The Dalits in Uttar Pradesh are angry about ‘being taken for granted’ and hungry for real empowerment.
They chafe at the civic neglect that compels them to live in sub-human conditions, deride the ‘political opportunism’ that sees leaders of all varieties make a beeline for their slum clusters at poll-time only to forget about them later, and want a stop to incidents where their dignity is undermined.
Expelled BJP leader Dayashankar Singh’s derogatory comment against BSP chief Mayawati has added fuel to their discontent. In Meerut’s Abdullapur slum cluster, some residents openly declare that they will tear into Singh, who is untraceable, if they are able to lay their hands on him.
“Bring him (Singh) here and I will cut him to pieces,” says Satish Kumar, a mason.
“We are in a majority and in a position to teach them (BJP) a lesson but Behen ji always wants to maintain peace and harmony,” say Rajpal and Surendra Gautam.
The slum is part of ward no. 14 under the Meerut Nagar Nigam and 60% of its 11,000 voters are Dalits. A majority of them are supporters of Mayawati.
Shiv Kumar, a postgraduate student, says: “Daya Shankar has insulted not only Mayawati but all women. The comment shows the mentality of BJP leaders”.
“The party will pay a heavy price in the assembly election,” predicts Neeraj Kumar Gautam. Others agree.
They also wonder why the BJP, particularly the Prime Minister, has kept mum over the incident in Una, Gujarat, in which four Dalits were flogged by cow protection activists.
Anger is also palpable in the voice of Bhitari village head Heerawati Devi, a Dalit who has been a BJP member for about 20 years. Bhitari is a village on the outskirts of Varanasi. “Dalits here are extremely angry about the offensive comment against the BSP chief. She is a mass leader. Singh should be taught a lesson so that upper class men don’t dare make such comments in the future,” she says. As much as 60% of the population in the village comprises Dalits.
When reminded of her political allegiance, she retorts, “I am in the BJP. But it doesn’t mean that I will not speak on Dalit issues. I always worked for them (Dalits). I will keep raising their issues. I have condemned the filthy comment against the BSP chief.”
Some Dalits in a village on the outskirts of Lucknow lament they are yet to experience true freedom and empowerment. “It seems as if we are being subjected to the same caste discrimination and atrocities that our community used to face during the British era. The BJP leader’s remark about Behen ji is a glaring example,” says Parshuram, a farmhand at Dhanwa Saand in Mohanlalganj block on Lucknow’s border with Rae Bareli. A few villagers call the BJP-led government at the Centre the most ‘unsafe government’ for their community.
The Mayawati issue is not the only one riling Dalits. Their appalling living conditions also annoy them. Residents of Pura Padain, a Dalit slum in Allahabad, say they do not have a single toilet, ration card, legal electricity or water connection, access to school and government health centre.
The settlement is located in the heart of city on Cantonment land, barely four kilometres from district headquarters. Slum residents, comprising around 1,200 people, live in unhygienic conditions. A 70-year-old mother of five says, “Every election, netas come and seek votes. We cast our vote but get nothing in the name of facilities. I curse my fate every time I remember losing three children to an epidemic when I was young. Women and girls are forced to defecate and bathe in the open.”