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Borders melt in Shabdo protest

Shabdo (Gaya), Feb. 12: Villagers from Jharkhand’s Lesliganj of hunger-death infamy mingled like sugar in milk with a 150-strong contingent from Santiniketan in Bengal this afternoon to tell Shabdo that solidarity for a good beginning made knows no boundaries.

The sankalp congregation, impressive even by Bihar’s political standards, saw the attendance of not just the district’s downtrodden, but also that of hundreds of people from all over the country. Some foreign delegates, too, were spotted. Before the meeting, all of them had marched in discipline from Fatehpur, the block headquarters, in a snake-like queue of nearly a kilometre.

The venom, poured in the form of hard-hitting slogans and writ large on the thousands of unknown faces, was definitely directed against the state government and police.

Shabdo was where NGO activists Sarita and Mahesh worked — and were brutally shot dead on January 24 — but by then they had already converted this village of 40 houses into a model for everyone.

The fear, many residents of the nearby clusters said, is that to replicate such model villages anywhere in the caste-ridden and violent central Bihar, particularly in Gaya district, is an uphill, if not an impossible, task.

“The accused, Budhan Yadav and Sadhu Yadav, both sons of Samman Yadav and already named in the FIR, are known to the police. They are moving scot-free in the area. But no action has been taken. The police have definitely done an eyewash of attaching their property,” a senior Shabdo resident said.

“But we are happy today. I did not imagine that people all over the country were so solidly behind us. We feel strong. The government has set up a police picket at the village community centre that was conceived and constructed by Sarita and Mahesh. Our women do not feel comfortable going towards that area. I think the picket can be removed as it is serving no purpose,” another villager said.

As if to recall that Sarita and Mahesh worked at the grassroots, pride of place was accorded at the meeting to the representatives of the panchayat bodies from district. Zilla parishad member Nagendra Yadav said though it was hard to take on criminals passing on as politicians or vice-versa, he and his associates would work to continue the good work done by the devoted activists.

The gathering missed the attendance of Narmada Bachao Andolan’s Medha Patkar, whose flight from Delhi was delayed, but Magsaysay awardee Sandip Pandey and economist Jean Drez participated.

“The duo’s work — in clamping prohibition, enforcing cleanliness, starting community farming, constructing common cattle shed, strengthening and improvising irrigation infrastructure, building toilets in each house, besides a community hall — has no parallel. But they were also concerned about the presence of fluoride in the hand-pump water. They spoke about doing some water treatment,” an NGO worker said.

Sarita’s husband Pushpendra, her mother and her sister attended the sankalp sabha and they were given a rousing welcome for belonging to the family of brave worker who has already become a rallying point for voluntary workers of the country.

Hundreds of residents from nearby villagers, who had started pouring into Shabdo by 11 am though the meeting was scheduled to start at 1 pm, also shared the grief of the model village.

“They had begun the good work from Shabdo but we were sure it would expand to other villages as well. That looks like a distant force, not so much because villagers do not want to grow but since to find a uniting agent like Sarita and Mahesh is very hard,” an elderly villager from Jamuhar said.

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