Kalyan Bigha (Bihar): “Hum khush nahi hain; humra koi vikas nahi hua hai, kal bhi jhopdi mein rahte the aaj bhi. Humko kuch nahi mila (We are not happy; there has been no development for us. We were living in a mud hut yesterday and still are. We got nothing ),” said Gangu Manjhi, an old Mahadalit. Manjhi is the resident of Kalyan Bigha, the native village of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
The words of Gangu, a poverty-stricken villager from the much-hyped model village – ‘developed’ by Nitish after he came to power 15 years ago – reflect a different reality from the one being peddled so far. The CM’s village falls under the Harnaut assembly constituency in Nalanda district.
Gangu is not alone; there are dozens like him in one part of this village, locally known as Harijan Tola or Mahadalit Basti, where most members of his community live. How is his area of the village different? There are clear signs – a narrow lane, mud and thatched huts and small brick houses with abject poverty visible all around.
“Look at my house! Neither the government helped to construct it under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awas Yojana (PMGAY) nor was a toilet built under the much-publicised Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. What can we do, we are helpless,” Gangu said. He admitted that while the development in his village helped some, “we did not get anything except ration; development meant nothing to us.”
A few feet away from Gangu, his poor neighbour Darogi Manjhi and his wife Phulwa Devi, vented their pain and misery. Darogi recalled that over a decade ago, he had donated ten kgs of milk from his buffalo for a yagya for Nitish’s wife, who passed away in 2007. “I have contributed what I could for Nitish but he never cared to help us and left us in the lurch. We cannot complain it to him as he is like a king. Our line of work has not changed despite Nitish developing the village,” said Darogi, sitting alongside his wife on the rough mud floor in his thatched house, open from all sides.
Darogi Manjhi and his wife Phulwa Devi in their mud -thatched house
Phulwa, who had just finished her lunch which comprised bhaat-chokha (boiled rice and mashed potatoes), asked what the use of such ‘development’ was when it did not affect them: “Humni ke vikas na holai, gaon ke hissa toh humhu hain”.
The young Anuj Manjhi and his wife, Saraswati Devi, are landless and work as farm labourers like most of Mahadalits here. Anuj, the father of two children, told NewsClick that none of the government schemes have reached him, adding that it was not easy to get work under MGNREGA in the village.
“We have no ration card, no toilet and my mud and thatch house shows that a brick house is still a dream. We did not get funds for the colony (how villagers refer to PMGAY).We have been forced to go for open defecation. There are many like us. On paper, however, our village is Open Defecation Free,” he added.
Anuj Manjhi and Saraswati Devi at their mud -thatched house
Saraswati, standing nearby with a toddler on her arm, said they live hand-to-mouth. “Kya karein Nitish jee pet thode bhar denge (We don’t have a choice. Nitish Kumar will not fill our belly).” She said the CM usually visits his village once a year, usually for a ceremony, and leaves without ever taking care to know how the poor live. “If he wanted he could have provided us with a livelihood but nothing of the sort happened. We still work as farm labourers to harvest paddy; our livelihood is uncertain,” she said.
A middle-aged Mahadalit villager, who wished to remain anonymous, alleged that the caretaker of Nitish’s ancestral home, Sitaram, received funds twice under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awas Yojana, earlier known as the Indira Awas Yojana. “One can as Sitaram managed to construct a two-storey building with the help,” he claimed.
Sitaram’s fairly bigger house stands on a corner near the Harijan tola. A virtual division exists here with one side of the village dominated by Kurmis (Nitish’s caste, an OBC community) who have big houses. Its house owners own most of the fertile agricultural land. On the other side is a still-underdeveloped locality with more than 200 Mahadalit households. “There are two faces of Kalyan Bigha – a well-off and developed part and the other, poor, illiterate and with development yet to reach its doorstep,” said Sipahi Manjhi.
Most of the members of the Kurmi community, setting aside their personal grievances, praised the development by Nitish. While praising Nitish for changing the “face” of the village, Sunil Kumar, a fellow Kurmi, downplayed the condition of the Mahadalit locality in the village, saying it will be developed over the next five years.
When a poor Mahadalit woman was telling this reporter why she was not allocated funds under PMGAY to construct her house, a local JD-U supporter forcibly stopped her from speaking, even threatening her. He claimed that her account would harm the village’s reputation and that of its “icon”, “This will send the wrong message,” he loudly admonished her.
A Mahadalit woman in front of her mud -thatched house,forcinly stopped not to reveal her name by a local ruling JD-U worker
It is also a fact that many Mahadalits from the village have constructed brick houses as they received funds under PMGSY. But all were not that lucky.
The CM’s village is widely showcased as a developed village. There is some truth to it. Nearly a kilometre away from Kalyan Bigha, smooth and wide roads lead to a government hospital. A school which teaches upto Class 12, a stadium, shooting range and a power sub-station are visible. It is rara for a village from the state.
Near the entrance of the village, a well-maintained memorial park dedicated to Nitish’s parents and his wife welcome outsiders. It was built on land belonging to Nitish’s own family. The village is also connected to the four-lane NH 30 and has a concrete by-pass road with trees lining it.
As campaigning enters the final phase, the area will vote on November 3 in the second phase. JD-U’s sitting MLA Harinarayan Singh, who is in the fray again, is unpopular among the people but as he represents Nitish here, he has an edge over the seemingly weak Congress candidate Kundan Gupta, who has the support of the opposition Grand Alliance’s social equations.
All Photos by Mohd. Imran Khan