On 1st July 2016, a jun sunwai (public hearing) was organized by a civil society organization, Pension Parishad. This event was brought from the remote villages such as Devdungari and others in Rajasthan to a central Delhi location – Indian Women’s Press Corps – probably with a thought that until a tale is told in the capital city, it doesn’t become a ‘national news’. Hanja Devi, an 83 year old woman from Rajasthan had traveled to Delhi after her 22 days long protest in June along with hundreds of social security scheme beneficiaries outside Shahid Smarak in Jaipur. They have been trying to prove to Rajasthan state government that their names have been struck off from the roster arbitrarily. They have been trying to tell state government officers to listen to them and revive their old age pension.
This reminds me about a conversation that I had with my colleagues at a university where I teach. Amongst my colleagues there are a few who has a kin interest in studying the livelihood struggles of poor people who inhabit rural India. One afternoon having glanced through a recently tabled CAG audit report on Madhya Pradesh that brings to us performance review of implementation of social security schemes, I rushed to share with a colleague if we can write on this issue.
A friend who posted about this jan sunwai on social security scheme in social media narrated how the tales narrated by people who spoke at jan sunwai revealed that living people were recorded/considered as dead by the Rajasthan govt and due to such removal of their names, these eligible persons have been denied their due old age pensions, disability pension and widow pension. He then went on to say in his post, “Eminent citizens Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey, Annie Raja, Kavita Srivastava and Shiv Visvanathan were present during the jan sunwai”.
His post left me wondering what makes some of us use this phrase ‘eminent citizen’ so innocuously. It reminded me of nameless auditors who during the course of performing their constitutional duties, reveal to us citizens how state bureaucracy commits acts of commission and omissions while implementing social security schemes. I often wonder if civil society activists would try and pick up a performance audit done by CAG auditors, study the sampled districts and supplement those audit findings by employing a follow up social audit methodology. Why is it that year after year, we witness at numerous ‘jan sunwais’ the stories of their woes being narrated by people who speak to media persons through a few ‘eminent citizens’? This almost innocent use of the phrase ‘eminent citizens’ makes me wonder, if we would ever see activists in many of social movements around us ask us to “listen to us, and in case you don’t follow my language, please ask this fellow-citizen sitting here beside us translate our stories for you”.
Is it too much to start unlearning a few innocuous sounding phrases such as ‘eminent citizen’ and start learning a new language that looks at a social science nomad as ‘fellow citizen’ concerned about the livelihood struggles of India’s poor citizens? Is it too early to see an Aruna Roy or a Nikhil Dey take up performance review comments from a recent CAG audit report and explain the content and import of the same to pensioners in Madhya Pradesh at a jan sunwai?