Caught between ' khela hobe' (the game is on) and ' abki baar 400 paar '(this time we shall cross the 400 mark), our home state is a miniature India, a curious mix of sarkari yojanas , syndicate mafias, government doles and discordant agitations.

Here we have homeless migrants trapped in jobs and jobless youth in a hopeless homeland, commoners caught in centre-vs-state crossfire, farmers crippled by climate change, and minorities fighting fundamentalist rhetoric. Nerves are fraying, bodies are breaking down. Caste, class, gender, language, ethnicity, religion, all are making a hullabaloo at the intersections.

As we drift across this madness, we hear voices, utterly confused, helpless, delirious, as well as those no-longer-fooled-by-the-who's-who-of-power. From Sandeshkhali to the Himalayan tea gardens, from Kolkata to the forgotten tracts of Rarh, we roam, a reporter and a bard. We hear, we gather, we click, we speak.

Listen to Joshua Bodhinetra reciting the poems

We begin with Sandeshkhali, an otherwise obscure island at the Sundarban delta region of West Bengal, that often gets caught in political battles over the control of land and women’s bodies.


Veni vici vidi
Here comes the ED.
There in the village of Sandeshkhali –
the night just yawned,
the women, all pawned,
TV anchors moaned, “Ram Ram, Ali Ali!”

PHOTO • Smita Khator

‘Khela hobe’ (the game is on) says a Trinamool Congress graffiti in Murshidabad

PHOTO • Smita Khator

Political graffiti on a wall in Murshidabad: ‘You gobbled up the coal, you stole all the cows, we can understand that. But you didn't even leave sand from river beds, or our wives and daughters unharmed – thus says Sandeshkhali’

PHOTO • Smita Khator
PHOTO • Smita Khator

Left: Puja pandal in north Kolkata gives voice to the violence against women: fandi kore bandi karo , it says (You tricked me into bondage) . Right: An exhibition poster by a primary school student in Bali Island at Sundarbans speaks of violence against women. Amra naari, amra naari-nirjataan bandho korte pari (We are women. We can end the violence against women)


Traversing through Bankura, Puruliya (also spelt Purulia), West Midnapore and Jhargram, districts from a region popularly known as Jungle Mahal, we meet women farmers and migrant agricultural labourers.


Migrant labourers
buried in the sand,
Such is the story of our terracotta land.
'Paani' is a blasphemy,
you must say 'jal'!
Such is the thirst of Jungle Mahal.

PHOTO • Smita Khator
PHOTO • Smita Khator

Women farmers in Purulia struggle to survive in the midst of acute water scarcity, decline in agriculture, problems of livelihood


Darjeeling may be the ‘Queen of the hills’ for the world, but not for Adivasi women toiling in the seemingly idyllic gardens, who don’t have toilets to relieve themselves. The inequality and struggle for survival of women in the area means that as far as their future is concerned, the writing is on the wall!

Bloody Mary

Would you care for a cuppa tea?
White peony, oolong?
Roasted, toasted, upper class bong.
Would you care for a cuppa blood
or an Adivasi gal?
Toiling, boiling, “We shall! We shall!"

PHOTO • Smita Khator

You cannot miss this graffiti in Darjeeling that speaks of the harsh realities of the lives of women in the district


Murshidabad is not just at the heart of Bengal but also in the eye of another kind of storm, the one that landed with the cash-for-school-job. A high court order invalidating a large number of fraudulent appointments of teachers and non-teaching staff by the state's School Service Commission (SSC) in state-run and state-aided schools has left young minds in doubt. The young boys, not even 18, working in beedi -making units, have little faith in education and its ability to bring good fortune. They would rather join the workforce early and migrate for better opportunities.

Eligible candidates

They sat in a dharna,
'tanashahi ar naa!'
The cops came down with military boots –
sarkari naukri,
Damn, they're not free!
The stick and the carrot are all in cahoots.

PHOTO • Smita Khator

Dropouts, many of them teenagers work in a beedi unit in Murshidabad. ‘The people who had big-big degree are sitting idle. Those who got selected never got the posts and are now sitting on the streets demanding the jobs they were supposed to get under the SSC. So, what would we do with education? '


No matter what time of the year it is, we need to jostle our way through the crowded streets of Kolkata, where protesting women are seen in large numbers. People are flowing in from all corners of the state to raise their hands in protest unjust laws and values.


Here comes the paper-man,
run, run, if you can,
Bangladeshi! Bangladeshi! Off with your head!
Down with your CAA;
we'll never run away,
Bangladeshi! Bangladeshi! Cake over bread?

PHOTO • Smita Khator

Cutouts made for the Women's March in 2019, Kolkata, called by various women’s organisations

PHOTO • Smita Khator

Women’s March 2019, Kolkata: Women from different social backgrounds took to the streets with a call to defeat hatred and discrimination based on religion, caste and gender

PHOTO • Smita Khator

A sit-in demonstration by Muslim women at Park Circus Maidan, Kolkata,  during the nation-wide protests against CAA-NRC movement


In the villages dependent on agriculture in Bhirbum we came face to face with landless Adivasi women at work. A few women with family land also had little say in it.


O babu, here's my muddy ol' patta
ruddy and torn like a scarlet dupatta .
Give me a morsel, hand me a life,
I am a farmer, not a farmer's wife.
Gone is my land babu,
gone with the drought...
am I still a farmer, or a sarkari doubt?

PHOTO • Smita Khator
PHOTO • Smita Khator

‘No land of our own. We work on the farms but beg for a fistful of grains,’ says a Santali farm worker harvesting paddy in Birbhum, West Bengal


The ordinary people here do not wait for election time to make those in power accountable. Women and farmers from Murshidabad, Hooghly, Nadia have come out time and again, to support nationwide movements.


Dear dear teargas
triggered in a whim —
factories close down, landsharks swim.
Black black barricades.
Minimum wage —
NREGA trapped in a saffron rage.

PHOTO • Smita Khator
PHOTO • Smita Khator

Left : All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) Mahila Kisan Divas rally January 18, 2021 Right: ‘They don’t come to us. So, we come here to tell them what we want!’ say the protesting farmers in AIKS rally on September 19, 2023

Joshua Bodhinetra

Joshua Bodhinetra is the Content Manager of PARIBhasha, the Indian languages programme at People's Archive of Rural India (PARI). He has an MPhil in Comparative Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata and is a multilingual poet, translator, art critic and social activist.

Other stories by Joshua Bodhinetra
Smita Khator

Smita Khator is the Chief Translations Editor, PARIBhasha, the Indian languages programme of People's Archive of Rural India, (PARI). Translation, language and archives have been her areas of work. She writes on women's issues and labour.

Other stories by Smita Khator
Illustration : Labani Jangi

Labani Jangi is a 2020 PARI Fellow, and a self-taught painter based in West Bengal's Nadia district. She is working towards a PhD on labour migrations at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Kolkata.

Other stories by Labani Jangi
Editor : Pratishtha Pandya

Pratishtha Pandya is a Senior Editor at PARI where she leads PARI's creative writing section. She is also a member of the PARIBhasha team and translates and edits stories in Gujarati. Pratishtha is a published poet working in Gujarati and English.

Other stories by Pratishtha Pandya