Zindabad in Ahmedabad ……….

I attended the NAFRE Maha-Adhivesan or Convention 2007, in Ahmedabad from 12th to 14th March. This was the third `Congress’ as it used to be called in 2004. The hedges on the L-shaped driveway of Tagore Hall were adorned with flex and an occasional cloth banner inviting delegates to the convention, heralding what needs to be done and what is possible for children in India. The venue a huge auditorium and spacious grounds in the vicinity of the Sabarmati river. Saw that when the speakers made mention of it and later when I sneaked out of the side exit for a cigarette. The first day as with all events began late people trudging off to say hello to friends and acquaintances. The table arrangement onstage was being given some finishing touches and various delegates were anxious to perform before the formal proceedings began.

On the lawns delegates from various parts of the country were gathering in groups. A group from Karnataka seemed to be setting the tempo for the day through vigorous dance movements as they proceeded from the lawns to the venue. It was nice to see a band of young women drummers, playing the drums and dancing to keep pace with the drumbeats. As delegates strolled in the stage area was busy with various delegates clamouring to perform and a chorus of voices from the audience to start the day. Then began a round of speeches by various NAFRE council members present on the stage. At the risk of oversimplification most seemed to share how the world is increasingly getting polarized on lines of the rich and the poor with control of resources natural and man-made resting with a numerical minority who create untold hardship on the vast majority of people. An elderly speaker, Advocate Girishbhai a human rights lawyer held the audience spellbound sharing his interest in why he chose to attend this Congress and opinions on the state of the world and our country in particular. He put forward his understanding on the `buzzword’ Terrorism and its elaboration in the context of our country. This drove home to me, the point of a denial of human rights and infused me with this Congress.

Lunch was available through coupons included in the kit that we got at the registration desk. So off we trundled to the basement of the auditorium to have some custard like daal and rice with pickles. It was nice to catch up with familiar faces CRY people and partners. The afternoon was divided into four thematic sessions. I attended the one on Indigenous, Ethnic Challenges and the Nation state. Stated simply it means the challenges faced by Tribals or Adivasi people. It was in a tent on the lawns. S B Mullick, the main speaker shared with us an excerpt from a letter written by an aboriginal to the President of the United Sates in the 19th century explaining their world view and harmony with nature. The session included a generous dose of history; the kind that we with our `English’ education have rarely come across. In school we learnt of the 1857 revolt of the Indian sepoys against the British but not very much is mentioned of the Santhal rebellion of 1855!

The next two days were about `realpolitik’ if one may call it so. A 23 page document containing the NAFRE vision and organization structure was to be finalized followed by a rally. On day II the vision part of the document was read out. Delegates were referring to the document as it was being read out. Later delegates from each state had to nominate a person to compile their views and share it with the audience. The next session was devoted to organizational structure which proceeded in the same way. Boy! were there differences and how? expressed in ranges of agreement and disagreement. The session facilitators surely may have experienced a test of their democratic values. On both days, I was sitting at the media desk, since what I could volunteer was sharing of my notes to the NAFRE media committee. All this got over finally at midnight, post each session delegates were requested through a show of hands to express agreement or disagreement with the vision and the structure document.

The last day was one of excitement and suspense because all of us were to attend the rally and suspense because of who would be the new NAFRE council office holders. At the auditorium the newly elected council was invited to the stage they would confer amongst themselves and decide the office holders. Jeeps and trucks were entering the complex bringing with them loads of people from various corners of the state for the rally. People were running around with posters, banners and handbills. Through the public address system a volley of instructions to delegates in Gujarati could be heard. Groups of people were huddled at the chai counter which was also serving some `kanda poha with pomegranate’. Lunch was to be distributed in packets because of the rally. So chose a shady spot waiting for the rallyists to assemble and start moving. Around two p.m the rally commenced. Different states were lined up and instructions were pouring forth from the PA system. Each state had a vehicle adorned with the banner and a PA system through which people were sharing their songs and slogans on the purpose of the rally. It was a 7 kilometer walk through parts of old Ahmedabad, that one had seen only on TV during the 2002 communal riots. As the rally proceeded on this route, was wondering if there would be any violence spurred by enthusiastic sloganeering but life seemed to be as on a regular day. The rallyists seemed to be slowing down and then we were outside a public garden with a statue of Ambedkar, and a pendal. Some people squatted on the street to watch the action at the pendal and some remained standing. A finely dressed gentleman, lawyer by profession shared his views on how the current state of affairs Gujarat has necessitated that people should get together to ensure that basic rights as guaranteed in the constitution are not eschewed in the name of religion or in favour of any section of the population. Then a few NAFRE office holders shared their hopes and aspirations in creating a just world after this people started dispersing and I began to look out for a chai stall. Such a huge rally, what an effort in getting all under one umbrella, a fresh set of office bearers in NAFRE, an upcoming assembly election in Gujarat; all of which is created and maintained by the People’s Verdict!

CRY is a member of NAFRE (National Alliance for the Right to Education and Equity)

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