Get Up, Stand Up: An Entire Village Takes to the Ultimate Protest

“Everyone can go jump in a well,” was a feminist friend’s succinctly feminist last-word declamation on the New Year’s Eve molestation episode in Bangalore that played out everywhere – TV, channels, radio, your Facebook timeline, my Twitter feed, our phones: a response coming at the tether end of an already short rope.

Once in a while, you reach a point when enough truly is enough. It could be patriarchy, demonetization, disease, death…. Or, if you belong to the unfortunate majority in our country, then it’s all of this coupled with a severe lack of everything.

No development.

No education.

No water.

No electricity.

No jobs.

Yes, that India. The one everybody hears about, but no one really cares about.

Except that one magical time in a five-year cycle. When those at the helm of things begin to throng the galis and purwas and non-roads of these places, promising the moon and more. They make it all sound so easy, like the school will get built overnight, the road will come gift-wrapped in a lovely box, and the shauchalay will present itself on a platter.

But the only magic that unfolds is The Vanishing Act of the Politician. Never to be seen, until it’s time again for the circus to hit the town and perform once again.

They say when you’re pushed to the wall, you either give up and break down. Or you opt for the only other choice you have: You break the wall.

It’s a truism showcased in the history of protest in the history of the world. It’s a moment when an outlier decides enough is enough and a community follows.

Like that split second in which Rosa Parks refused to get up on that bus in Montgomery to give up her seat to a white man, because, she “was tired of giving in”.

Like the time that Mangal Pandey picked up arms and screamed “Bagawat!”

Like the time Christabel Pankhurst barged in on a Liberal Party meeting.

Like the time Gandhi picked up his lathi and led a Salt March from Sabarmati Ashram to Dandi, an almost 400-kilometer walk.

We know them as the Civil Rights Movement, The Suffragettes, the Salt Tax Dandi March, India’s first bid for independence against the empire, the signing of the Magna Carta, the storming of the Bastille.

Revolutions all that began in a moment of a crucial decision.

It’s something the residents of Chandaur village in the Banda district of Bundelkhand know something about. And so it is that they’ve collectively taken a most crucial decision, one that could define them and the face of elections for generations to come – they are all boycotting the upcoming Uttar Pradesh elections in protest.

There are as many reasons as promises. And Chandaur enlisted them all during their staged protest outside the gates of the elementary school. Shiv Bodhan talks about the rampant unemployment in the village, “So much of our youth studies hard, secures the marks also, some are even BA or MA pass and yet they don’t get jobs. They come back empty handed, saying that unless they bribe those in charge, their chances at finding work are slim.” Munni tells us about a long line of pradhans, “this is the sixth one”, and how he’s rendered ineffectual when it comes to problem-solving because the powers-that-be are busy spending all the money in Lucknow. Malkhan Lal shows us the paperwork of pending cases on which no karavaai has happened thus far, while another young man complains about the absence of roads, bijli-paani and that one hospital that has never seen a doctor. “The pooling booths are going to be deserted, I swear”, he says, the anger in his voice reflecting in his eyes.

Which resonates in what Gujartiya, 70, tells us too, ranting about the drought and the state of the fields and all the impending marriages in the family she’s responsible for. Girja, 50, is adamant about getting ration cards and schooling, even as Ramchander Yadav, village pradhan, explains, “This is a small village. We are all poor. We are all helpless. We’ve been fooled enough. This is all we can do.” And he pronounces with certainty, “We are 4500 in number and I am with my people on this. All 4500 of us are not going to cast our votes in the elections.” “They’re all thugs, and this time, we’re refusing to get conned”, Malkhan adds, as Munni says, “I’d really rather sit at home”.

Enough is enough after all, and Chandaur is feeling it hot in their blood right now; their veins throbbing with rage.

Everyone can just go jump in a well, as far as they’re concerned.

विकास नहीं तो वोट नहीं, is their chant. And it’s going out loud and clear to cycles, lotuses, palms, elephants, what-have-you.

Anybody listening?