A pressure cooker, free of cost, for every poor woman in Uttar Pradesh if the government returns to power - this is one of the promises by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, as per Samajwadi Party’s election manifesto.
Less than three hours away from Delhi, on Tuesday evening, near Nanau village ground, Aligarh, where Yadav repeated this promise , Urmila Devi, 35, is cooking dinner for her family of five. Urmila is from Nangla Fatela village in Hathras, around 150 km from Delhi, where it took 70 years to bring electricity, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his 2016 Independence Day address.
Urmila Devi’s kitchen, outside her house, is a modest clay oven. A few cow dung cakes to be used for fuel are kept beside it. There is a plate of freshly cut potatoes, a watery mixture of spices and salt. She has an iron pan that she has been using for 15-20 years. She says,” I have never used a pressure cooker. I have seen it in some houses in the other villages. It looks fancy... We do not have the money to buy it... If he gives us for free we will use it.”
Her daughter Laali says she has seen a cooker at her aunt’s place and even tasted the food. “There was no difference,” she quips.
Sangeeta,20, lives in a pucca house nearby. Her mother has packed a crate of fresh gooseberries to be sent to Delhi. It is locally sold for Rs 50 a kilo. “I have seen a pressure cooker in Delhi and at my cousin’s house in Sasni (nearby town). I once used it at my sister’s house. The vegetables get overcooked... But I will use the cooker if they give us.”
In this village of around 200 families and around 900 voters, only the village sarpanch and another family own a pressure cooker. Sarpanch Yogesh Kumar Kushwaha says, “Promising them cookers is a strategy of directly connecting with women... Those in cities will not give Akhilesh Yadav a vote for a cooker but in villages, women here may fall for it because it is a usable item. The CM is doing this only for votes.”
In Nanau village, a woman said: “A cooker is of no use, without a gas connection. A gas connection will change our lives.”
Back in Nangla Fatela, the lights are on. Under the light of a glowing bulb on a pole, we walk towards Kala Devi’s house. She does not know about the freebie. “I have never seen a cooker. I do not know how the cooker will change our lives. You will have to ask my husband.”