October 16: A few days ago, seven villages in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, wore a ghostly look for an entire day. Not one of the 40,000 people inhabiting the villages could be seen outside their homes.
The villagers were on a first ever self-imposed ‘janata (people’s) curfew’ in the country. Their purpose – to attract government attention to the serious state of unemployment in the villages.
Their grievance – a futile wait for over 25 years for jobs promised by the state government, reported ‘The Indian Express’.
The villages, which come under Paithan tehsil, are Dhangaon, Waigaon, Isarwadi, Pimpalwadi, Mudalwadi, Narayangaon and Ganesh Nagar.
In 1974, they gave away their ‘golden fields’ to the government so that the Maharashtra State Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) could come up, and also satisfy growing demands for jobs.
Many industrial units, including some big ones, started setting up their units in the area. The number rose to above 150.
The delighted villagers thought they would all get jobs in the units and watch their villages grow into prosperous, industrial townships.
When an industry is set up in a region, it is expected to generate jobs for the locals and, in a broader sense, connect them better to the outside world. The MIDC project, too, raised the same hopes.
The Maharashtra government offered many concessions to industries such as tax benefits so that they would set up their factories in the area. The state government also promised the villagers jobs in the industries and asked them to hand over the lands that they tilled, in return.
The villagers surrendered their lands happily in the hope of getting jobs. But their happiness was short-lived. The tax benefits were given to the industries only in the initial years. Once they stopped, the enthusiasm of the businessmen who had set up units also ended. One by one the industries began to close down.
Then one day, a prolonged strike one in the companies led to the murder of one of its general managers about 10 years ago. Though the villagers denied any role in it, the damage was done. The few companies that remained stopped recruited locals for jobs.
The result – only 2,000 of the 40,000 villagers have work today. They can’t understand why the industries closed down when the area has all the ingredients that industries need to flourish. “There is plenty of water, a well-maintained infrastructure, and cheap labour. Then why can the government not ask the industries to come up here?” they ask angrily.
They have tried everything to make the government listen to their voice – boycott of elections, ‘rasta roko’, sit-ins and demonstrations. But none of the protest seems to have registered. Their latest form of protest, the curfew, was total. But as usual, there was no response to it from the government.
The villagers have no plans to give up though. They want justice. And though they are a patient lot, the villagers warn that “next time our ideas might be more explosive.”
Is the government listening?