March 2, 2012, 11:00 AM IST
Progress in a Dalit Village Creates Ill-will in Muslims Nearby
By Margherita Stancati and Vibhuti Agarwal
DALAUNA, India–Dalauna and Kallipurab, two villages in the state of
Uttar Pradesh, are just a few miles from each other. But for locals
they feel worlds apart.
Dalauna, a village just outside the state capital of Lucknow and home
to a few hundred people, boasts paved roads, a reasonably good
drainage system and a health-care center. Kallipurab has none of that.
Over the past couple of years, Dalauna – unlike Kallipurab – has
benefited from a state government program aimed at developing villages
in U.P. predominantly populated by Dalits, a socially-backward group
that traditionally falls at the bottom of the Hindu caste system. The
state government vows to uplift these villages through improved
infrastructure and by delivering basic services, like drinking water
The headmistress of Dalauna's primary school, Mina Vishu Karma, says
her school has improved significantly thanks to the program, named
after B.R. Ambedkar, the author of India's Constitution and the
country's Dalit hero.
"Before, we didn't have any water tank nor electricity and we didn't
have enough money for uniforms for the boys," Ms. Vishu Karma said in
a recent interview.
The school is by no means perfect. It has electricity for half a day
only and there are no desks – children sit cross-legged on bamboo mats
instead. But it's better than many other state-run schools. For
instance, teacher attendance is not a major concern. Inspectors from
Lucknow visit the school up to five times a month to make sure that
teachers don't skip class, that the teaching method complies to
government-set standards, and that the funds the school receives are
used to improve its infrastructure.
From the school's dusty courtyard, Ms. Vishu Karma points at a water
tank that has been recently installed on a rooftop and at a new eating
area where the school's roughly 110 children, boys and girls in
blue-and-gray uniforms, have lunch.
The program was first implemented in 1995 during the first term in
power of the Bahujan Samaj Party, which runs on a pro-Dalit platform.
So far, around 10,000 villages have benefited from it.
This is one of the initiatives the BSP, led by Chief Minister Kumari
Mayawati, can point to in order to hold the support of its core voter
base, Dalits, as the state braces for the seventh and final round of
local elections on Saturday.
The state government tends to boost development efforts in "Ambedkar"
villages ahead of elections, says a senior state government official
involved in the program. Over the past year alone, as election fever
was rising, Ms. Mayawati's government spent $600 million to extend the
"Ambedkar village" status to a further 2,000 villages, the official
Even though Dalauna has benefited from its Ambedkar village status,
there is still plenty of room for improvement. Although it boasts its
own health-care center, residents rarely find it open. On the
Wednesday we visited – the one day in the week when it's meant to be
open – its doors were firmly shut.
At a time when the party's support among other key groups such as
Brahmins and Muslims is uncertain and the BSP's ability to count on
its Dalit voter base is crucial.
For many in Dalauna, the BSP is the obvious voting choice. "Why would
I not vote for Mayawati?" says Phool, a middle-aged woman who goes by
only one name.
As in other poor areas of U.P., in Dalauna the concerns of voters are
fairly basic. Ms. Phool is pleased her village now has public toilets.
Her neighbor, Naina Devi, is grateful for the paved roads, which
solved the problem of water-clogging near her house, and for the new
electricity pole that has been set up near it.
These are just some of the services promised under the Ambedkar
village program, which are granted on a priority basis and vary from
village to village.
None of them apply to Kallipurab, a village that is a five-minute
drive from Dalauna. It has never been granted "Ambedkar village"
status though it is unclear precisely why not.
Mohammad Shareef, 33-year-old Muslim laborer who lives with his wife
and two kids in Kallipurab, said he does not have basic facilities
like a proper house (his is made of mud), clean drinking water or
"We have to walk at least one kilometer for safe drinking water," says
Jamuniya, who goes by one name. She says she makes at least five trips
a day to get clean water for her 10-member family in Kallipurab. The
dirt roads in the village turn into mud during the rainy season.
Many Muslims, who fall at the bottom of the state's social strata, see
efforts such as the Ambedkar village program as evidence that the
state government is favoring Dalits over them. This is an issue that
experts say will likely mean fewer of the state's Muslims, who make up
18.5% of the population, will vote for the BSP compared to the
previous state elections. Mr. Shareef voted for the BSP at the last
elections in 2007 but he says he has since reconsidered his support
for the party.
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