Taj city hosts biggest Dalit power show
Agra, April 14 (IANS) The biggest annual demonstration of Dalit
empowerment in Uttar Pradesh has begun with the three-day Ambedkar
Jayanti celebrations in Agra, the Dalit capital of north India.
The state's ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is using the occasion to
leverage its image and consolidating its "loyal" vote banks, ahead of
next year's assembly elections.
Agra, with its more than 300,000 Jatav population, mostly engaged in
the traditional shoe making industry, has been in the focus of BSP's
The whole of Agra, about 200 km south of New Delhi, is lit up. Road
crossings display decorated arches and welcome gates. Loudspeakers
blare Chief Minister Mayawati's speeches and songs on Dalit icon B.R.
The venue is Bheem Nagri, a virtual township that has come up at the
Ram Lila ground overlooking the 17th century Agra Fort.
The model this year is inspired by emperor Ashoka's majestic palace in
Buddhist style, measuring 240 feet and 125 feet high and built by
trained craftsmen from West Bengal.
Organiser Bharat Singh said government agencies had identified 18
Dalit localities for development work in the Bheem Nagri area,
populated by some 100,000 people.
This year the state government has earmarked on a Rs.70 crore
development programme of Bheem Nagri area. These include road
building, community toilets, street lighting, community hall, and
sewer and water pipelines.
Munna Lal Bhartiya, spokesperson of Jatav Mahapanchayat, said 100
couples will be married during the celebrations.
"The bridegrooms will arrive at the venue in one long procession from
Idgah to the Ram Lila ground where they will be welcomed."
The mile long procession with "jhankis" on social issues will meander
through the main streets, returning to the main venue Friday morning.
District officials indicated that elaborate security arrangements had
been made for the procession. Movement of heavy traffic will be
restricted for three days.
Agra's Dalits or Jatavs have emerged as a formidable political force
in recent years, say political pundits.
"The community is now graduating to a higher level from ordinary
workers and artisans to entrepreneurs and many have become exporters,
owners of hospital chains and hotels. The empowerment is a reality
which is reflected in the overall economic growth of the Agra region
as a whole, presently acknowledged as the land of opportunities," said
Agra citizen Rajeev Saxena.
Added green activist Ravi Singh: "More Dalits today are entrepreneurs,
they are running businesses, hotels and hospitals, successfully
heading export houses."
Said eminent educationist Syed Jafri: "Due to government policies and
liberal loans, there has been effective empowerment of this segment of
the underprivileged. Now it is visible.
"In the newly constructed shoe market here, 80 percent of the shops
are owned by Dalits. We also see a steady improvement in the living
standards, with more Dalit children going to schools, learning
Jafri, however, feels that Muslims have lagged behind as a community.
"Because of their total involvement in economic activities, we have
had fewer caste clashes in recent years," said Abhinay Prasad,
director of NGO Adhar, which is linked to Agra's shoemakers.
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