Thaniya, the poorest of the poor lived in a village since his birth. He did not even have good clothes to wear. He never wore any sandals. His feet rugged with deep and painful cuts bore ample testimony to his barefoot walk in and out of village. On several occasions he had gone to bed without anything to eat. No one gave him anything, neither did he beg for it. On the days someone employed him he would eat a bare meal per day with some rice and pickle. He never complained about his abject poverty and misery. During rainy season he could hardly get some sleep at night as his thatched house had a roof with a million holes in it. He had to sit up the whole night shivering in the cold and wiping the dripping water with the only towel that he had. It was always firmly placed round his neck.
What had he inherited from his ancestors? Poverty, abject poverty. Not a piece of land to own… Not a house he could proudly call his own. He lived from day to day. Just on what he got from his work as a coolie (daily wager). His father had died of food poisoning as their food was a collection of left overs from the rich houses in the village. There was no hospital in the village to cater to the medical needs of people. No clinics, no medicines… If anyone got seriously ill at night, ironically, the only remedy was death! Thaniya had lost his mother ten years ago when she had slipped and fallen in a pond in rainy season. She was carrying firewood on her aged head, her feet so weak and fragile. Without enough strength in her limbs, she fell in the deep pond, never to come back again. Her one desire was to see her son married. The dream never got fulfilled.
Thaniya never went to school. No one helped him. He remained illiterate all his life. There were no evening schools or adult education centers in those days as we have organized continued education systems put in place in rural areas now. ‘Each one teach one’ the present day slogan was unheard of in those days. Yet there was a hunger in Thaniya for education, for information. He wanted to read and write like others in the village.
“Come to work in our farm today”, rich farmers in the village would almost shout at Thaniya standing about twenty to thirty feet away from his hut. Like an obedient son or like a soldier under the commander, Thaniya had no other option than to obey such harsh orders. Did he have any freedom of expression for which people die today? Did he enjoy any of his rights as a human? The human rights activists make hue and cry over issues that touch upon infringement of human rights. But for Thaniya, there was no one to stand for him, even when his basic rights were denied to him.
“Danikule, ini jwara undu barre onthe” (Lord, today I have fever, so it will be difficult to….) his pleading voice would be interrupted rudely by the Landlord. “What?” he would shout, “you dare say you can’t come to plough? Do you expect me to do it? Hurry. Go to the farm…you…” Insults were heaped on the poor Thaniya who had no right to stay home and rest even when he was down with fever.
How many years passed in this manner… no one could tell…. Thaniya did not know when he was born…Thaniya’s age could be counted not by years but by tears….tears that he had shed for his loving father and mother. He was not aware of anything but his feeble voice. His only assets…. his emaciated hands and feet!
It was August 16, 2005…..
The following day of Independence Day. India had become free, fifty eight years ago…while the millions like Thaniya remained fettered….bonded labourers…..voices in the wilderness…..helpless creatures…..nameless citizens of a proud country even fifty years after Independence. They had not tasted freedom even for a day.
On that day Thaniya had gone to work in the neighbouring village. About 10 O’clock in the morning, the bulldozers had suddenly entered the village with roaring sound of the engines that rent the calm atmosphere prevailing in the village. Everybody came out with popping eyes…. so filled with curiosity….what was happening in the village? Before people could close their wide open mouths with shuddering shock, the bulldozers had razed to the ground several ‘illegal’ huts. The government wanted the land for development! No notices were issued to the concerned occupants. There were no announcements made in the village. No one knew the reason for demolitions. No one protested?..no one opened their mouth…. The ruthless bulldozing went on till evening without a hassle.
…It was all over! There lay Thaniya in the dust… his unsung melodies echo through the centuries….
The Sun saddened by the sudden destruction was going down! The carefree birds not aware of what had happened to the village they used to visit everyday flew back to their nests. Even they had a place they could call their own. The government artillery returned to its barracks with the satisfaction of a mission accomplished! The battle was won….no blood was shed…but…countless….. were those….painful…..tears…. that were definitely shed not in homes but on the hill tops and fields, when news finally reached those whom it should have by word of mouth.
The sun was setting in the village!
Poor labourers came back to their…..homes….?…..huts……?
Thaniya came to his place only to find emptiness, everywhere….His only abode, the only little place he had to lay his head after a tiresome day had been bulldozed. No stone was left uncrushed under the mighty wheels of the bulldozer! No sign of his humble existence….He was a nobody, a faceless individual….a person without identity…a citizen without rights….a human being beyond recognition. He now reached the climax of abandonment…. an orphan to the core…a nameless soul…a neglected entity. Far from being counted among the chosen, he was not even a face in the crowd…. even the dogs of the rich inherit a fortune when their master dies but Thaniya was born poor….lived poor…. in fact the poorest of the poor.
What a few hours ago looked like a green pasture was now turned into a graveyard…a desolate desert?he could not speak…his throat was parched….he cried bitterly….even his eyes had dried…there were no more tears….His village, the eternally blessed abode of his dear parents now lay in ruins…. like a war-devastated country. The silent cries of hundreds of Thaniyas stormed the heavens that night….the village bore the brunt of violence against the innocent…war against the defenceless.
August 17, 2005…..
The night was dark and cold. The earth looked abandoned by the moon and stars. A dog barked in the distance, perhaps the only creature awake at night and mourning. No it was not alone. Suddenly a multitude of dogs simultaneously lifting their noses began to howl in most lugubrious fashion. Where humans failed to care for and support fellow humans, the wild(?) animals instinctively joined together to weep for the one who had not hurt them anytime. Thaniya lay in the dust alone and lonely, while the notorious world around him was lost in hot pursuit of the pleasures of the night! His eyes forever closed, but his mouth eternally open…..perhaps to express his unspoken words! Was he telling his story? his agony….? Or did he want to warn us…or still did he want to bind us all together in our fight for our rights?
There was no funeral procession for Thaniya….no priest to chant mantras….no mourners to weep for him…no one to sing dirges for him….. no funeral orations…..no wreathes…..no candles.
Where were the people gone especially the ones who had used his services? Had he not served them so faithfully for a meager wage? Many farmers had reaped a bumper crop because of Thaniya’s dedicated hard work. His sweat and blood had mingled with every grain of rice, every blade of grass, and every bunch of paddy. How diligently had he ploughed the fields?.. the long furrows so symbolic of wrinkles on his face.
Indeed Thaniya was part of every family, cause of their joy and instrumental in transforming their lives due to a rich yield of crops.
But he who helped develop the village had no one to lift a finger to help him. He was instrumental in village-transformation but alas! he was denied the basic information which was his birthright. Had he been informed about the demolition in time, he would perhaps have taken out at least his plate and a small pendant he had so carefully preserved with love and devotion to his mother who had given it to him. “Son, keep this always with you wherever you go, in my memory.” Her words had been so faithfully observed all these years. But to lose even that must have dealt a severe blow to his tender heart.
The hand that tilled had failed miserably to attract other hands to fill his ever-insatiable hunger and unquenched thirst for information, human love and care.
It was all over! There lay Thaniya in the dust… his unsung melodies echo through the centuries…..his resolute meliorism….died with him? Or was it alive fuelling his silent-in-his-heart insistence that the meek will inherit the earth some day in the future….?
Millions of Thaniyas live in this country and in other parts of the world. These not only hunger for food but also for information which is so vital for their existence, survival and development.
Oh! Would that we all be part of that noble mission of transforming the lives of our fellow human beings by providing vital information to them in time. Would we ever fix our eyes on the new horizon and believe in the beauty of our dreams to gaze the sunrise of transformation of our society through information!
Thaniya was denied last rites.
Let not millions of Thaniyas born into this world be deprived of their basic (not last) rights!
Author: Cyril Vas- Bangalore