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HindustanTimes Sat,25 Oct 2014
Que sehrua sehrua!
Manish Chandra Pandey, Hindustan Times
Lakhimpur Kheri, February 28, 2012
First Published: 14:41 IST(28/2/2012)
Last Updated: 14:43 IST(28/2/2012)
Only the lonely: The Bhargava family of Sehurua village. Ashok Dutta/HT Photo

At a time when women are showing rising interest and have in fact surprised everyone by surpassing men in the vote verve in UP, Sehrua's story comes as a depressing surprise.

Barring one family, women in this small Muslim dominated village, 60 kilometres from Lakhimpur, have never voted in any election.

Men here are, however, nonchalant to the going-on. They say their women have been merely following a tradition. And what is that tradition?

Nobody really knows. When one insists, they reason it out: "Perhaps we don't want our women to play a role in defeating men!"

"This tradition has been going on for ages and for every election, right from that of village head (gram pradhan) to assembly and Lok Sabha polls. In earlier times, when the village head was decided by raising hands, nobody wanted women to have any role in defeating men. Even I don't know, the exact story but perhaps the practice has continued ever since," says Nasir Khan, a village elder.

It was difficult getting women to at least come out and explain their strange reluctance to enter a polling booth, especially when their counterparts from adjoining villages of Ghunsi, Roshan Nagar, Angpur, Ambepurwa and Rehmatpur have been happily casting their votes.

"Yes, I would cast my vote," says Kanti Devi from Ghunsi. She, however, is blissfully unaware why Sehrua women always prefer to sit at home on the polling day.

Women in Sehrua are not forthcoming on the issue. After much pestering, all Roshan Jahan and Gulnaz, who admit that their voter slips reach them everytime, mumble is: "it's part of village tradition."

Matloob Khan, a village farmer, seems to agree that it's unfair to be rooted to a weird tradition.

But, ask him whether he would make a fresh beginning by allowing women of his house to vote, he smiles sheepishly.

"It's not easy to go against public opinion. Nobody stops them forcibly. They do so on their own, perhaps respecting male sentiments," he says.

Aslam Khan, the village head (gram pradhan), says: "Efforts have been made to get the village women to vote. But what can we do, when they themselves don't want it."

Local leaders of the Samajwadi Party, which relies heavily on Muslim votes, say they would like Sehrua women to come out and vote.

Aqeel Khan, a local SP functionary, perhaps mistaking this correspondent to be from the election commission, suggests that an awareness campaign needs to be conducted in this village.

"Only you can do it," he says on being asked why politicians have not tried to convince the villagers to do away with this age old practice, which is also being followed in the handful of Hindu homes that exist there.

"Yes, my wife hasn't voted and never will," says Manoj, a washerman.

In the village with this strange 'tradition', Atma Ram Bhargava's family is the odd one out.

This seemingly poor but well educated family broke the tradition in 2007, when three women cast their vote at a primary school in the village.

"I don't know about others. But, my wife, daughter, daughter-in-law all voted in 2007. This time again, they would cast their vote," says Bhargava, 62, who studied up to class X.

This time there would be four from his family, as his niece Archana Bhargava, a BA student too has attained voting rights.

Atma Ram's son Kuldeep, whose wife Ankita is an MA/BEd, says, "each individual is free to decide what works best for him/her."

Asked if the young, like him, can take the lead, he says: "See, any change can't be forced upon anyone. Our women are voting and they would continue to do so now."

Vir Subhakar, a postgraduate whose wife Bitauli Devi, an intermediate pass Anganwadi worker, also agrees that women should vote. But, such sane voices go silent when one asks if they would initiate efforts to let bygone be bygone.


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