Bihar

Bihar Assembly election | Nitish Kumar is no longer the poster boy for Mahadalits

Women from Dhokva village in Bihar's Damdaha Assembly constituency, complain about the absence of a school and roads.   | Photo Credit: Sobhana K. Nair

There is deep cynicism among the Rishidev community, one of the 21 Mahadalit castes in Bihar, with village after village echoing the same hopelessness that nothing is going to change for them no matter who comes to power.

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The Mahadalit was a division created by Janata Dal (United) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in 2007, his first term, carving out a constituency for himself in the deeply caste-driven society of Bihar. The group has steadily remained with Mr. Kumar in the Assembly elections.

Thirteen years on, Khakri Devi in Thari Khanva village, in Rupauli Assembly constituency around 50 km away from Purnia town, asked, “Naam oh Mahadalit hai, ki mila che? (We just have the tag of Mahadalit, what did we get?)”.

One question was enough to open a floodgate of complaints, with a group of women and old men all trying to speak at the same time. “Doosri baar jeeta toh bola tha 3 dismil zamin dega, abhi toh koi mar jaaye toh lash ko gaadne ka zamin nahi hai, raat ko chura ke gaadna padta hai. (When he was elected the second time, we were promised 3-dismil (approximately 1306.8 square feet) land. But now we don’t even have land to bury our dead, we have to silently bury them at night). The conflict is largely with Muslim landowners in the area.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar addressing a ‘Maha Dalit Ekjutata rally’ at Gandhi Maidan in Patna. File photo

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar addressing a ‘Maha Dalit Ekjutata rally’ at Gandhi Maidan in Patna. File photo   | Photo Credit: Ranjeet Kumar

 

Lack of work

There are no younger men in the villages, majority of them have gone to work in the fields of Punjab as there is little work to come by here. Soon after the travel restrictions were lifted many have returned to their places of work. Post lockdown, the bus fare to travel to Punjab is ₹3,000, which many of them borrow at an interest rate of 10%. “If there were factories here, why would we need to go to Punjab,” Phoolchand Rishi said.

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In Dhokva village in Damdaha Assembly constituency, Samuri Devi is clear, “Abki baar kisko vote nahi denge (This time, I won't cast my vote), ” she declares. Women huddle around, complaining loudly. “We don’t have school, panchayat bhavan, ration cards or roads. We have got nothing from the government.”

Where the single lane concrete road ends, the village starts. There are no pucca or brick houses, just a collection of straw huts. There are no street lights, no television sets at their homes or even the Swachch Bharat toilets. Most of the children are walking around barefoot and only a few have clothes covering their backs.

Among the litany of complaints, the primary plea is “koi sunwai nahi hoti” (No one listens to us). Most of them are daily wagers who get work for less than 10 days in a month. Public Distribution System coverage is scanty, some in the village have managed to get a BPL card but most are not covered under the National Food Security Act. Hearing the debate about the ration cards, Chini Devi rushed to her home to bring a collection of well-preserved long-expired ration cards. “Hamare paas sab purja hai (I have all the papers),” she says, but laments that for years now she has not got ration.

The Mahadalit was a division created by Janata Dal (United) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in 2007.

The Mahadalit was a division created by Janata Dal (United) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in 2007.   | Photo Credit: Sobhana K. Nair

 

Corruption in bureaucracy

There is uniformity of complaints about largescale corruption in bureaucracy. Dinesh Rishi is willing to show scraps of papers to anyone who is willing to hear about how the government owed him ₹1.5 lakh under the Indira Awas Yojana, but ₹30,000 out of this sum is missing and all he is left with is a half-finished house.

All the persons mentioned here had voted for the JD (U) in the 2015 elections. Both Damdaha and Rupauli constituencies are with the JD(U). They remain silent about their choice in the coming 2020 Assembly elections. “Right now the campaign has not started, we will see,” Virendra Rishi said.

Though they are disenchanted with Mr. Kumar, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) is not an option, they say, simply because the 15 years of the RJD government had meant further marginalisation for them. Now, they can openly lament, but back then, they recall they did not have the right to even complain. The stock reply is that they will vote for the “winning candidate” and this will be decided on the eve of polling, depending on the “mahaul” (atmosphere). Mr. Kumar is no longer their poster boy, who gave them special status and a voice.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2020 5:57:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/bihar-assembly/bihar-assembly-election-nitish-kumar-is-no-longer-the-poster-boy-for-mahadalits/article32942561.ece

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