Rolling back the pinch of rising prices

protest with belan

The times of today are grim as of now. Well that might sound somewhat grammatically improper a repetition to make but consider strictly the facts and figures of what is evident and apparent, glaringly and appallingly and one would know things have never been stated truer. It is the whole world context indeed that might be depressing, wars here and economic instabilities there, and thus the associated notions of political disturbances and rampant inequalities, each stirred by and stirring in turn the other in such moment not exactly unprecedented maybe but disquieting all the same. And no any better off is the Indian existence as well, plagued as it is or in fact it has been by a barrage of the same old problems over the years, of inflation and price rise in general and living and existing in particular.

The case might have been one of rather commonness in its recurring nature of prominent manifestation and the circumstances needed to be dealt with also more or less evoking in that very range of what it has always brought upon the people. But the same cannot be said about the response generated in the aftermath of such significant incidents and events even when they have been portraying all along a defiant character in absolute non subsidence. Looking back at such times in Indian history when an inaffordability induced in the basic means of sustenance in food commodities and the like aroused a similarly resonating retaliation by yielding the very ‘weapons’ of the kitchen, as a mode of revolt striking in the significance of their many a weaves in essence, and one would sure aspire for those days of yore, not golden for sure in what had characterised their time but not any unremarkable in the sheen of what they finally dawned as a revealing in revolutionary realisation.

The scene unfolds in an India of the early seventies in the present day dream city of Bombay in the state of Maharashtra when the very definitely defined Anti Price Rise Movement created quite a stir and not just in the very evident objective of it. It indeed was by all means a movement in protest against the rising prices of essential commodities for quite a considerable period of time but like all things economic that have definite consequences of political and social nature in their overlapping domain of dwelling, this too had been a revolution of myriad essences. Most notable in pushing the limits of its apparent dimension in such unconventionality as being an exclusively women’s undertaking would have to be the breakthrough assertion in this regard. But also equally notable and quite fascinating as well is the way these women unamused for sure with the continuing ploy in exorbitant expenses of even the most basic living experience went about making their frustration heard in very deafening a decipherable declaration of it.

anti price rise movement india
Source: Twitter

Emerging thus to effect an agitation in consequence veritably diffident in the demands of what it sounded for was the Mahagai Pratikar Samyukta Samiti-The Anti-Price Rise Women’s United Front that led this movement of all women to wage the ultimate battle against rising prices. The setting of its unfolding had been the city of Bombay whereupon converged women from all backgrounds and walks of life, irrespective of their inclination to differing political ideologies to shape up the identity of what came to be known also as the ‘new women’s movement’ to eke out over a three year period such distinction for themselves that caught the government by surprise. But it wasn’t just the unseen nature of the uprising that was surprising; it also had been the revelation of what followed in terms of the technique employed in effecting the intention of it that also proved to be as much effective.

The entire timeline of the agitation might have been characterised by ‘quirks’ galore in what were then novel tactics in protesting. But the most interesting element in attempting to make themselves clear to the government and in terms as certain as possible had been their clever evocation of something so defining then of the identities of the women of that era. Identifying mostly as homebearers and homemakers even in their parallel emergence as working folks were these women who resorted to employing their mastery in the kitchen as the essence of their protest. This perhaps was symbolic not just of their greater identity but also the in representing the issue at hand- that of protesting against the incessant rise in prices of almost all essentials of subsistence and spurred on further by a specific increase in the price of milk.

And thus resounded on a particular February night in the year of 1974 across the city of Bombay at some 1000 of its spots a ‘music’ that was dramatic enough to capture the attention of everyone it intended for to be awakened by. At sharp 10 in the night, the sound of rolling pins beating upon thalis caught the entire city outside the ruling of the women unawares in its striking of the Ishara Ghanta, the warning bell for the government to take immediate measures to combat the issue. That should have been considerable call for serious action on part of the ruling elite but because it was not, what ensued was a similar sounding of the beats and the thumps some sixth months later.

The premise of the August unfolding would be the Government Secretariat instead that thundered once again with the strike of the rolling pins, this time upon kerosene tins assertively establishing themselves as the symbol of recognition of this historic protest marcha. With some 8000 women donning badges showing a woman’s hand with a rolling pin raising slogans like “Tell Naik, the rolling pins are here” in reference to the then Chief Minister, the image of this very ordinary and humble tool of the kitchen gained enough focus to emerge as the unlikely symbol of a movement more than sure about its asking for what it had been standing for all along.

women-protest-with-rolling-pin-against-high-prices-mumbai-maharashtra
Source: Alamy

Protesting against price rise might have been the major cause around which the very aptly named Anti Price Rise Movement revolved but it also took into consideration associated factors of black marketeering and supply of substandard goods. That pertains still to realms of the economic but the far reaching impacts that the movement ended up having in related but distinct aspects would be as consequential as well. For its most prominent working, the movement has been one recognised in its pioneering influence on eking out the role of women in the organisational framework of the country. In its underlying political essence, the Anti Price Rise Movement has also been one pivotal in regard to establishing the participation of the womenfolk of India in this spectrum.

Even then, the movement cannot be exclusively proclaimed in its identity to be a definite women’s movement being rather multidimensional in its approach and dealing even with its core concern rested in a singular strand of what led to the uprising. And yet, despite all its spectacular importance in being the harbinger indeed of Indian women finding their place even outside the threshold of their homes and hearths, this is a lesser documented facet of history important more so in being one of the events that preceded and perhaps also led in some way to the imposition of Emergency in the country.

when the rolling pin hit the streets
Source: Zubaan Books

That the anti price rise movement could not really achieve what it set out to mainly due to the all restrictive nature of the Emergency proclamation might be interpreted in such terms that establish the futility of it. But in demonstrating to the government the might of the ordinary woman and also in the slew of innovative tactics and techniques of its characterisation this has been a success in its own right. Which is why it comes as a surprise that this part of history does not conjure up a popular image today in public memory despite the relevance of it being even more definitely alluding today in the present context of the state of affairs.

To evoke once again the power prevailing across the lives of the ordinary and arouse thus such awareness that seeks to compel the government to do everything it should to revert the terrifyingly fast paced demon of price rise related to the most basic means of sustenance, the summoning perhaps of these ordinary identities of the belan and the chakla, the thaalis and the dabbas as being representative of the general Indian existence, alongside of course the other rather important necessities of the 21st century life, is more than important now than ever before.

With the Indian rupee on a continuous downward slide in its value against the US dollar for more than a few consecutive years, with inflation peaking just about every quarter and with rising prices basically the norm to watch out for in all crippling fear and anxiety for us ordinary citizens impacted in such tremendousness that poses a challenge to our very ordinary living, it is more than high time for us to yield to full potential what the commonplace elements of everyday life hold within themselves, making them so quintessential a residing in our scope of living even in all ordinary manifestation of them across the ‘standards’ of what modern society haughtily claims to have upgraded. To aspire to emulate the unsettling impact that the rolling pin of the exactly half a century ago unfurling of the Anti Price Rise Movement in no different basis of its essence have had on the then government even in some fraction of its intensity would be no less phenomenal an ideal to look up to, considering just how menacingly the pricey pattern in perpetuation is pervading through the lives and disrupting livelihoods of crores of us in a country long since now marching still only on the path of development. To wax eloquent about the greatness of India as a nation and to sing praises of it today needs an accompanying ‘music’ of such pitch that only the rolling pin can generate in all its hard hitting frequency of the vibrations and in such rhythm that drowns veritably the deafening cacophony of the lofty claims of progress and growth and development to bring to effect a rendition as real as it sadly but surely is.