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Gun-tantra in Etah

Brandishing arms is a way of life in the underdeveloped district where locals say people are ready to kill at the drop of a hat. And when it comes to politics, caste is nowhere near being cast away. Pankaj Jaiswal writes.

india Updated: Jan 06, 2012 16:10 IST
Pankaj Jaiswal
An-unqualified-paramedic-who-goes-on-home-calls-in-towns-or-villages-injecting-an-intra-muscular-painkiller-into-a-patient-at-a-village-in-Etah-He-keeps-a-revolver-tucked-into-in-his-belt-all-the-time-when-he-is-out-Photo-HT-Pankaj-Jaiswal
An-unqualified-paramedic-who-goes-on-home-calls-in-towns-or-villages-injecting-an-intra-muscular-painkiller-into-a-patient-at-a-village-in-Etah-He-keeps-a-revolver-tucked-into-in-his-belt-all-the-time-when-he-is-out-Photo-HT-Pankaj-Jaiswal

From being the birthplace of 12th century poet Amir Khusro to a district where the high crime rate makes virtually anyone worth his salt keep firearms, the descent of Etah into disrepute makes it a symbol of much that's wrong with UP's wild west. Its residents know this ground reality all too well.

That is why the question - what is Etah famous for? - gets seven out of 10 people here to reply 'crime', albeit after a little prodding.

One does not have to go far to see how true this is in this district, located 235 km northeast of the state capital Lucknow.

A glance at any public place-be it a bus station, market or temple shows many people with firearms. These weapons are either slung on the shoulder, held in hand or, in the case of pistols, tucked into belts. Not surprisingly, the locals boast the people here can kill at the drop of a hat.

Truly, one to has to doff one's hat to their frankness.

"Yes, most of the people who have gun licences here brandish their arms. A few shy people like me keep a revolver hidden under the shirt. Here it is, (taking the revolver out)," says a fresh acquaintance. Another one butts in: "My family members have eight arms licences. I alone have three."

Fittingly, Etah has a local Hindi crime television channel 'Crime Suspense'. The district with a population of nearly 17 lakh saw 40 murders, 28 dowry deaths and 76 cases of attempt to murder in 2011 (till October).

However, district cooperative bank chairman Shivkumar Yadav scoffs at the crime district tag. "There are districts that have a more dubious crime record," he says.

Asked the reason for the district's ill repute, he replies: "It dates back to the 1980s when dreaded dacoits Chabram, Pothi and Mahaveer let loose their reign of terror here. Though the brigands are long gone, the infamy lives on."

The district has 23,545 licensed arms and a long list of pending application for licences. Plus, there is a flourishing cottage industry of crude firearms ('kattas' in local parlance) at village Paroli on Aliganj Road. One can get a 'good katta' for Rs2,000.

Most of the murders or murderous attacks are prompted by disputes over money or land. It was one such crime that cost Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) minister Awadhpal Singh Yadav his job over his alleged involvement in a triple murder case at Jaithera.

But it is not as if everything about Etah presents a gloomy picture. There are some positives too. The district is sandwiched between the Ganga and the Yamuna-the 'doab' area with extremely fertile alluvial soil. Naturally, the chief occupation of the people is agriculture and allied vocations. Blessed with abundant rainfall, the area has ideal weather conditions for both winter and summer crops. What is more, irrigation is available round the year.

Though the land is fertile, the district scores low on the development front. The union ministry of panchayati raj had categorised Etah among the 250 most backward districts out of 640 in the country. Uttar Pradesh has 33 other underdeveloped districts getting funds from the Backward Region Fund Programme (BRGF).

Farmers here have two major complaints. First, 'neelgai' (blue bulls) raid farms like locust swarms and frequently destroy crops. Second, they do not get good support for agricultural inputs-seeds, fertilisers and pesticides.

The district has four assembly constituencies - Etah, Aliganj, Marhara and Jalesar, all dominated by Yadavs and Kurmis.

Notwithstanding the district's backwardness and other problems, the caste permutations and combinations decide the fate of candidates here. This time is expected to be no different with all the parties fielding backward class candidates.