by Sr. Veena Jacob, RA
Assumption sisters are working with migrants in the Patna slums. The slum dwellers come from the drought- and flood-affected villages of Bihar and Jharkhand. These people are mostly landless and are agricultural labourers. They are illiterate and unskilled and belong to the Dalit (low caste) community. A number of them do not have legal papers as citizens to get the entitlement of government welfare programs.
When migrants come to the city they live near the waste dumping ground, the canal and the sides of the railway with makeshift houses. The atmosphere in the slum is very violent. We have been working with women for their empowerment and development of their children in this slum for the last eight years.
Stalin nagar has been a slum for more that the last 50 years. Due to our interventions many families have gotten their ration cards which entitle them to government food security for people below the poverty line. They are supposed to get subsided food (wheat/rice/ sugar) and kerosene (fuel) from the ration shop every month according to the number of family members.
The owner of the ration shop is a powerful man of this area. He and his workers refuse to distribute rations to the Stalin nagar slum people who have a right to get the rations. Due to corruption in the distribution system, the rations never reach the poor. Rations were sold out before they reached the ration shop. Poor people were frightened to demand their rations. Anyone who challenges the owner of the ration shop is beaten up, their women and children were raped, or their huts burned down. The law and order of the state is very poor; hence no action was taken against them.
Sisters trained around a group of 30 illiterate women from Stalin nagar slum in self-help to demand their rations from the ration shop. They went and stood in front of the ration shop owner with empty bags in protest till he gave them rations. Now they get their regular rations every month.
The method used by the women is Satyagraha. One of Gandhi’s teachings is Satyagraha. Satya means ‘truth’ and agraha means ‘firmness’. Satyagraha is the vindication of truth — not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but on one’s self. This principle reverses the ‘eye-for-an-eye’ policy which Gandhi says is blind and destructive. It returns good for evil until the evildoer tires of evil…