Mute spectators of an uprising

At Freedom Park

The shanty at one corner of the Freedom Park where Mallikarjun’s family lives. DH photo

As the voices of anti-graft protesters turn shriller and speakers enunciate how corruption has become India’s bane, Mallikarjun, his mother Shivamma, and wife’s sister, Shantamma, brood over what to eat, so that they go for work the next morning. 

In the dim light of a candle, Shantamma is forcing a stream of air into the blowpipe so that the flame of the chulha (stove) burns brighter and rice can be cooked. The shanty, to enter which you have to bend to your waist level, has no electricity, no bathroom, no toilet and no door. What does it have? A mud floor and a tin roof kept intact by concrete slabs.

The contrast between the fasting venue and the shanties is stark. Though Mallikarjun supports the anti-corruption campaign, he feels left out of a movement that has been criticised as an “upper caste, middle class urban phenomenon”.

No one in the family can read or write, but Mallikarjun does understand what Hazare’s movement is about. “It’s against bribe which we have to pay to get our things done,” he says. He did attend the protest but returned later.

Mallikarjun hails from Madlapurahalli in Yadgir district’s Surpur taluk, one of the most backward taluks of Karnataka. His family owns three acres of agricultural land on which they grow rice, groundnut, and jowar.

But they can stay in their village only for about four months a year as poor irrigation facilities force them to migrate to cities like Bangalore in the remaining months to eke out a living.

Except for his father who has become too old, everybody in Mallikarjun’s family came here a month ago to work on the construction of the Freedom Park’s compound wall. But that work was stopped all of a sudden, forcing the family to find jobs elsewhere. Now, Mallikarjun works at a construction site for Rs 200 daily. Shivamma and Shantamma earn Rs 130 each.

Mallikarjun’s wife, Parvathi, however, does not work as she has to stay in the house to look after her two children and to guard the belongings – mainly bedclothes, a few utensils, and foodgrains brought from home. Mallikarjun’s sister and her in-laws live in a nearby shanty.

Corruption hits the very common man the most, but given his helplessness and vulnerability to exploitation, he has not been part of what has been described as the ‘Second Freedom Struggle’.

Unlike thousands of well-educated and well-off Bangaloreans who can afford to fast for days together, Mallikarjun and his family have other more important chores in life. For them, corruption or no corruption, life is a daily struggle.

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