A Tale of Distress
Sixty-year-old Nand Kumar is from Mahoba district of southern Uttar Pradesh
(UP), but he works at a factory in Gurgaon in Haryana, 400km from home. “We have
had persistent drought for many years here. I have to support my family and it
is just not possible being a farmer,” he says.
State of apathy: A stray dog outside a closed primary health centre.
Kumar hails from Bundelkhand—an economically backward region where the rains
are scarce and the land is parched. “Depending on farm income is impossible.
There are at least 500 people who have migrated from here just in the past six
months,” he says.
A few kilometres away, cataract has almost blinded Rita Devi in her left eye,
but she has no money for the routine surgery. “Our crops have failed year after
year. There is almost no rain and no water to irrigate the land,” she laments.
“What do we do? There is no means of livelihood.”
These are stories repeated across Bundelkhand, which comprises seven
districts of southern UP—Lalitpur, Jhansi, Jalaun, Mahoba, Hamirpur, Banda and
Chitrakoot, besides six districts of Madhya Pradesh (MP). Most of the area—right
in the heart of India—receives scanty rainfall, but recently, consecutive years
of drought has resulted in repeated crop failures. While the people of Banda and
Chitrakoot voted in the fourth phase of the seven-stage polls in UP on Sunday,
people in the other five districts of Bundelkhand are among the 13 districts
readying to cast their votes on 23 February.
“Well, they announced the package, but where is it?” asks Ved Prakash
Vishwakarma, resident of Hamirpur. “It’s nowhere to be seen. And anyway,
whenever any important person comes, they do an aerial survey and no one comes
to ask us how we are.” In Nathikheda village in Lalitpur, water scarcity is an
issue for Somnath Yadav. But equally worrying is the lack of medical facilities
in his village of about 1,000 people. “We have one medical centre that opens
once a week. But the lady in charge doesn’t come for weeks. The nearest hospital
is 3-5km away. All we are asking for are basic health facilities, no more than
that. Why can’t we get this?” he asks.
Discontent is on the rise in other parts of Bundelkhand as well. In Jalaun,
it’s not just the lack of water or medical facilities that is agitating the
people. “Mayawati’s administration is good in terms of law and order. But in
terms of generating jobs, her administration is bad,” says 19-year-old Vineet
Raj, a student at one of the hundreds of private colleges that have sprung up in
Raj, who belongs to an OBC (other backward classes) community, feels that
Mayawati has neglected the OBCs at the cost of Dalits. “I am against
reservation. It should be based on income group and capability, not merely on
caste lines alone,” he says. Ram Prasad Yadav, a teacher at the Inter college in
Jalaun, feels education and health have not been a priority for successive UP
governments. Education, for example, “has been like a laboratory, a test case,
for each government. They change the syllabus, exam timetables, textbooks, at
their whim without looking at how it will affect the students.”
Even among Dalits, awareness of the importance of development is growing. “We
need jobs for our children, roads, schools, hospitals,” says Mithilesh Kumar, a
resident of a neighbourhood named after Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar, in Lalitpur.
“Reservations are all right, but without water, electricity, schools, we will
be left behind,” he says. “Other states are doing better than us. Development is
key to the future.”
Courtesy: ELIZABETH ROCHE, Livemint