SANGTIN KISAN MAZDOOR SANGATHAN
Sangtin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (SKMS) is a people’s movement in Sitapur District of Uttar Pradesh in India, and a key site of collaboration, co-learning and co-creativity for Richa Nagar. SKMS emerged from the collective writing and reflections of Sangtin, a group formed by rural women to enable them to shape the processes of development at all levels. The SKMS saathis or members are mainly marginal farmers or landless laborers in rural Sitapur. More than 90 percent of the approximately 8000 voluntary saathis identify as Dalit, with women and men being equally active in the Sangathan. The overall planning is done by a 45-member core group.
Working through collective action, SKMS has led many struggles in the District, e.g., reviving and repairing canals, ensuring employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), obtaining pensions for the economically vulnerable, and realizing compensation during natural and other disasters. SKMS saathis were the first in Uttar Pradesh to win unemployment benefits under MGNREGA. In January 2009, almost 15 lakh rupees were paid to 826 families in Mishrikh and Pisawan blocks of Sitapur District. Since then, SKMS has expanded its work to health, agricultural, and livelihood issues and spread across half the blocks in the District. SKMS is active in various state-level and national campaigns and networks. SKMS saathis have also created Sangtin Kala Manch, a platform to create plays and songs, and to share stories and lessons from their movement.
COLLABORATION, CO–LEARNING, & CO–CREATIVITY
Richa Nagar’s close collaboration with Sangtin between 2002 and 2004 led to the collective writing of Sangtin Yatra: Saat Zindiyon Mein Lipta Nari Vimarsh, a book in Hindi by Sangtin Lekhak Samooh or Sangtin Writers that was first self-published by Sangtin in 2004. Based on the personal narratives of grassroots activists and penned together by nine women, Sangtin Yatra entangles the dominant practices associated with NGOs and women’s empowerment with the politics of knowledge-making and intellectual disempowerment of rural communities. It dreams of ways in which empowerment can be radically redefined and owned by ordinary people on their own terms and in their own languages.
Sangtin Yatra was warmly welcomed and celebrated by the vast majority of its readers. However, it also sparked a backlash against the authors that is documented in the English version of the book, Playing with Fire: Feminist Thought and Activism through Seven Lives in India (2006) and its transations into Turkish and Marathi. The subsequent political and intellectual journeys that transformed the dream of Sangtin Writers into a dynamic movement of several thousands people, are analyzed in Ek Aur Neemsaar: Sangtin Atmamanthan Aur Andolan (2012), Muddying the Waters: Coauthoring Feminisms Across Scholarship and Activism (2014) and Hungry Translations: Relearning the World Through Radical Vulnerability (2019).
In addition to these books, Richa Nagar’s ongoing collaboration with SKMS saathis has found expression in several plays based on saathis’ struggles; in the issues of the newsmagazine, Hamara Safar; in writing and reflections about ethics of collaborative research; and in short films that document key moments in the journeys of SKMS.
- Sangtin Yatra – A short Introduction (2002 2010). Created with saathis and friends of SKMS. (2010, English, Hindi, & Awadhi): A short video that tells the story of how the Sangtin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (SKMS) emerged in the Sitapur District of India and the key activities that this organization undertook between 2002 and 2010.
- संगतिन की आवाज़: मज़दूरी के एनजीओकरण के ख़िलाफ़ (Sangtin ki Awaz: Mazdoori ke NGOkaran ke Khilaaf). Created with Tarun Kumar and SKMS. (2013, Hindi & Awadhi): In December 2010, members of SKMS protested the NGOization of labor under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act of India or MGNREGA. This short film in Hindi and Awadhi captures some of the key arguments made by SKMS members especially as they relate to issues of caste and gender.
- आग लगी है जंगल माँ: नाटक और संगतिन के संगठनात्मक सुर (Aag Lagi Hai Jangal Ma: Natak Aur Sangtin Ke Sangthanatmak Sur). Co-created with Tarun Kumar and SKMS. (2013, Hindi & Awadhi): This video captures key moments associated with the making of the play, Aag Lagi Hai Jangal Ma by members of SKMS in the Sitapur District of India in August 2010. It highlights the collective methodology by which 15 members and supporters of SKMS created the play to grapple with social and political issues pertaining to development policies, rural lives, and struggles for justice. The theatre workshop was co-led by Tarun Kumar and Richa Nagar.