About FOOTPRINTS IN THE BAJRA (Cedar Books, New Delhi); By Nabina Das

"Fittingly for a poet, Nabina’s novel also has a strong lyrical core. 'Footprints in the Bajra' takes the homely image of the millet field as its central metaphor. ... But the novel is less a thriller about guerrilla action than a subtly colored character study of a fascinating group of individuals who intersect at various points in their lives ..." -- DEBRA CASTILLO, author, editor and distinguished professor (Cornell University, April 17, 2010).

Footprints in the Bajra is a serious book that moves at a smart uncontrived pace. It voices deep concerns about how and why the deprived and the marginalized in certain parts of our country join the Maoist ranks; how they adopt desperate and often terrible measures to wrench justice and to make their voices heard... a confident debut novel, a good read, which will leave you with plenty to mull over. -- PRITI AISOLA, author (See Paris for Me, Penguin-India, 2009) in DANSE MACABRE XXXIV.

In her debut novel, Nabina Das writes about an India where social divides stand taller than multistoried shopping malls. Footprints in the Bajra, inspired by what she saw while touring the interiors of Bihar as part of a travelling theatre group, inquires into why the Maoists have an influence over a large section of Indian society. Das talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York about her book, and its protagonist Muskaan -- DAILY NEWS AND ANALYSIS, Mumbai, March 28, 2010.


"The interspersion of references from both the West and India do not clash. Shakespeare and Lazarus as reference points are brought in with ease, as also Valmiki and Goddess Chhinnamasta, and nothing jars ... The language is poetic and creates visual images of beauty and ugliness side by side." -- ABHA IYENGAR, poet (Yearnings: Serene Woods, 2010) and fiction writer in MUSE INDIA, May-Jun 2010

Shwetank Dubey says Nabina Das ably recreates the milieu of Maoist-infested regions of India -- Nabina Das has chosen the first person account of narrating a story from the main characters of the novel, Nora the sheherwali (urban dweller), Muskaan the rebel, Suryakant Sahay the crafty clandestine planner and Avadhut the frontrunner of all the operations... the book deals with something that no urban resident is bound to know on his own — the life and times of people living in Maoist infested areas and why do they give in to the temptation provided by the Red Brigade. -- PIONEER newspaper, April 25, 2010.
'"If you misrepresent them, they'll abduct and kill you," says Muskaan, our hostess'... goes the first line with which Nabina Das settles everything about her novel -- style, subject and pace... Excellent plotline. Wonderful detail. A beautifully crafted book. -- Karunamay Sinha; THE STATESMAN, Sunday supplement "8th Day", May 16, 2010.

"This is bitter-sweet, if a rather longish tale of a modern-day Maoist revolution and the seeds of destruction and betrayal that lie embedded in it." -- Business World, May 17, 2010

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Doomed: Gujarat’s daily wage earners

Nabina Das

New Delhi, May 12 (2002)

Shanti Abhiyan and PUCL-Vadodara (Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties), two voluntary organizations and human rights activist groups, have found that post Godhra carnage in Gujarat has rendered daily wage labourers bereft of employment and on the verge of starvation.
Most of the daily wage earners, a majority of them belonging to the minority community, are being forced to stay indoors for weeks together without any employment. A targeted attack on the minority community in the name of a revenge for the Godhra massacre has continued unabated ever since February 27. Homes of thousands of people belonging to the minority community have been razed to the ground. With all hell being let loose, and the government proving to be indifferent towards the ongoing problem in the once prosperous state, sources of livelihood have been destroyed.
It is only now that with the presence of K P S Gill, that the Gujarat state police has been revamped. The Supercop has promised stern action against those involved in rioting. Earlier, most cases of arson and looting happened in the presence of the police forces where the attackers had boldly stated that they have police protection.
According to Shanti Abhiyan and PUCL, looking back at the statistics, in the atmosphere of polarization in Gujarat in the past 5 years, as many as 10 lakh people have lost employment in the state. No new employment has been generated to rectify this. “The government, the public and the private sector have instead touted the Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) as an answer to this,” states a PUCL observation.The PUCL-Shanti Abhiyan statement says: “Due to the new economic policy of the government, the situation of the common person is worsening day by day. Like vegetable vendors, groups of daily wage labourers move around in areas like Old Padra Road, Nyay Mandir, and the railway station underbridge. Now they have begun to overflow to other, newer areas of the city. In Baroda city, earlier there used to be 3-5 casual labour markets but now these have now increased to 20.”
Under any circumstance, daily wage workers have to work for more than 10-16 hours every day. The PUCL-Shanti Abhiyan report points out that as many as 4,000-10,000 people stand in labour markets for hours each day in Baroda city alone to get employed.
The common myth earlier, according to PUCL, was that these people are migrants from Panchmahal or Chota Udepur region. But a careful survey of these labour markets will reveal that there are new categories of people in these markets – even those who earlier had secure jobs or people who worked in industries that have now closed down, or those who have been retrenched in the name of "Voluntary Retirement Scheme".
The report states that some of these “daily wage labourers” used to get Rs 2,500-3,000 per month as permanent employees in industries. Now, in the casual labour market they get a meager Rs 35-65 as daily wages. With the size of this casual labour market bursting at its seams, the wages naturally, have shown a downward trend. With more people joining these markets after being rendered homeless in the recent carnage, ones may imagine the situation.Taking stock of the riot scenario in Gujarat, PUCL notes that the number of rickshaws that are run on rents has also significantly increased. Among the number of those who are earning a living in such a manner, 50 per cent are workers of the closed mills of Gujarat.
Amongst the new rickshaw drivers, there are of course those who are unable to get other jobs, but also those who have lost their regular jobs or have been retrenched in the name of voluntary retirement. Those who can afford to rent out their rickshaws have bought the cars themselves, so that those who drive the rickshaws and those who sit in rickshaws are from about “the same economic strata” making the economic condition of rickshaw drivers even more precarious. Around 70 per cent of rickshaws are not able to go on road ever since the riots broke out and assumed a nefarious proportion.
There are about 70 per cent of people who rely on the informal/unorganised sector for their employment. It is anybody’s guess that a section of the population has been either been driven out of their homes or virtually imprisoned in their houses since rioting began and are unable to go out to seek employment. This segment of the population are not white collared workers employed in schools, banks or any other organised sector, where if people do not show up at work due to curfew, they are still able to get their salaries or wages. So not only have these people been pushed on the brink of starvation and are being terrorised by the fear of communal attacks, but they also do not see a favourable state intervention.

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