Sunday, October 30, 2011

Is movement matching monument?

NEW DELHI: The colossal statues, gargantuan memorials, swathes of parks. As Mayawati goes on a building spree, we look at how dalits have actually fared in Uttar Pradesh.

Agiant statue in a Lucknow square made 12-year-old Rashi curious . Whose statue is this, she asked her father. Although a BSP worker, Jhanki Ram couldn't go beyond the name - Jyotiba Phule. But not wanting to show his ignorance, he added, "He was a Mahatma who did a lot for the dalit community" . Both had come from Etawah to take part in Kanshiram Parinirvan functions this month. For them, the tour of dalit memorials raised by Mayawati was empowering. "It shows that we also have a history," said Ram, especially impressed by the massive memorial of dalit icon Bhimrao Ambedkar.

The memorials, built at a cost of more than Rs 3,000 crore, are described as places of dalit pilgrimage by the BSP, UP chief minister Mayawati's party. Dalit aspirations and assertions have increased manifold during her regime. They now have a 'history' to be proud of and icons to follow. It's reflected not only in the statues of Ambedkar installed in almost all villages with a dalit population but also in the increase in dalit outfits such as Valmiki Samaj, Pasi Mahasangh and Charmkar Parishad.

Vital parameters, too, have changed for the better in UP. The recent Human Development Index report reveals that its Net State Domestic Product (NSDP) grew by 76% in the last five years, almost at par with Gujarat. The planning ministry revealed that UP was among five states which had higher growth rates than their 11th Plan (2007-12 ) targets. Its GDP grew to 7.28% as against a target of 6.10%. It was also awarded "best performing state in agriculture" by the UPA this year.

But all this wasn't achieved in a jiffy. Political observer Sudhir Panwar said the condition of dalits started changing only from the '50s with land reforms, followed by loan waivers for schedule castes by Indira Gandhi in the '70s, abolishing of bonded labour and development of urban centers. This opened new avenues for landless dalits who were dependent primarily on farm labour. Reservation in government jobs added a much-needed impetus to dalit empowerment.

Mayawati, in a way, has taken forward this movement. In the last five years, she has pumped over Rs one lakh crore into various schemes, particularly for dalits and the marginalized . These include development of Ambedkar villages, giving more than two lakh free houses for the urban poor, Rs 400 monthly pension for those deprived of the benefits of BPL, and scholarships and free bicycles for girls in class XI and XII. In addition, there's 23% quota for SCs and 27% for OBCs in industrial units under a publicprivate-partnership , 23% quota for dalits and tribals in government contracts , land for those living in slums for at least five years and filling up more than a lakh vacancies reserved for dalits and backward communities.

Economic growth has also been spurred by heavy investment in real estate in the National Capital Region, in expressways, in the power sector and in small and medium enterprises-Politically , there's been stability. Before Mayawati's regime, from 1989 to 2007, no party in UP had absolute majority.

However, a study, 'Rethinking Inequality : Dalits in Uttar Pradesh in the Market Reform Era' , by Devesh Kapur, director of the Center for the Advanced Study of India ( University of Pennsylvania), says Mayawati is the product of dalit empowerment, not the cause. But, yes, processes have accelerated under her.

"The transformation started in the '90s when dalits started migrating to cities and got their children educated," said Lenin Raghuvanshi , an activist. A new dalit middle class emerged. Some of UP's leading doctors are dalits. But Lenin says, "Ambedkar had said that dalits would have to organize, agitate and educate. Mayawati hasn't been able to change the feudal mindset. Memorials may make dalits feel good, but the caste system has just the opposite effect."

Former IPS officer and dalit activist S R Darapuri finds the memorials a criminal waste of money. "Babasaheb was not in favour of installing statues. Mayawati could have done wonders had she established Ambedkar libraries in every village," he said. There are other harsh realities. While the Human Index Report lauds UP for NSDP growth, it also states that the Human Development Index is below the national average of 0.467 due to poor health services and low incomes. Caste-based rivalry can still be found in government departments, universities and educational institutions. Also, the fruits of welfare schemes haven't reached the grassroots level because of corruption, said Darapuri. Cadres collecting money for donations , party funds, etc, aren't above board. Mayawati, he alleged, had also created a rift between dalit sub-castes .

Whatever be the case, there's no doubt that dalits are seeing better days, at least in cities. For example, in Para, a locality in Lucknow, they live in houses donated by the government. For Shewta, a dalit student, the free bicycle she got has revolutionized her life. "Now girls can easily go to school and run errands," she said.

But some 15 km from Para, in Ismailganj , dalits are still treated as untouchables. "Earlier, we weren't allowed to draw water from the public hand pump by higher castes. They have relented now, but they still wash the pump after we use it," said Hema, a local resident. There are no drains, sewer lines or roads here. The primary health clinic is a garbage dump.

Even crime against dalits has increased , says Lenin, due to their newfound assertiveness. Mayawati claims that since 2007, when she came to power, murder of dalits has shown a decline by 29.30%, arson against them has been brought down by 50% and rape of dalit women by 19%. Ministers, MLAs and MPs who are involved in criminal activities have been booked by the police and sent to jail - no other party has done this in India. But Darapuri claims that 40% of atrocity cases against dalits aren't registered because of pressure from top police echelons to keep crime rates low.

At the socio-economic level, says Ashok Chaudhary, a well-known social activist, significant growth isn't visible . Despite all that the BSP has done, the state machinery has not changed. "BSP's role in economic empowerment remains the same as any other mainstream party." Social and political growth of disempowered sections, he says, comes with rising consciousness about their rights and eagerness to use whatever political space is available. "This consciousness will grow in the coming years whether Mayawati remains in power or not," he says. There will be many, both dalits and upper castes, waiting for that dawn.


% of dalits in India: 16.5%

State with the highest dalit population: UP

% of dalits in UP: 21.1%

Literacy rate of dalits in UP: 50%

Rise in enrolment rate of dalits in schools: 56% in 2001 to 80.2% now

Number of crimes against dalits in India in 2009 (National Crime Records Bureau): 33,594; UP's share:

highest at 22.4%.

Dalits with pucca houses: rose from 18.1% to 64.4% in eastern UP

Those running businesses: 4.2% to 11% in the east

Non-dalits accepting food and water at dalit households: up from 1.7% to 72.5% in eastern UP

Rise of dalit business families in UP: 4.2% to 11% in east

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