This story is part of a series on the everyday heroes of rural Maharashtra.
Ever since the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed by the Indian Parliament in December 2019, 73-year-old Narayan Gaikwad, a resident of Jambhali village in the Shirol taluka of Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district, has been on the move. He travels through villages in the region, spending up to four hours a day talking to farmers and agricultural labourers about the CAA and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
“I’m a part-time farmer and full-time social worker,” Gaikwad says. The modest statement doesn’t tell the full story of Gaikwad’s days, which begin at 4 am, comprise seven hours of labour in the fields, and then a motorcycle ride to the neighbouring villages, for spreading awareness about government policies and the rights of the marginalised. In his signature white kurta-pyjama and Gandhi cap, Gaikwad’s is a familiar figure in the area. “Someone has to do the job of making people aware,” he shrugs.
Gaikwad has already canvassed the streets and farms of more than 15 villages over the past month as part of his CAA, NRC awareness drive, and aims to cover all 54 villages of Shirol taluka. He asks people to examine “why are Muslims not included in the law?” and where the “lakhs and lakhs of people who don’t have documents (to prove their citizenship)” will go. The response from his listeners isn’t usually encouraging. Many do not know about the provisions of the CAA, NRC. When he shares the information with them, his listeners wonder why they should care. ‘We are finding it difficult to survive, why should we listen to you? When it will come to us, we’ll see what to do’ is what he is often told. But Gaikwad — who considers Savitribai and Mahatma Phule his inspirations — isn’t easily disheartened. “People threw cow dung at Savitribai, and yet she worked hard and never gave up,” he points out.
In Shirol taluka, the apathy is due in no small part to the farmers’ circumstances. The region is still reeling from the devastation of the August 2019 floods, with compensation still awaited, and cases of farmers’ suicides. “People are tired now,” says Gaikwad, quietly. “There is a limit to everything.”
The local media doesn’t contribute to raising awareness levels, so Gaikwad has conversations with as many people as he can — farm workers, street hawkers, sweepers, in villages like Takavade, Shirdhon, Rajapurwadi, Rajapur, Dattawad, Khidrapur, Danwad, Nandani, Jambhali, Alas, Bubnal. “In villages, you will find people sitting and talking under a tree. I directly go there and inform them about the CAA and how it’s taking our nation towards dictatorship,” he says. “At times, I go directly to the field where several farmers and labourers work. I talk to them and make them aware of the CAA.”
His method is simple: multiple rounds of discussion. “Even after that if people don’t understand then we will get experts and activists like Kumar Shiralkar and Uday Narkar to talk to them,” he says. While several people want to join him in spreading awareness, the biggest impediment lies in making ends meet. “Every labourer in Shirol is working at least 12 hours a day to make ends meet,” he shrugs. “How will they join protests if they have nothing to eat?” The lack of funds impedes his plans as well. “If I have to hold a sabha or a rally, renting a mic costs at least Rs 800,” he says.
Often, in spreading awareness about CAA and NRC, what Narayan Gaikwad must counter, is long-held prejudice. For instance, when speaking with villagers at the Kopeshwar temple yatra in Khidrapur village, a villager shouted that Muslims were “infiltrators” who “should be removed from India”. Even as Gaikwad spoke of Partition and constitutional safeguards, the villager stormed out of the meeting. Such hate speech can only be challenged “by teaching people that we are all Indians and everyone is our brother and sister. Everyone has to read the Preamble to the Constitution,” says Gaikwad. Once, Gaikwad received a threat to his life, but seemed unfazed. “If you fear [danger], you shouldn’t get into this work. Someone has to bell the cat, otherwise, the cat will eat all the mice,” he says, and laughs.
The time for intellectuals to speak up, he says, is now. “Go to weekly markets, and start talking to common people,” he exhorts. His own oratorical skills are powerful, and Gaikwad is convinced that even if his words do not have an immediate impact on his listeners, they will mull over his message later and experience a shift in mind-set. “Tyana doka aahe (they have a brain),” he says. “At night or after work, they think about what I said and why I was saying it.”
Watching Gaikwad as he carries out door-to-door campaign is enough to show why his words are difficult to ignore. “The government doesn’t want to waive the loans of farmers and they have crores of rupees to spend on NRC?” he asks a rapt audience during a discussion in Nandani village. On a visit to a Dalit basti in Jambhali, Gaikwad and the residents discussed the Constitution, and how the government’s policies were destroying the ideals enshrined in it.
After one door-to-door campaign, a farmer from Jambhali village — Raosaheb Koli — called Gaikwad and told him they needed to start protesting the CAA, NRC. Koli suggested that farmers be brought together for an open meeting, where the issue could be discussed. These open meetings should be held at the village level, and each village must pass a resolution scrapping the amended CAA and NRC. All the villages should then send this to the state government and that is how the law will be repealed, Gaikwad says.
A major hurdle Gaikwad contends with is the rampant spread of misinformation through social media, WhatsApp, and some of the local news outlets as well. “Tey tel, chutney, mit, lavun detat (they exaggerate their reports). I read articles properly and only pick up what’s factually right,” says Gaikwad, who ended his schooling in Class 11 because of financial constraints and began working in the fields. He goes through a stack of newspapers and magazines in his attempt to glean — and share — the truth.
“Shika, Sanghatit vha, Sangarsh Kara (Educate, Organise, Agitate),” Gaikwad advises. “This is the only way to defeat fascist forces. The government has said that CAA will be implemented, but what will they do if all the states refuse to implement it?”
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Updated Date: Feb 11, 2020 13:50:15 IST