Reversing the Gaze
Even in the best of circumstances, elite readers and viewers don’t see migrants and other marginal communities as equals, as fellow citizens. While the ongoing pandemic has unleashed an enormous amount of compassion, there’s a limit to our generosity; in contrast, what I am able to command by virtue of being a citizen has no expiry date.
There’s a difference between a gift and a right.
Janta ka Faisla reverses the gaze between the powerless and the powerful; it enacts a situation in which migrants fully occupy their roles as equal citizens with the right to sit in judgment on the world they inhabit.
The heart of the Janta ka Faisla 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 15000 migrants at the end of which several rounds of interviews led to the 15 member panel of jurors.
The jury will hear from a range of experts on topics such as employment conditions at destination, 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. However, the JKF platform is not intended for a discussion on policies for migrants alone as that would frame them as a special interest group asking for support from the state.
Themes covering various aspects of migrant workers’ lives are proposed for deliberation over 4 days. Each theme will have ‘advocates’ or ‘expert witnesses’ representing Sarkaar, Bazaar and Samaaj. Experts include government and industry representatives, civil society actors, lawyers, academics, journalists etc.
Advocates will depose in front of the jury and argue their case which could be a perspective, an analysis or a school of thinking, a practical solution, a defence of interventions already underway, recommendations for improving some existing law or scheme etc.
From days 1 to 3, ‘advocates’ or ‘expert witnesses’ pleadings will be heard on the below-mentioned themes. For each theme, 2–3 expert witnesses will present their perspectives to the jury members for about 15–20 minutes each (including clarifications). This will be followed by jury deliberations, in private, facilitated by the amicus curiae in the presence of members from the oversight panel. . The last day will be reserved for the compilation of the jury’s views culminating in their final verdict.
In short, the JKF is deliberative democracy at work in creating a society of the people, for the people and by the people. We hope and expect 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.