Perhaps change is a highly overrated subject. When Pringles reached my hometown in Bihar, it was intimidating. We had grown up on Doordarshan, home-based goodies from the local redriwala. For some, this change was progress, for others, it was not. What does the new mantra of development and good governance of the new chief minister mean' Political pundits have opined extensively about agendas of casteism and communalism being turned on their head in the recent Bihar elections with the vote for 'development'. One hopes that this means that the patch of road near my house, broken for the last 14 years, is repaired. One hopes it means that the law and order situation improves. But one also hopes that it includes greater access to justice and use of a rights-based approach to governance.
Two villages epitomize the importance of such an approach. The carpet-making industry in Obra, Aurangabad, is dying. The main reason is lack of state support for this traditional industry, functioning mostly as a small-scale unit. When the industry flourished in the Seventies, one of the oldest craftsmen received the president's award.
For every one inch of carpet woven, which on an average takes an entire day, the earnings are a mere Rs 60. Apart from a local cooperative effort of weavers (to keep the tradition alive), there is little else. The government has responded with silence to the demands of the cooperative. Some think this indifference is because a majority of the weavers are Muslims. While the sangh parivar is constantly highlighting the so-called appeasement of Muslims, where is it when there is covert discrimination against the community' And where are the leaders of the Muslim community'
The members of the cooperative are aware of the challenges of a global economy. They are angry about the recent withdrawal of subsidies that has put them at a great disadvantage in comparison to the more powerful loom-owners. On their part, they hold that they use child labour rarely. Most of their carpets are of the thicker weave, for which they insist adult labour is used.
While carpet loom industries in Mirzapur and other parts of Uttar Pradesh have been able to market their goods through channels, the lack of interest and patronage from the state have stunted the industry in Aurangabad. With the closure of local looms, some craftsmen have taken up working for loom owners in UP. Migration of Bihari labourers to other parts of the country is not new. But this used to be mostly of unskilled or agricultural labour. Obra is now changing migration patterns.
Another village on the Grand Trunk Road is Manphar, in Gaya. No, there is no industry dying here, but one wonders how people survive here. A community of Musahars or rat-eaters and Bhoktas inhabit this village. For a few months during the year, they survive on roots and tubers. Even if they had supplies of wheat or rice, they would still need tubers to supplement their diet. Decades of deprivation have forced these communities to adopt eating patterns that are unthinkable in other parts of the country.
The stories are not exhaustive. Other villages represent different modes of deprivation and abject poverty. But these two villages highlight two sides of the argument against unplanned development without a rights based approach. In the first village, the need is to preserve tradition, in the second, there is a need to replace the existing traditional inequalities. Whether or not the new resident of 1, Anne Marg is able to transform the state is largely going to depend on what model of development he chooses to adopt.