Formation - 6 February 2019

en - The Constructive Power of Non-Violence: My Experience and Realization along with the Village Community of Marpo

Renji George Joseph

Marpo Village is situated in the Kauwakol Block of Nawada District in Bihar State of India. This is a remote, highly underdeveloped village in the valley of two adjacent hills which borders Jharkhand State and Bihar State. After this village the bordering areas are hillocks and thick forest areas. Even to day one has to travel nearly two hours from the Block Head Quarters of Kouwakol through mud and kachha (Not concreated) roads to reach this distant village.

This area has experienced repeated confrontation between the violent forces of Naxallite movement and the armed forces of the Bihar State. The people living in this area have been victims to both the impacts of combing operations by the State Forces and the violent activities of the Naxallites. In the 1990s and in the beginning of 2000 period these social tensions have been at their peak. 

The village and its sub-hamlets together hosted more than 2000 families. The small villages around this main village added another 2000 families making a total population of more than 20000 persons occupying this entire valley and the hillocks There was exactly no other livelihoods to this large population other than agriculture. The area was (is still) a drought prone area with the entire rainwater running off the hillocks and drained in to the rainfed rivers towards Kouwakol. The entire irrigation of all these villages depended on a Check Dam built joining the two major hills down the valley. Toward the end of 1990s this Check Dam had broken and the people in this area had been frequenting the relevant government offices for reconstructing their only water source for agriculture and drinking water through recharge of the drought hit water table. The relevant officials hardly responded. 

The Naxal Forces occupying the forest areas above the hills at the borders used to employ violent interventions occasionally to deter the police and para military forces from their camps and training areas. Unfortunately, one of these operations misfired during this period resulting in the death of some Monks of the Jain Community which suddenly pushed the area in to national media. Suddenly there was lot of blaming, counter blaming, combing operations, armed combats, suppressions, searches and a lot of structural violence and social tensions in the entire area making life all the more difficult for the villagers. 

Since agriculture suffered from the loss of their only irrigation source ; there was already huge migration of farmers and agricultural labourers leaving these villages. Distress migration got intensified with the added social tensions and disturbance of life. The government officials also took a stand of delaying the reconstruction of the Check Dam strategically to push the Naxallites out from the hill tops as they would also not have no drinking water. Though there was not much success of this strategy seen ; the intense migration from these villages almost made the houses of the area empty and locked. 

It was for mitigating the social tensions in the area that we resorted to Gandhian Non-violent Peace and Conflict Resolution Methods. I led a team of young Gandhians and started dialogues with the villagers. While camping in these villages we realized that the area could be saved from huge distress migration only through reconstructing the Check Dam. We held dialogues with the relevant government officials but could find no result. The entire villagers were moving away and the whole area was fast becoming ‘Be Chirag’ (A traditional term used to describe ‘Village without Lanterns’ as a result of distress migration. There are many such ‘Be Chirag’ villages in Bihar even today). Something had to be immediately done and that could only be a people based and people led intervention. Thus we decided to try the renowned Gandhian Constructive Non-violent Method of ‘Shramdan’ (Labour Gift) in this area. 

We held various meetings with the remaining villagers and convinced them that they could reconstruct the Check Dam and save the entire area if they could come together and contribute the materials, (hu)man power and technology. The result highly necessary and the situation so worse ; we were able to mobilize the communities towards contributing whatever materials they could and the entire labour needed for this effort. When the villagers came together with commitment ; the merchants and shop keepers of the nearby market place also came around them as sustaining these villages was so important for their sustenance as well. The news went around and that brought many Civil Society Organizations also to volunteer with support. Some of them have been working on ‘Watershed Development’ and thus came forward contributing technology and technical assistance to the community. We spread the word among the veteran Gandhians at the national level and they also assembled in Marpo Village to boost the collective commitment of the society in and around these villages. Thus, in November 2001 around 1000 volunteers embarked upon the reconstruction of Marpo Check Dam on entirely ‘Shramdan’ basis. The people decided they were not going to be the meek victims of a very small minority of violent and counter violent forces fighting with each other and making life miserable for a number of villages with a very large population. They were on the route of setting a new model of struggle. 

The marvellous dedication and constructive collaboration acting in a Non-violent mode by a team of more than thousand people was really a great news. The government, the media and event the violent movements were impressed by this great movement and mobilization. It took almost the whole month for the reconstruction of the Check Dam. As the construction progressed the government machinery also came forward extending their support. As a result of this teamwork, commitment and ‘Labour Gift’ ; the Check Dam was ready by the end of the month. A big need of the area was met and highly needed solution to distress migration in the area was achieved. As a result ; cultivation of the area regained its momentum, the farmers and the labourers both had their prospects, distress migration stopped, the local markets picked up again ; there was less social tension and more constructive hopes. 

There was lot of discussion and praise from all the sides. There was lot of promises and encouraging words from all sectors. These celebrations lasted for a very little while and soon the media, the government and all major social agencies as usual forgot the whole efforts. For the people of Marpo too ; the story remained a one-time celebrated effort ; the fruits of which they have been reaping till date. We too who led the movement look back today and realize that such efforts are relevant and needed at various areas in and outside Bihar. But the synergy, the collaboration, the leadership, the dedication, the commitment … all these have to come together ; which is a rare happening. That needs a high level of blessed atmosphere which could set such an ecosystem moving. We need to invoke blessings for such rare opportunities to reinstate non-violent methods of peace and conflict resolution to repeatedly occur. There are a lot many victim communities of violence, counter violence and structure violence waiting for such opportunities. 

(Mr. Renji George Joseph is a new generation advocate of Grandhian Practice of Non-violence and took the leadership in the preparations as well as the ‘Sharman’ movement at Marpo Village in the year 2001)