Tuesday, February 14, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Stone hub for Maya statues no more in the pink


Stone hub for Maya statues no more in the pink

Prashant Pandey Posted online: Tue Feb 14 2012, 03:23 hrs
AHRAURA (MIRZAPUR) : On good days, Raja Ram (45), a Dalit of Patti
Kala village, earns Rs 70. A couple of years ago, however, he made Rs
400 to Rs 500 every day. That was the time when Ahraura, located in
the newly constituted Marihan Assembly constituency in Mirzapur, was
the hub for extracting pink sandstone from the hills for use in the
memorials and parks that the Mayawati government was building in

The colossal projects, worth thousands of crores, were Chief Minister
Mayawati's "symbols of Dalit pride and dignity''. When rivals accused
her of wasting public money on her whims, Mayawati said her projects
had given a better life to the people in Mirzapur from where the stone
was coming.

Now, when the memorials have been built and the demand for pink
sandstone has slumped, Ahraura has fallen back on hard times. "There
is nothing happening here now; now we sell slabs used in roofs," says
Piyush Srivastava, who runs a stone cutting plant. Srivastava is
reluctant to share how much money he made in "those days'', but
accepts there were people who did not have a two-wheeler but now owned
Tata Safaris. Many built new houses.

Marihan, which was known as Rajgarh before the delimitation, is a
Patel-dominated constituency with Mauryas forming the second biggest
chunk of voters. Dalits are present in varying numbers across 30 to 40
villages around Ahraura. While Patels and Mauryas are generally labour
contractors, Harijans and Musahars work in the hills, breaking stones.

Post-delimitation, many Maurya-dominated areas, like Madhupur, have
gone to Ghorawal assembly constituency in Sonbhadra. The sitting BSP
MLA Anil Kumar Maurya, who won twice from Rajgarh, is now contesting
from there. "He set up a stone cutting plant in Sonepur, and never
bothered about our problems,'' said Awadhesh Singh, a farmer.

But the Dalits aren't bothered. "We have been voting for the BSP for
the last four elections, things are not going to change this time,"
says Suddhu Ram, one of the few to have survived beyond 60 in a
village where an adult man either suffers from TB or is extremely
vulnerable to the disease.

Constant exposure to dust since childhood, when they begin breaking
stones, has made TB an occupational hazard. The government has so far
done nothing to enforce labour safety laws and rules for those who cut
stones. Nor has any facility been created for the treatment of the

With the boom gone and the money spent in clearing debts amongst other
things, people in Mirzapur are again hand-to-mouth, a few newly built
houses notwithstanding. The village has no road, no source of water,
no electricity, not even a dispensary. "The one thing that happened in
her (Mayawati's) regime is that we could live with pride," said Vijay
Kumar, a Dalit.

Kripa Shankar, also of Patti Kala village, says: "In the last five
years, nobody has troubled us. Neither the police, nor anybody else.
When Mayawati's work was on, we used to get money regularly, which was
not the case earlier."

In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Patels had voted for Bal Kumar
Patel, SP MP from Mirzapur, but many now seem disillusioned. "Like
Maurya, who is from Varanasi, Bal Kumar is from Banda and took little
interest in the area'', said Awadhesh Singh.

There is some nostalgia for the Congress. Mishri Lal Patel of Saraiyan
village said: "Whatever development took place here, it was during the
Congress days. After that, no one did anything''. He recalled that as
Rajgarh MLA in 1996, Lokpati Tripathi, the grandfather of Congreess
nominee Laliteshpati Tripathi, was instrumental in setting up a canal
system in Ahraura, Jargo and Dongia check dams for irrigation. But the
system has been poorly maintained and there has been no expansion.


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