Mr. Nikhil Dey
Mr. Nikhil started his journey into social works at a young age of 20 years. He, in his own words comes from an elite background. His father was a high ranking IAF officer which led to Nikhil move through multiple postings across India and abroad coupled with and education in the top private schools. This degree of exposure to the world at a young age could be one of the reasons for a trait of renouncement that I witnessed in him.
The pivotal years for Nikhil were his student life abroad in the 1980s when he was engaged in a peer group with interest in various people’s movement with the feminist movement at the forefront. His ideologies for an effective people’s movement seemed to have forged by this initial experience. He is a firm believer of the notion “change comes from within” and demonstrated this by deciding to dropout from college education and engaging in social causes.
Given his background and upbringing, he came across a barrier of culture and language in his own country when he started his work. It is commendable that this adversity did not deter him from his objective and he has come a long way now from where he began.
Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS)
Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan[i], (MKSS) is a People’s Organization and part of the growing Non-party political process in India. The MKSS works with workers and peasants in the villages of Central Rajasthan. It was set up by the people of the area in 1990 to strengthen participatory democratic processes.
It started with the fight for “Employee guarantee act”, when villagers were not being paid their minimum wages. The funds were dispersed by the government but did not reach the labors due to corruption. The mindset among villagers was that of – “it’s the government money, let it burn. I don’t care”. With MKSS in the picture this notion changed; in the words of Arunaa Roy the belief shifted from government’s money to my hard-earned money; thus, giving a big push to this movement and the eventual passing of the act.
Another landmark impact of MKSS has been its efforts to help pass the “Right to information act (RTI)”. By estimates, around 50% of the funds sanctioned for village development works were being appropriated by the panchayat members illegally. MKSS brought the people together to raise concerns and demand justice on this issue. The act has been instrumental in tracking of frauds across the nation and has improved transparency and functioning of the administration.
The Sangathan also swears by a set of six accountability principles which has developed over the years.
- Jankari – The access to usable information on projects related to people development
- Sunwai – The access to official legal proceedings where the plea of people will be heard
- Karyawahi – The promise of a timebound legal action against the guilty individual
- Bhagidari – The involvement in decision making which effects the people, not to be left out
- Suraksha – The first-time reporters and whistleblowers should be protected
- Manch- The access to an open platform for debate
Psychology of slogans in people’s movement
Another theme emerged from Nikhil’s talk is about the power of slogans in people’s movements. I was skeptical about the emphasis on slogans, but this changed after an in-class demonstration. A slogan[ii] can be defined as a phrase, a short sentence, a headline, a dictum, which, intentionally or unintentionally, amounts to an appeal to the person who is exposed to it to revive or strengthen an already well-established stereotype, to accept a new idea, or to undertake some action.
Not only is the message captured in a simple and crisp manner, it is amplified by the emotions of a group which share the respective concern for the message. It is usual in India for people’s movements to be dragged across multiple months, driving on nothing but will and determination; one central slogan can add extra mile to such efforts, an element which keeps the spirits up no matter the situation.
However, there lies an element of agenda in slogans and they must be tailored carefully. At the time of crises and tension, it may be used or abused for intense action and feeling. Again, a slogan may not necessarily express the true and objective solution of the problems faced by the masses.