Written specially for Vikalp Sangam
Even in the best of circumstances, middle class readers and viewers don’t see migrants and other marginal communities as equals, as fellow citizens. The chaos after the first lockdown put the migrants’ plight front and center, and that has unleashed an enormous amount of compassion. But the next disaster is around the corner, and the generosity of the wealthy will run out of steam. The gift of a newly attentive India isn’t really something that disadvantaged people can count on very much.
What’s the alternative? One way of thinking about this differently is to swap the positions of the onlookers and those being looked at. Could we reverse the gaze between the powerless and the powerful? A second difference is to think of what migrants – and other poor people – may be able to demand as rights, rather than obtain as charity. The advantage of this is that what they can insist on as citizens has no expiry date, unlike fleeting empathy.
JKF seeks to address the needs of migrant workers and represents them as full citizens of India.
The first Janta ka Faisla was organised by Socratus in partnership with the National Foundation of India and Chaupal in Raipur between 11 and 14 July. The heart of the JKF is the jury itself, and the life experiences and wisdom they bring to the verdict. A jury of migrants from Chhattisgarh was selected through an intensive process, starting with an initial list of 1.5 lakh migrants collated from various NGO and volunteer databases, followed by an automated round of calls with about 15,000 migrants, at the end of which several rounds of interviews led to a 15-member panel of jurors.
This jury heard from a range of experts on topics such as employment conditions at destinations, i.e., wage rates, timely payments, workers’ health and safety, and alternatively, local livelihoods in agriculture and non-agricultural industries, livelihoods based on the commons, including forests and inland fisheries; migrants’ entitlements to food security and health and how government schemes such as the PDS can deliver those entitlements in both source and destination states.
Themes covering various aspects of migrant workers’ lives were deliberated over four days. Each theme had ‘advocates’ or ‘expert witnesses’ representing Sarkaar, Bazaar and Samaaj. Experts include government and industry representatives, civil society actors, lawyers, academics, journalists etc. Advocates deposed in front of the jury, and argued their case; these were in different forms and formats – a perspective, an analysis or a school of thinking, or a practical solution, a defence of interventions already underway, recommendations for improving some existing law or scheme etc.
The advocates’ or expert witnesses’ pleadings were heard on the below-mentioned themes. For each theme, 2-3 expert witnesses presented their perspectives to the jury members for about 15-20 minutes each (including clarifications). This was followed by jury deliberations, in private, facilitated by the amicus curiae in the presence of members from the oversight panel.
In short, the JKF was deliberative democracy at work; creating a society of the people, for the people and by the people. We hoped and expected that the deliberations and the verdict of the first Janta ka Faisla will become a model for how Indian society should learn from its most vulnerable citizens, both helping them live a life of dignity and in creating a better world for all of us.
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