(News) A Tale of Distress in Bundelkhand

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.

Rising discontent

“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 the state.

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.”

Read More..

Courtesy: ELIZABETH ROCHE, Livemint