By Martin Macwan*
The day was March 20, 2021. The Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK) was holding the first programme to launch its sustained campaign against untouchability. People from different villages of 14 districts had come with their own donations in the form of 501 kilo Gram of brass utensils.
There were no speeches. After my initial remarks, the stage was declared open for anyone and everyone who wanted to publicly announce their own contribution to strengthen the movement.
In the middle of all the adult men and women, there stood a girl of twelve and a half years waiting for her turn to reach the microphone. Soon she reached the spot. With a composed voice she spoke, “I will collect 100 one rupee coins and 5 kilogram of brass”. She had the lowest target but she captured the attention of the audience and they clapped for her.
Her name is Niharika. Her mother is an Asha worker and her father a guard. Her family resides in village Dharmaj of district Anand.
Dharmaj is well known for its prosperity and NRI population. The village reportedly holds Rs 1,000 crore of fixed deposits. I had heard about the village in 1980 when I entered into the field of public life. I was 21 then. Dharmaj was known as one village where no Dalit dared to cast vote in any elections.
Three years ago, for the first time, Dalits of this village voted in the Gujarat Assembly elections. Many Dalits feared the consequences and I reached the village at 2 in the morning. Dinaben was another courageous woman working with Navsarjan who at that hour of night drove her moped and reached alone in the village.
I knew Niharika since she was a child. Her aunt works with DSK and she visited DSK during her vacations. Niharika participated in all activities at DSK along with other girls and boys much elder to her age.
Her declared resolve was in my mind, and this afternoon I spoke to her. She told me with unshakable confidence in her voice that against her resolve to collect 100 one rupee coins she had already collected 300 coins and her target of five kilo brass too is traveling beyond.
Niharika goes from family to family, explaining to them the objectives of the campaign.
“Who gives you the coins?”, I asked her.
“Mainly, women”, she says.
“Has anyone opposed you?”
“One of my uncles”, she says with a blush.
Her uncle tries to test her nerve by telling her that Dr Ambedkar had never told the next generation to collect brass articles and one rupee coins. Niharika is unmoved. She counters her uncle, “Why is the name of Dr Ambedkar not in the list of nationally prominent people in Gujarat?” The uncle has no words to counter.
She told me that she still has to collect more coins and brass articles as people have promised to give her. Her brother accompanies her at times to take photographs of the donors. Niharika has maintained a detailed list of donors.
I have come across several prominent people during my long career. Often their first reaction to any new initiative is negative. As adults we often engage in never-ending debates. Like Niharika there are any number of children who are enthusiastic about ‘1 Country 1 Nation’. The wisdom of such campaigns is seen better by children than many adults.
I remember the enthusiasm of children that I witnessed in 100 day foot march ‘Ram patra chhodo, Bhimpatra apnavo’ in 2002. Children had collected lots of pieces of chalk sticks discarded on the floor of their classrooms and they had used them to write slogans for the march on the village roads.
Niharika is one example to remind us that we as adults bring in lots of cynicism to social movements whereas the children bring in the hope. We need to learn from children.
*Founder, Navsarjan Trust and Dalit Shakti Kendra, Sanand, Ahmedabad district