Friday, January 29, 2010

Chris Sadler

In our very last day at LAFTI, we had an important visitor. Not a bank president, or a cement company owner, or a politician, but a person who had paid a key role in LAFTI’s prehistory.

In 1969, Chris Sadler was a member of the London Nonviolence Study Group, started by Resurgence Magazine founder Satish Kumar. Twelve members of the group went overland to India (yes, we did that in those days), to a conference celebrating the Gandhi Centenary. There were thousands of people at the conference, but somehow she found Krishnammal, and in the same way that happened to me, she was hooked.

Chris had expected to spend a year in India. She ended up spending six. She was there during the early years of the Valivalam struggle, and learned Tamil, as well as mat weaving. She laughs, “I was pretty good at mat weaving, too, but Krishnammal kept on dragging her away from the work, and when she would return, the cows would have eaten half of it.”

In those days after the Kilvenmani massacre, times were hard. The poor Dalits were afraid to come out of their homes, as they were threatened by both the Communists and the landlords, and their existence was meager indeed. We reminisced. I noted that in 1977 (a year after she had left), I remembered the people eating only snails and grass.

“Oh, yes,” she replied, “and a treat, when they could catch one, would be a boiled rat. Wonderfully tasty, I am told.”

Chris was in the center of many of the struggles, including being physically attacked by the hired thugs of the landlords. Now living in Scotland, her Tamil is still terrific.

She left us after a day to go the villages around Valivalam. “Don’t worry,” she told Krishnammal, “Someone will take me in.”

Two days later, we hear she is leading a padayatra with LAFTI workers and a drum-beating village ensemble, going from village to village, getting pledges of one bag of cement per family. She has already obtained hundreds of them. LAFTI workers will go back to collect (though they all want to see Amma.)

For now, they will have to settle for Krishnammal’s song:

“Everywhere people are talking about freedom, freedom,
They all have good houses.
Every day we will contribute our labor,
And we will have a dignified life in the world.”


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