Sunday, 16 March 2008

Feed Them, Mayawati
The CM’s hunger for power forces her to deny Dalit hunger and suicide deaths in Bundelkhand, says SR DARAPURI
AS MAYAWATI, the Dalit titan from Uttar Pradesh sets her eyes on New Delhi, the question that needs immediate attention is the ever-increasing number of suicides and hunger deaths among Dalits as well as other oppressed sections of society in the Bundelkhand region of the state comprising Jhansi, Chitrakoot, Jalaun, Lalitpr, Mahoba and Banda districts. The main reason for this situation is the failure of rains in the last five years resulting in loss of crops and wages for agriculture labourers who are predominantly Dalits of Kol and Sahriya castes. Not only upper caste farmers, even Dalit farmers are committing suicides due to crop failure and indebtedness.
This region may not be as bad as Vidharba in Maharashtra, where as many as 4,453 farmers have committed suicides during 2006. However, with reports of as many as 200 farmer suicides and another 250 hunger-related deaths in Bundelkhand over the last five years, Bundelkhand may soon get there.
Unlike in Vidrabha, the share of Dalits in these deaths is about 30 percent in suicide cases and 70 percent in hunger deaths. Close to 80 percent of Dalits face imminent hunger deaths. As many as 12 Dalits in Bundelkhand and 11 Dalits in other districts of UP committed suicide, and 25 Dalits died of hunger deaths during 2007 alone.
In the face of such a horrifying calamity, Chief Minister Mayawati had the temerity to claim during a party rally at Jhansi on January 29 that not a single person had died either of hunger or had committed suicide in UP. She also declared that she will scrap the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) when she eventually assumes prime ministership in Delhi. NREGS, however flawed, with its aims of providing 100 days assured employment to unemployed rural families, offers some succour. Mayawati’s claim of “zero deaths” and her desire to scrap NREGS at this juncture are shocking. The need of the hour is to save Dalits and other poor families and farmers by providing succour and relief. However, she denies the very existence of such a crisis.
In response to her claims, social organisations such as Dalit Mukti Morcha, PUCL, Asha Parivar, Shudra Mahasabha and Ayodhya Ki Awaz have come out with the lists of the Dalits who had died of hunger and had committed suicides during Mayawati’s tenure as CM.
These organisations also staged a dharna before the UP Assembly on February 2 protesting Mayawati’s apathy, and submitted a memorandum to the Governor, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the National Commission for Human Rights.
Why are Dalits in UP suffering despite Mayawati emerging as CM for the fourth time, albeit in rather brief stints earlier? Numbers tell their own story. Constituting 21.1 percent of the population, accounting for 3.51 crore people, the Dalits, spread across 66 Scheduled Castes, are the single largest group in UP. The State also has the largest number of illiterate, malnourished persons; and is home to high numbers of polio, leprosy and TB cases.
THE DALITS in UP are predominantly rural — 87.7 percent of them live in villages. Their literacy rate is 46.3 percent, much lower than the national average (54.7 percent) aggregated for all SCs. Male and female literacy rates (60.3 percent and 30.5 percent respectively) is also lower than those recorded for all SCs at the national level (66.6 percent and 41.9 percent respectively).
Among the Dalit literates, 38 percent are either without any education or have attained education below primary level. Literates who have attained education up to primary and middle levels are 27.1 percent and 18.5 percent respectively. Literates who are educated up to matric/higher secondary constitute 13.3 percent. Those who graduated are just 3.5 percent. The non-technical and technical diploma-holders constitute a meager 0.1 percent.
Of 133 lakh Dalit children in the 5-14 age group, only 58.3 lakh have been attending school. Work participation rate (WPR) of the SC population is 34.7 percent, lower than that of the national average for SCs (40.4 percent). Among the total workers, 65.2 percent are main workers, again lower than what is recorded for all-India SCs (73 percent).
It is clear that the Dalits of Uttar Pradesh are more backward than Dalits at the national level. Mayawati cannot simply wish this reality away.
Darapuri, a retired IPS officer, is part of the Dalit Mukti Morcha
WRITER’S E-MAILhttp://www.tehelka.com/srdarapuri@yahoo.co.in
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 8, Dated Mar 01, 2008

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