There is a new sound emerging from the village where battle cries of Hindu nationalists once raged — the pitter-patter of a keyboard.
In the Uttar Pradesh hinterland, that is where 46-year-old farmer Raj Sharan Verma, a school dropout and the richest in Daulatpur village, lives in his two-storey house between the potato and the tomato fields.
Forty kilometres east of Lucknow, a German shepherd and a labrador live here, and there are two cars parked in the portico. A dish antenna juts out of the balcony.
“I surf on the Net daily to collect information about the latest development in the agriculture sector,” he says.
Villagers who in the late 1980s and early 1990s clung to their Hindu faith as the only assertion of their identity, chanting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ in these farmlands, are reinventing their lives and looking ahead.
Highway 28, which runs along the village and is being widened into a Western-style eight-lane expressway, was once the route for thousands of saffron-clad activists baying to build the Ram temple at Ayodhya, 70 kilometres east.
“These days hundreds of farmers from this village and across the state come here to learn the art of new agriculture techniques from Verma,” says Sangram Singh, an elderly farmer in Daulatpur.
Verma travelled to several places to gather information on new varieties of bananas, potatoes and tomato crops planted in other states. Within a decade, he says, the new techniques helped him take his income from Rs 10,000 per annum to Rs 1 crore annually. “I use organic manure, tissue culture and hybrid seeds to enhance the production,” he says.
Prosperity is touching others in Daulatpur as well. New brick houses are showing up between the huts.
“Instead of looking eastwards toward Ayodhya for inspiration, I looked westward toward Punjab, Haryana and Maharashtra to learn about new agriculture practices,” Verma says.
Some 230 km from Daulatpur down the highway, farmer Ramrati, a single mother, is rewriting her own life in Sarpataha village, once the meeting ground for kar sevaks (Hindu nationalist volunteers).
After her husband died five years ago, Ramrati was struggling to bring up her three children, and two sons migrated to Punjab for work.
With training from voluntary groups, Ramrati began experimenting with new farming techniques — and life changed.
“I save Rs 50,000 per year from selling what I grow, in the nearby market. I have told both my sons to return home and help on the farm,” she says.
Soon there will be a swank new road to take produce to the market — in a country where at least half the vegetable produce rots and is wasted before it can get to markets, good roads access can transform lives.
Construction of the expressway is on at a furious pace. Rubble is being dumped, stones crushed. The expressway is expected to be ready by year-end.
“The expressway signifies the change in the cow belt,” says Jawahar Prasad, additional director in the state agriculture department. “The farmers on both side of the expressway see it as the road to prosperity.”