Roy of loving fame and notoriety. We don’t even realize that that allegation does not stick to a woman who was the undisputed ‘gajra’ wearing queen of not just Indian, but world literature. The ground beneath her small feet encompassed the world.

This was the time she realized that the pen can be a sword and directed it against the oppressors. She could have chosen to stay royalty, like many ‘ball-less’, ‘spineless’ party going, skirt/brief chasing writers across the world. That a demure little woman had the ‘balls’ to describe the bloody Indian spade, we the Indian middle class refuse to celebrate. And if there indeed is any mother India, then it is in women like her and Aruna Roy and Medha Patkar and thousands like them, who have put the impotent middle-class men of this nation to shame.

But not all men in this nation have become impotent. But you rarely get to hear about them, like Himanshu Kumar.
Abhay and Himanshu after reaching Sardar Sahar...

After leaving Chhattisgarh thus, he lost more than his workplace, he lost the trust he had garnered of the tribals there who felt he had let them down. Few of his co-workers continue to be tortured in jail on charges for which he would also have been arrested had he not left. A tribal, Lingaram, who was at the receiving end of govt. brutality and is a petitioner in many cases against the Chhattisgarh govt., is now being framed by the police. The police there release ‘unsigned’ press releases and the media laps it up. No one reports the obvious truth in this drama, of the fight of those named in the release – Arundhati Roy, Nandini Sundar, Medha Patkar and Himanshu Kumar (the only man, please note) engaged in a fight for justice against the Chhattisgarh govt. Afterall, the media too is run by the same aspiring middle class.

Restless at being forced into exile in his own country, Himanshu decided to embark on a cycle yatra through the rural parts of the country to raise awareness against state oppression, to describe in detail what is really happening in the dense forests of this nation. Obviously, he rattled the govt. In Punjab, people gathered in hundreds and a few times in thousands, to hear him and his stories of Chhattisgarh, often exclaiming in awe at the similarity of the oppression. Some even mentioned that the only way to fight govt. oppression is through Naxalism. Being a Gandhian, he ‘fought’ back against this violent notion. Himanshu’s fight is not against the govt. or the idea of Maoists. His is a fight against violence, no matter the form.
The Tribal from Chota Udaipur in Rajasthan... 

He is asking pertinent questions, in his cycle yatra and otherwise? How did so much violence begin in the first place, he asks the people buying the media and govt. rhetoric? And to those who believe that taking up arms like Maoists is the only way he reminds Gandhi’s common sense when he quipped that an eye for an eye could only make the whole world blind. And he has governments own data to support him here which states that ever since the Salwa Judum started in 2005, the Maoists cadre has increased 22 fold. The effect that ‘Operation Greenhunt’ will have on their numbers is anyone’s guess. So in effect, the govt. of India is helping the Maoist cause. Can we call it Maoist sympathizer then?

For this ‘service’ of common sense to the nation as opposed to the run-of-the-mill juvenile rhetoric of patriotism practiced both by the govt and the middle class, he is branded a maoist sympathizer. Shouldn’t he be branded a ‘truth’, ‘common-sense’, ‘peace’ and ‘non-violence’ sympathizer instead?

Himanshu’s most exciting memory of his cycle yatra through Punjab is visiting the warrior poet Pash’s home. From a book gifted by someone here, he read’s some lines written by this assassinated poet, “The most dangerous thing is the death of our dreams… the most dangerous is that direction where the sun of our soul set, and a piece of that dead sunlight gets stuck to your body…”

Himanshu Kumar Reciting Pash's Poem

It perhaps won’t be long before he is arrested. In Rajasthan some Intelligence Bureau guys wanted to know what he is talking about. He said he had nothing to hide and that they too can sit in the public lecture and hear what he has to say. They have been on his tail since Punjab and have been keeping track of where he is going and what he is doing.

He would be arrested because resistance is no longer permissible in the sham democracy that we have become. The leaks of truth that people like Himanshu mange have to be plugged, by hook or by crook. Mostly the latter. In a democracy practiced today in this nation, you cannot aspire to survive by being ‘pro-people’, you have to be ‘pro-govt.’ even if that govt. is ‘anti-majority’ because it consciously neglects its dying poor, which according to the constitution should get first billing in any govt. policy. That this neglect itself takes away the legitimacy of the govt., no one cares to note.
Showing photos of a tribal child to village children... 

These are the new rules of the ‘social-contract’ we the middle class have consensually subscribed to. Himanshu Kumar be damned, and damned be his battered cycle. Let us all take a ‘leak’ of faith and freedom and justice. The poor, the malnutrioned, and the dying be damned. Instead, let us celebrate the shameless, unaccountable capitalism. We are, afterall, the great Indian, aspirational, spineless ‘ball-less middle class.

We are the middle class that calls slum-dwellers as encroachers even when they toil 16 hours a day cleaning the filth we let into the sewers. We look at beggars and call them ‘lazy-losers’. We call villagers fighting to retain their land and their lives ‘anti-development’, asking them to come to cities, not realizing the hunger and inflation that will visit this already hungry nation if they don’t produce our food. In an ideal world, the ones that grow food would have been the most respectable members of any society. But we are not the ideal world; we are the middle-class world. We celebrate creation of money, not food. As if we can eat paper and all the goods we buy with it, when all the farmers are killed, commit suicide, or come and live in cities as our laborers.

Never once do we care to go deep and try to ask ‘why’ or ‘how’ or use any of Kipling’s six serving men.
At 4.30 in the morning, they get ready to cycle another 70 kms... 

Outside the wind is bellowing sand even after a little rain has settled the Rajasthani desert. Little thorn shrubs have begun growing amidst the sand in this inhospitable earth. Perhaps the middle class may grow thorn bushes of resistance once again.

The little rain has not had much effect on the wild sand dust that sweep over this land with a vengeful fury, or the punishing sun above. It is amidst these that Himanshu and Abhay plan to ride over 60 kilometers from Pallu to Sardar Sahar in Northern Rajasthan. Two mad men on a mad trip. Their opponent is not the govt., but we - the apathetic great Indian Middle Class, the largest group of ‘like-minded’ people anywhere in the world. Their enemy is this class’ attitude of turning a blind eye to the uncomfortable truth and taking refuge in fictions like religion, materialism and what not.

The two men pack their two bags on their cycle, the big one on the back, the small one in front. Abhay hates riding this ‘uncle cycle’. But sports cycle, like sports car cannot carry enough. Despite desiring otherwise, he too readies himself to add another day of cycling to the 26 days they have completed, add 60 odd more kilometers to the 2000 odd they have already covered.

Sadly, they manage to cover only 4km in an hour as the wind provides wild resistance to their movement. They had to tow their cycles to Sardar Sahar. Later Himanshu allegorically says, “We are anyways going against the direction of the wind. Resistance is the least we can expect.”
Abhay listens with the audience as Himanshu speaks... 

The public gathered to hear him at Sardar Sahar is a small one: few teachers and 30 odd students, mostly school kids and some college youths. Yet, what is interesting is that the teachers here are not so unaware of their grim reality. One talks about how the famed NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) is actually a scheme to kill the agricultural sector. When probed he says, “Under NREGA they give laborers money even if they don’t work. Now, because of the BT crops (that do not yield seeds, which means you have to buy seeds every year, as opposed to the ancient logic of keeping aside a part of the crop for seeds next year) you have to buy seeds every year making agriculture more unaffordable. And any money the govt. gives is thus welcome to this famished farmer. They will quit agriculture, sell their land to corporates for factories to be set up on fertile land and become laborers.”

Another teacher is in tears when she hears of how the police, SPOs and Salwa Judum is treating the Chhatisgarhi tribal. She gives a moving vote of thanks reminding her students of the ancient Indian phrase ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’ – the world is your family. She draws the analogy of the Bhopal Gas Victims who have not yet received justice. Maybe the truth about Chhatisgarh will take as many years as that to reach us, she reminds the students. Even if a part of the body is pained, it affects the rest of the body, she says. Bingo! Her impromptu speech is part rhetoric, part insightful.

When the kids are hesitant to ask questions, a teacher says, “He has raised his voice against his own government, and you are hesitant to ask questions.”

Himanshu Kumar Speaks on the 26th day of his Cycle Tour

Earlier the lady teacher had told Himanshu, “We get irritated even after a small journey in a car in this smelting heat. But you are doing it on a cycle. Only the strong can do it.” Himanshu quips quickly, “The strong or the desperate. I am desperate after the government destroyed everything that I had built.” The teacher is quick to respond, “Only the desperate is strong.” Another Maoist sympathizer for you, Mr. Chidambaram?

There perhaps is hope still for the Indian Middle Class.

News comes that an RTI and wildlife activist, Amit Jaithwa, has been shot dead in Gujarat brazenly outside a court. Himanshu talks of the govt. resistance against him. It won’t be tough for the govt. to silence him as well. “My cycle might be run over by a truck and the govt. will call it an accident. Like the ‘accidents’ it causes to millions of hungry in this nation,” he says. Life is indeed cheap in a country run under reckless capitalism.

One among the audience, a local activist, informs Himanshu later of another local activist, Dharampal Kataria, who had raised his voice against the local police’s complicity with the higher classes here who had raped and murdered a lower caste woman. They had instead implicated this activist for the same, and he is languishing in jail. Everyone knows the truth, no one says anything.

Even as Sardar Sahar sleeps, the two set out, this time without their big bags in their carriers which will be brought to them by a local... 

Himanshu recalls how he was told in Punjab that the PM of the country, Manmohan Singh, had been named a Naxalite when he was still a professor in Punjab by the police some 30 odd years back. He cared, they told him, back then. What happened to him? Maybe the capitalist salesman from the Sidney Lumet film ‘Network’ visited and converted this ‘gentle sardar’. There are no countries anymore, only corporations, the capitalist had screamed sense into a compassionate messiah in the film. How true!

Peacocks scream out freely in this one lakh strong community in Sardar Sahar. They roam freely here, unlike many humans in this country.

There is a man being illegally imprisoned every minute in every nook and corner of this country. There is so much injustice in this nation that trying to grasp it all can drive the middle class soul into Sadat Hasan Manto’s asylum from his story ‘Toba Tek Singh’ i.e. they will be finally rendered sane.

But in an insane world, sanity is the new insanity. But the likes of Himanshu, refuse to drink from the insane well. And for that, we, the middle class, shall lynch him. 
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