A 44-year-old mother of eight is seeking to become the first Muslim woman to win an election from Dadri, a Uttar Pradesh town which emerged as a symbol of alleged intolerance in India after the lynching of a man on suspicion of cow slaughter.
Shakila Begum, the candidate of a recently-launched party, is trying to emulate the feat of Congress’ Satyawati Singh, Dadri’s first representative in the Uttar Pradesh assembly after the constituency was created in 1956.
Voting in Dadri will be held on February 11 in the first of the seven-phase polls in the state.
“I decided to fight an election because all major political parties have failed to provide the basic amenities in our locality. Leaders make promises during elections, but after getting elected as MLA they never work to improve our civic conditions,” Shakila told HT at her three-room house in Dadri’s Nai Abadi colony.
Dadri, a municipal town around 30 km from the Delhi-Ghaziabad border, shot into the limelight on September 28 2015, when a 55-year-old Muslim man, Md Ikhlaq, was allegedly lynched in Bisada village by a mob on suspicion of cow slaughter, banned in the state.
After the lynching, violence ensued in Dadri for the next two days. A mob consisting of 200-250 people attacked a mosque complex in Dadri thrice. Members of the Muslim community in Bisada alleged that the violence after the lynching of Mohammad Ikhlaq over rumours of eating beef was staged to polarise voters for the panchayat polls in neighbouring district in Uttar Pradesh.
The incident triggered outrage over alleged intolerance under the BJP-led government, sparking mass protests across the country. Several writers and artistes had also returned their national awards in protest.
Shakila, whose husband is a tailor, said she was pained by the incident.
“I have sought permission from the Gautam Budh Nagar administration to go to Bisada and meet Ikhlaq’s family. I will help them in whatever way I can so that the family gets justice,” she said.
However, for the class 8 pass candidate of Prajashakti Party (Samdarshi), fighting communal forces is not a priority as much as ensuring decent living standards for the people of this constituency where the Gujjar and Rajput communities are in a majority.
The narrow road leading to her house is waterlogged after a brief spell of rain and the stink from the open drains is nauseating. Very few government schemes have reached her locality, least of all piped water, she said. The Muslim-majority Nai Abadi locality has an estimated 25,000 voters.
Vandana Sharma, the executive officer of Dadri municipality, contested the allegations saying at least Rs 4 crore was spent in the last five years on construction of roads and drains in Nai Abadi locality.
“Government housing schemes benefited those who already had houses. (Only) the rich get access to good education and hygiene. But we do not even have schools for our children in the locality,” said Shakila who could not educate five of her children. She has four sons and four daughters.
She also vowed to wipe out the menace of “fake ration cards” which often deprive the genuinely needy of government benefits.
“…No MLA ever looked into it despite complaints. I will get all issues solved if I get an opportunity to serve my people.”
However, Shakila, has her task cut out.
For the record, she is pitted against 12 other candidates including those of the BJP, Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). She is also the only woman in the fray in three constituencies – Noida, Dadri and Jewar –in Gautam Budh Nagar district.
And she will also have to buck the trend in the district of preferring men as their representatives. After Satyawati Singh in 1957, the only other woman elected to the assembly was industrialist Vimla Batham who won the 2014 by-polls on a BJP ticket.
For Shakila, the election is now a matter of pride for the family.
“All family members including my husband and mother-in-law Wahida supported me,” she said.
Her eldest son Mohammad Sajid, 24, who runs a mobile repair shop, is managing her political campaign.
“I have the good wishes of hundreds of supporters. We have plans to hire a car on rent for campaigning so that we can cover all villages that fall in my constituency.”