Thursday, March 1, 2012

[ZESTCaste] Uttar Pradesh: The caste inertia

Uttar Pradesh: The caste inertia
Lucknow , Wed, 29 Feb 2012 ANI

Lucknow, Feb.29 (ANI): In Uttar Pradesh, you can spot an anti-Dalit
(socially backward Hindu caste) village from a distance.

In a state where 21.5 percent of the 35.1 million population consists
of Dalits, and all political parties beg for their votes, this caste
should have been able to rise above abject poverty and deprivation.

There is almost never a functional road leading to a village in UP,
and more so to a Dalit village. I walk half-a-mile on the dirt track
and head to an Ambedkar village where a transformation of sorts is
supposed to have taken place.

A water tank, which has never been cleaned, is the primary source of
drinking water. Next to it, women in bright coloured synthetic saris,
wash clothes, the dirt water flowing into the tank.

The stench of rotting garbage, animal and plant waste is overpowering.

Young children in shoeless feet and uncombed hair play on the
outskirts, instead of being in school. Dilapidated huts are
illuminated by cobwebbed light bulbs, as there is no electricity in
the village due to a broken transformer, and no washrooms.

The only house that has a gas cylinder belongs to the pradhan (village
headman). Goats are tied at random corners in the village. Only two
families own buffaloes, none own land. They work in the farms and
orchards of Pathans or Yadavs. Some have moved up a level to work in
lands owned by upper caste Rajputs. Their nails are chipped, as they
are farm labourers.

There is a small 'prathamik vidhyalay', a primary school in the
village, set up a few years ago under an Ambedkar Gram Sabha
Integrated Development Scheme introduced by Chief Minister Mayawati.

There are forty children who study here at any given time. There is
just one class for all of them from age four to ten, one teacher for
all subjects. A mid-day meal is cooked in a shed on a 'chullah'. The
kids bring their own plates. There is a mound of garbage in one corner
of the yard .On seeing my camera team; the headmistress gets around to
getting it cleaned.

Rukayya Khan, the teacher here, says, "it is very difficult for us to
keep the children interested in studies. They come from very poor
homes where both parents are uneducated. Some suffer from alcohol
abusive fathers. Very few of them go forward to middle school. They
drop out after the fourth grade. Some of the kids are sent to school
just because they get mid-day meals. Hopefully, with the 'Right to
Education Act', more funds will come into this sector and more middle
schools will be built closer to rural areas. I might get better
teaching aids."

Saroj Kumar Gautam is a Shiksha Mitr or "Education Friend" who is a
government appointee, and his sole job is to go from house to house,
everyday, urging reluctant parents to send their children to school.
He also helps children with their studies and chips in to do odd jobs
in the primary schoolhe disinterest is evident in the village.
Mithibai, a grandmother, thinks education is a waste of time. She
tells me that it gets them no jobs. Ultimately, the kids can only grow
up to be landless labourers, a fate similar to their forefathers.

I walk half a mile from the village to a mangrove where some men are
digging up a hard stone-covered ground. They are building a 'catch
road' under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. They
earn Rs.125 per day. Two of them have headphones on and are listening
to Bollywood songs on their cell phones. None of them have been to
school or held jobs.

I am warned not to venture further into the mangrove as there are wild
dogs there and a tiger was spotted in the area some weeks ago.

I hastily head back to the village and catch up with the Shiksha Mitr
who is doing his final lap before reporting for election duty.

In the kuccha homes that I visit with him, there is no furniture, no
rugs, no books, and no toys. Some have stringed cots (charpoys), and
aluminium vessels. The job cards and voter ID cards are kept locked in
a trunk. Those are prized possessions.

Has there been any change in their lifestyle in the past five years?
No. Who do they blame? Government and fate. Who will they vote for?
Mayawati. Why? Because the Thakur and the Brahmin don't harm them
anymore. Is that because they fear Mayawati? Could be. Why not
Samajwadi Party? No particular reason. And the Congress? So long as
Indira Gandhi was around, not any more. BJP? They only take care of
Swarn Jaati (upper caste).

Mayawati, the Dalit icon, is in her fourth term as chief minister, yet
U.P. still tops in crimes against the backward castes and communities.
Atrocities continue; development is at a snail's pace. Uttar Pradesh
is a state where caste is the single most dominant factor in society.
Inter-caste marriages are rare even in towns and cities. In
classrooms, everybody is aware of each other's caste.

Political parties promise change and development, but in its villages
and towns, Uttar Pradesh seems to have given up.

In the India Shining, India Emerging, India Growing story, this state
has lagged behind and shows no signs of picking itself up and joining
the rest of the country. By Smita Prakash (ANI)

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