'Finally, a place that's our own'
Parakram Rautela, TNN Oct 30, 2011, 07.44AM IST
With Rs 685 crore, a government can do a lot. It can build primary
schools for thousands of children , much-needed hospitals for the
sick, roads for those still unconnected. Instead, Mayawati chose to
use the money to build a park in Noida in memory of dalit leaders and
herself. An earlier park in Lucknow was built at a whopping Rs 1,200
crore. So how does a park, which seems largely decorative, serve the
dalit community? Isn't it a colossal waste of money?
The dalit community, however, stands solidly behind Mayawati's
creations, be it parks or monuments. For them, the money could not
have been spent better. Vinod Arya, 29, an assistant professor at the
Central University of B i h a r i n Patna, says, " N o b o dy seems to
complain when a Nehru or a Gandhi park is bu i l t . N o r when crores
are spent on t h e Kumbh Mela or the Haj. But when dalits build
something, everybody has a problem."
Vivek Kumar, associate professor of sociology at JNU, says dalits were
excluded from every walk of life. They were not allowed to enter
temples and were isolated in villages where they did menial jobs which
no one else would deign to do. And because of their backwardness ,
they were not found in large numbers in the government or the private
sector. The parks have changed the way they perceive themselves .
"Finally," says Kumar , "we have a place that is our own." He says he
spoke to 5,000 dalits - rich, poor and Muslim - for a research project
he was doing on UP and nowhere did he come across anyone who was
"embarrassed by the monuments" .
But could the money have been better used? Commentator Gurcharan Das
says that economically speaking, yes. The money could have been used
on schools, hospitals and infrastructure . At the same time, it would
be foolish to underestimate these symbols of dalit assertion, he adds.
And that's exactly how Surendra Singh felt on October 14, the day
Prerna Sthal was inaugurated by Mayawati in Noida. Singh, 30, is
president of Youth for Social Justice, an organization that works for
dalits. "I was there that day," he says. "And just like your belief is
strengthened when you go to a temple, my belief was strengthened as I
stood in the middle of the Sthal."
The parks, then, asserts Kumar, will foster confidence among dalits.
"In fact, the parks announce that the cultural hegemony of nondalits
and the exclusion of dalits are finally over. They are more than mere
As Arya says, when Kanshi Ram first began campaigning, he often had
trouble finding space to hold a rally. With these parks, that will
never be a problem again. In that sense, they serve a very tangible
Kumar adds another qualification. It's not as if infrastructure
suffered during Mayawati's regime, he says, rattling off a list of
statistics: 1,47,500 homes built for dalits under the Kanshi Ram
Shahri Garibi Awas Yojana and 22,000 Ambedkar villages with roads,
electricity, schools and polling booths. In 2007, UP's GDP stood at
5.2%; today , it's 7.2%. UP has become a revenue surplus state and in
2009 was the highest producer of jobs. But there's still a long way to
go. Perhaps, as Arya says, Mayawati should now focus on education and
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