And a visit to Vita in Satara district, where P. Sainath received an award on August 6, instituted in the memory of Krantisinh Nana Patil
The children of the Krantisinh Nana Patil Lok Vidyapith were the stars of the event. A band of school boys played a robust tune when Sainath, the chief guest Brig. Sudhir Sawant, now an educationist who had come from Ratnagiri, and others entered the building. The event’s comperes were very young too, but so articulate and confident, you’d think they were older. Two school girls performed a spirited skit about education.
The students had also put together a modest yet spectacular exhibition. It was the first thing we saw in the building before getting down to the ceremony. They had put on display implements used in the farms, homes and kitchens of rural Maharashtra. Various types of axes and koyta used in the field; the harnesses and bells of cows and bullocks; copper, iron and wooden food storage bins; buttermilk-churners, sewaiya rollers, sev-makers, supari-cutters. All neatly labelled and arranged on desks and tables along the walls of a classroom.
Each one of these is fast disappearing. Many are being replaced by plastic or packaged food. The students, guided by their teachers, had gone around looking for the ‘exhibits’, borrowed them from the homes of friends, family, neighbours and others. Each item will be returned to the owners in a while. The collection will then disperse, though it should really become a permanent exhibit somewhere.
And the students sat patiently on durries on the ground in the hall for hours, while the grown-ups on the stage went about the introductions and formalities and presented the award to Sainath. It made a nice picture: hundreds of very young students, flanked by a handful of freedom fighters now in their 90s in the audience, some of them sitting on school benches.
We had reached Vita town a little after noon on August 6, along the way crossing a bridge on a full and churning Krishna river, passing by the sugarcane fields of Karad. Sainath had been invited to receive an award instituted in the memory of Nana Patil.
Patil was a freedom fighter from nearby Khanapur, one of many whose names are missing from most history books (PARI has a collection of stories of India’s forgotten freedom heroes here). Nana’s role in the independence movement is truly the stuff of legends. Along with fellow revolutionaries, he formed a parallel government in Satara district. Rejecting colonial rule, this autonomous sarkar said ‘we will administer ourselves’.
The parallel government set up public utilities like a marketing system for the supply and distribution of food-grains, and a judicial system to settle disputes and penalise offenders such as dacoits and usurious money lenders. This government functioned in about 150 towns in Sangli and Satara districts between 1943 and 1946.
Nana also formed an ‘army’ called the Toofan Sena, which launched attacks on imperial establishments like railway and postal department buildings. He was imprisoned for this and other anti-colonial activities around eight times, and was forced to go underground a few times – once for 44 months during the Quit India movement. After Independence, he joined the Peasants and Workers Party, and later became a member of parliament for the Communist Party of India.
Nana’s grandson Advocate Subhash Patil said at the event on August 6 that the family has given the award every year since 2000 to a person who reflects Nana’s work and philosophy. “We have not called P. Sainath only because he is an eminent journalist,’’ Advocate Patil said, ‘’but because his is a voice in this country that speaks for the oppressed and the exploited, it speaks against injustice.’’
In a brief acceptance speech (with an eye on the fast-diminishing alertness of the kids) Sainath said that Nana spoke for the farmer, the poor labourer. But in the same state of Maharashtra that Patil worked in with such success during the pre-Independence years, look at the condition of farmers now: 63,000 of the 300,000 farmers suicides in India in the 20 years between 1995 and 2014 were in Maharashtra.
A new and improved brand of policy-driven distress has replaced the colonial exploitation that Nana fought against. But perhaps some of the hundreds of students who were in that audience will turn into future revolutionaries and the voices of rural India.