Agiaon (Bihar): Janeshwar Ram, in his late 50s, is hopeless, not expecting anything to change in his life after the state Assembly elections are over. Ram has been living without a toilet, he is tired of repeatedly requesting local elected representatives as well as officials for construction of his house under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awas Yojana (PMGAY), formerly known as Indira Awas Yojna.
“We are somehow staying alive by working hard as labourers. There is no hope for ‘achhe din’ (better days),” says Ram. “Be it Modi or Nitish, they only talk about the poor but do not help us,” says the resident of Baruna village, which falls under the reserved (SC) Agiaon Assembly constituency in Bhajpur district.
Ram, a poverty-stricken Dalit, belongs to the Leather artisan community, locally known as “Ramani”. He is vocal in expressing his grievances and miseries as he sits along with another, old co-villager under a big tree outside his thatched house on the roadside. “We got nothing. No government has provided us with any help. At least we can speak about it and the world should know about it,” he said.
The sentiment against the ruling regime is palpable among the poor and dalit section of this area. According to the 2011 Census, dalits constitute nearly 16% of Bihar's 104 million population and a shift in their voting pattern can influence the election outcome.
Like most Dalits, Ram is a landless farm labourer. He says that the government officials have not helped him build a toilet despite trying time and again. “Our village body head (mukhiya) and block-level officials also assured of a toilet. But till now, it is not constructed as no fund has been provided for it. We are still forced to defecate in the open. This is a reality not only with me but many others as well,” he rues.
Similarly, he says several times his name was recorded by visiting officials in the last decade to provide him funds to construct a house under PMGAY. “Every time they promised us that our brick house will be constructed and a much-awaited dream will be fulfilled. We stopped dreaming now as noting is clear when my house will be constructed or I will die without it.”
Ram alleges that dozens of well-off people got funds for toilet and house construction under PMGAY. “But poor people like us are deprived of it,” he says, adding, this reflects that those genuinely deserving to be beneficiaries of government’s welfare schemes sidelined and rich people have gained out of it.
Ram's views were supported by another old villager, Hari Ram. “What can we say? It is for all to see how the poor like us are left out by the government. Those in power loudly propagate fake claims of helping the poor and promise more during polls. We are fed up of it,” he says.
Kunti Devi, in her mid-30s, while standing nearby and patiently listening to Ram says the poor have been working hard to earn their livelihood and fighting their own battle to survive. “I live with my children in fear in an old hut type house that may crumble any day. It is unsafe and dangerous. We have no option except to live, ignoring everything.”
Kunti’s neighbour Leela Devi says the poor have a fate to live without basic amenities. “We spent our energy to fill stomachs and cover bodies. There is little hope for a better living. My parents were landless farm labourers, so am I and my husband. We want to change this fate for our children by educating them,” she says.
There are people facing problems like Ram and Kunti in every village, particularly in Dalit tola. The situation is more pathetic in Musahari or Musahar Toli (a small exclusive hamlet) on the roadside where lush green paddy crop nearby indicates a bumper harvest this year. Musahar is known as one of India's most marginalised caste communities.
Support Shifting towards the Left
Agiaon in Bhojpur district is a typical rural seat and dalits form only around 20% of the total population there. Rest are Other Backward Castes (OBCs) followed by Upper Castes and Muslims.
In Agiaon, people hesitate to reveal their open support to a particular party or candidate in polls. But Manju Devi, who has been working on a hand-operated machine to cut green grass into cattle feed, says she will as usual support “Teen Tara” [the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Lenninist) red flag with stars]. “We have been voting for the party as it stands for us,” says Manju, a resident of Baruna village in Agiaon.
Similarly, Iqbal Jawed, a resident of Azimabad village, is vocal in his support to CPI-ML’s candidate Manoj Manzil, a firebrand and popular young leader who has been at the forefront of the fight for people’s causes for the last several years. “We will stand with Manoj Manjil, he is the best candidate,” Jawed says.
At a roadside paan-cigarette shop in Azimabad, Manoj Tiwari, standing along with his four friends, says, “We can think of supporting CPI-ML for Its candidate Manoj Manzil. He is a fighter unlike Parbhu Ram, candidate of JD-U, an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). We will not vote for Nitish's party.” Tiwari is not alone as several people expressed their anger against Nitish for his failure in maintaining law and order, poor development and alleged corruption.
Manoj Manzil, 37, stands for the fight for land rights of dalits, road and electricity connectivity, anti-corruption in the Public Distribution System (PDS), and government schemes. And due to his association with such movements, there are nearly a dozen cases slapped against. He contested unsuccessfully in last Assembly polls in 2015 where he polled 31,789 votes. The CPI-ML was in the fray by itself. The JD-U candidate Prabhunath Prasad got 52,276 and won the seat back then with the support of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Congress.
However, this time, the CPI-ML is part of the Grand Alliance comprising RJD, Congress and other Left parties.
The Lok Janshakti Party has fielded Rajeshwar Paswan as its candidate against the JD-U, which will lead to the Agiaon seat witnessing a triangular contest.
Photos:Mohd. Imran Khan