Sunday, January 23, 2022

UP Assembly Elections 2017: In Varanasi village, they wonder who can give them a toilet or cooking gas

Next door to district HQ, Karsada villagers allege caste discrimination in distribution of benefits.

Written by Sheela Bhatt | Karsada (varanasi) |
Updated: June 18, 2020 2:57:16 pm
village-759 Poonam Devi cooks on an earthen stove, has never seen a pipeline deliver water home. Sheela Bhatt

A very striking aspect about Uttar Pradesh of the 21st century is that in thousands of villages, one can still find houses without plaster or paint. Except for the house of the village pradhan or one or two upper-caste families in village after village, these lakhs of homes, made of mud-coloured bricks, is a reminder of how development and prosperity remain decades away.

At one such home in Karsada village, which is part of prime minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency of Varanasi, lives Poonam Devi, mother of a year-old child. She cooks her meals on mitti ka chulha. She inhales carbon-dioxide and dust all the time, not to mention putting up with a stench. Her village is next to a site where the government has set up a garbage dump to clear Varanasi’s filth and where it plans to create a sewerage treatment plant.

Every morning at 5.30, Poonam Devi goes out into an open field to relieve herself. She estimates that some 250 men and women living on their side of the village defecate in the open. If the urge isn’t strong enough in the morning, there are times when she and her neighbours go into the open field even in broad daylight. Her expression is shy but the shame of defecating is a luxury.

She uses water from the well. For centuries, her part of the village has never experienced water through a pipeline inside homes. She has no electricity in the kitchen as her husband cannot afford it; he wants to save for the wedding of his two sisters.

All this in Karsada, less than 30 minutes’ drive from Varanasi’s district headquarters.

When The Indian Express asks her why she is not able to get at least an Ujjwala gas kit under the PM’s scheme, Poonam says, “It’s local village authorities who decide who should get it. They delete the names of Binds and gave three Ujjwala kits to Pals.”

Poonam, who studied two years in college, and the rest of the village know all about various schemes and projects of the Akhilesh Yadav-headed state government and of the Modi government at the Centre. But there is a divide in which beneficiaries are chosen, they say.

As soon as an assembly or Lok Sabha election gets over, leaders get enough feedback to work out who voted for them and who didn’t. All government bounty is given only to those castes who voted for the winner, according to villagers. It is an allegation frequently made in various parts of the state; all parties are said to indulge in such discrimination. Only two broad categories of villagers get laptops, Ujjwala connections and various other benefits — they who voted for the eventual winner, and they whose votes will be needed in the next election.

When one OBC caste is favoured, the other OBCs traditionally move to the opposite camp for “protection”. In this village, Binds and Pals both feel they are victims of discrimination while Dalits feel Kurmis take away the larger share. “Whatever comes from Lucknow and Delhi gets distributed along caste lines,” say Poonam’s husband Rajendra; their neighbours agree.

“Log suvidha chahte hai lekin sabko barabar ka hissa nahin milta hai,” says Poonam. Suvidha is a buzzword in Karsada ahead of the elections here.

The village is part of Rohania assembly constituency. The Indian Express tried to get SP MLA Mahendra Patel to comment but he was not available. This seat had been vacated by Anupriya Patel of Apna Dal, a BJP ally. The BJP candidate now is a Bhumihar, Surender Singh, while the BSP has fielded Pramod Singh, a Thakur.

In this village, many poor families have applied for toilets and Ujjwala but only “lal card” holders are supposed to get these facilities. Jali Devi is a widow and gets her allowance in a Jan Dhan account and has a lal card (the red BPL card) but doesn’t have Ujjwala gas or a toilet because, she alleges, that is what village authorities have decided.
Surendra Singh of the village says, “Those who have one bigha land and a two-wheeler can’t get a BPL card but at the same time they are so poor that when Modi declared notebandi, they didn’t have even five Rs 1,000 notes to exchange.”

Rani Devi says, “These leaders come to the village only to demand votes and then don’t care to look back whether we are alive or not. Tell me, who should I go to to get a gutter system, water and a toilet?”

Dharmaraj Maurya is a young voter. “Every child in UP knows Modi. But we are not sure whom to vote for. How can and how will Modi change things? Bhrashtachar charmseema pe hai! In a UP village, if you want to set up a Rs 10 lakh unit, you need Rs 15 lakh.”

He says this election doesn’t show an overt trend because people are confused everywhere.

“Today’s Uttar Pradesh is a divided state. The divide runs through society, village and even in the family,” says Bhaskar Yadav, a Varanasi-based political analyst. “It is not possible to predict the UP assembly results now because no village is homogeneous. How it can be when UP’s families are divided in their political preferences?”

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