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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 24, New Delhi, May 30, 2020

Injustice as Reflected in the Day-to-Day Life of a Muslim Village

Saturday 30 May 2020, by Bharat Dogra


Jarva Chowki is a rural hamlet located in Atarra Gramin Panchayat of Banda District (Uttar Pradesh). This hamlet is inhabited by 45 Muslim households.

The normal day-to-day life here is a life of extreme poverty and deprivation. While the account below deals with the pre-lockdown days, it can be seen clearly from this account how difficult lockdown can be in a community like this which suffers from lack of basic needs even in normal times.

The predominant reality of this village is the extreme poverty of the people living here and the deprivation of essential development facilities. All the families are landless. A typical family depends on the earnings of a male member as a casual labourer. These men go everyday to the local market gathering of casual workers where if lucky he will get hired at Rs. 300 for one day, and if unlucky he will return home in the afternoon. In these days of low employment, on average he can hope to get hired for ten days in a month on average (generally as construction worker, fuel wood cutter or load worker ). So this Rs. 3000 (Rs. 300x10) a month is the only more or less assured income in a month.

Women in this hamlet are skilled in sewing and embroidery, but no work is available. One is a graduate, about five others can also teach. They had very poorly paid jobs as private teachers earlier, but all are unemployed now.

Not even a single person in the hamlet has a regular job.

Since a family cannot survive on Rs. 3000 a month, people living here look out very desperately for any means of livelihood, they also go short distances in search of this, but manage very little extra work these days.

Earlier, in times of Samajwadi party, many elderly people got Rs. 500 Samajwadi pension. Now this has stopped entirely. Other pensions are also not available except occasionally to just four or five elderly persons. Many highly needy elderly persons and widows do not get pensions.

NERGA work is available very rarely, on a very small scale, and payments are not made with any regularity. So people have stopped exploring as a reliable source of help.
Almost all the people suffer from hunger and malnutrition. A few are almost on the verge of destitution (mostly elderly people). One way out for a few is to lease in a little land as sharecropper but this is generally on exploitative terms.

This village experiences waterlogging for prolonged periods. They have been requesting for better drainage but to no avail. Instead they fear that a drain being constructed arbitrarily in a nearby area may actually worsen their problems.

Some beginnings has been made in awas yojna (housing scheme), but bribes have to be paid to benefit from this scheme and most people will not like to borrow at a high internal rate to pay these bribes.

As it is, almost all the households are already deep in debt, often borrowing at interest rates as high as 10 per cent per month.

The number of families receiving regular rations has reduced significantly. Some families do not have ration cards while in some cases units have been reduced.

There are only two handpumps and there is a general shortage of water which gets generally aggravated during the summer season. When the handpumps break down and they have to go elsewhere for obtaining water they face humiliating situations.

Only about 10 toilets have been constructed, some of these so poorly that these cannot be used. Nearly 80% people have to resort to open defecation in highly embarrassing and difficult conditions.

For accessing child delivery facilities in government hospital they have to spend around Rs. 1000 or more for services which are supposed to be free. Access to anganwadi nutrition and education is minimal. School is located a long distance away on a hazardous road.

Children from Muslim families face discrimination in school. When Muslim parents from this village visit school, they are not offered a chair.

While conditions are difficult in all hamlets of the poor, these have probably become most difficult for Muslim hamlets in recent times. Benefits of pension, ration, freeships and scholarships in education have reduced in recent years.

A small ray of hope has appeared in the form of a unit of Chingari Sangathan of women in this colony. Efforts have been made to take up the problems of people here in a much more organised way.

However even some activists feel that the same efforts made in other hamlets of poor people give better results compared to efforts made in Muslim settlements as the administration is less responsive regarding demands of Muslim settlements. Activists even admit quietly that they find it more difficult to mobilize Muslims facing injustice as there is a fear of arbitrary and unjust actions being taken, Hence even the efforts for accessing the most basic amenities and rights have to be made in a very cautious way.

Therefore it is just the right-time when justice-loving people should come forward to support the highly justified aspirations and needs of their Muslim brothers and sisters who are facing difficult times

The writer, a freelance contributor, has prepared several widely-circulated booklets and poster-collections on communal harmony.

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