Street theatres and inter-active puppet shows, where the audience has been known to ask the puppets questions expecting instant answers, are very powerful communication tools extensively used by the college. These performances have led to a fundamental change in attitudes and mindset.
In 1981 a group of 50 landless rural women were watching a puppet show. The puppet asked them: “How much are you being paid for 8 hours of work?” The women replied: “2 to 3 Rupees at the end of the day”. The puppet asked them: “Do you know that the law of the country entitles you to receive 7 Rupees per day for eight hours of work”. The women were surprised and angry.
“What should we do to get what we are due”? In a humorous tone the puppet advised them to lie down on the National Highway and stop all the trucks on the road so that the government officials would get agitated, sit up and take immediate notice.
A few days later the staff of the Barefoot College saw 200 women walking towards the road. “Where are you all going?” they were asked. “To stop all the trucks on the road” “The puppet told us it would get us 7 Rupees per day”. A meeting took place asking them to reconsider. There was a better way they were told. “Why don’t they all write a letter to the Chief of Justice of India explaining your problem”? “Are you sure such a big man will listen to us? Does he have the time”? “Yes, he will. The puppet gives you that assurance”.
A letter was written. The Chief Justice of India accepted it as a writ petition and summoned the state government of Rajasthan. The Chief Justice asked the government “Why are you paying 2 to 3 Rupees when the law says you should be paying 7 Rupees per day as the minimum wage?” The government informed the Chief Justice that that was the practice they had been following since 1964.
Every time famine is declared in Rajasthan, the government passes a presidential ordinance allowing the state to legally violate the Minimum Wages Act. “So,” the Chief Justice said, “in time of famine and hunger when people should be getting more money you pay less, with the logic that more people can be employed with the same amount of money available”? “Yes”, said the state “that has always been the practice”.
In a historic judgment of the Supreme Court of India, the Ordinance of the government of Rajasthan was declared unconstitutional and they were obliged to pay to all the women who signed the petition the correct amount that was due to them.
It all started with the puppet show.
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