A dalit community in the heart of Patna struggles for even the basics

Diametrically opposite to the ‘India Shining’ avatar endorsed by politicians, there exists a world which struggles at the wrong end of the wide gap between the rich and the poor. The stark contrast is noticeable in emerging economies like that of Bihar.

Central to the State capital – Patna -- is the famous Gandhi Maidan, witness to the most visible political rallies and electoral promises. Adjoining it is the ‘chamar-toli’ of Salimpora Ahra where the ironic reality of everyday life takes over. The Government has, undoubtedly, taken steps to develop the area as a part of State policy. The development efforts are visible in the government schools and anganwadi kendras established in the region, long list of BPL card holders and the launch of several schemes intended to benefit the marginalised communities. And yet, the situation in this colony in the heart of the city is worse than that of a remote, forgotten village. The schemes are inaccessible for a large chunk of the area’s population and most affected by this trend are the 25 to 30 dalit families living by the side of an open drain, risking their lives everyday.

For those who cross this area with their noses covered, the ‘only’ perceptible risks these dalit families face are mosquito bites, lack of sanitation facilities and stench of the dirty water; but those who live here know better.. “During the rains, we stay awake the entire night. As the water level in this open drainage rises and enters our houses we raise the height of our beds. Of course, the rain dripping from the temporary broken rooftops cannot be escaped,” said Ramsakhi Devi, a mother of four living in the locality.

The worst affected are the little children, especially since the number of children in each family in this locality is considerably large. “Many a times we have saved our children from drowning in this open nallah. We were lucky to save their lives at the cost of few injuries but till when their luck holds out is difficult to say,” she lamented.

This destitute lot has, on several occasions, requested Dharmshila Devi, the ward member of the area to get the drainage covered. But the colony has been at the receiving end of State’s inaction. Though Dharmshila Devi was unavailable for comments, her husband, the “mukhiya pati” Ashok Kumar Yadav, who lives in a concrete house covered from all sides, said that it’s only been four months since his wife has become a ward member. He promised that they would look into the matter. But the dwellers believe his promises don’t count considering the unresponsive attitude of Dharmshila towards her own electorate.

The Government has invested in large grants for these people living at the margins of the city, yet they continue to live in the filthiest of conditions. Other benefits too are not forthcoming. While many of them have BPL cards, most do not get the benefits they are meant to provide. The Indira Awas Yojana follows a similar pattern. Clearly, promises by the government and the statistics showed in their annual reports are far from the reality these people live.

(Charkha Features)