The headman’s house towers three-storeys, plus a turret. Freshly painted in pink and white, it is impossible to miss. Of course, most houses in Badalpur look big to the city-dweller, even if the ground floor is a courtyard with two buffaloes and a Maruti car. Above the pradhan’s house no party flag flies, but the Toyota with tinted windows and rooftop light makes its own statement — as does the crowd of supplicants at the office near the gate.
Pradhan Bhim Singh Nagar has gone to settle a dispute between two brothers, says his “younger brother”, Gajraj. This younger Nagar’s wife is the zila panchayat head, and he himself is, like so many in this village, in the “building business”.
The supplicants are fewer, says Nagar, now that the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has lost Lucknow. “They’ll have gone to the Samajwadi Party [SP] office,” he says calmly. But BSP’s local assembly candidate (a Gujjar) won with an even larger margin in 2012 than in 2007. Badalpur is Mayawati’s village, so the entire area is pampered, even as it rapidly urbanises and industrialises.
The village is on the far side of Greater Noida. It abuts the Grand Trunk Road and its neighbours include big industrial units, the Dadri thermal power plant and fast-growing Noida and Ghaziabad. GT Road is busy, bumpy and only four lanes wide, but an empty eight-lane avenue leaves it to sweep past memorial parks, dedicated to B R Ambedkar and other Dalit icons, and carry such traffic as there is to the village.
In the village itself, every lane is cemented and well-swept. Drains are covered with grilles. The skyline is littered with TV dishes. Youngsters ride motorcycles.
Nagars are a landowning Gujjar caste, and there are many Nagars here. Just a tenth of the 6,000 residents are Dalit. “The chamaran basti is down that lane,” says a woman rinsing dishes outside her house. A local shopkeeper points and says, “In that area they are all Dalits.”
This lane is narrow, dim and damp. The houses and plots here are much smaller. But at the end of the lane a man in shorts is cheerfully sloshing his feet with a bucketful of handpump water while chatting with a friend.
This is Bhoop Singh, an advocate who works in Noida. He has the open-faced confidence of education. He says, “There is no bhed-bhav [discriminatory behaviour] here.” There are, instead, schools, colleges (inter, girls, polytechnic and dental), ponds, hospitals (two, which Nagar says cost Rs 1,000 crore each), bus stands and 24x7 public transport.
Singh is grateful to Mayawati. “Before her, the school was in Dadri. It wasn’t safe to send girls all that way. Now, all of us are graduates.” His friend, a tall student with stubble and an earring, nods. “Behenji has changed the image of this area,” says Singh. “Mulayam [Singh Yadav, the SP leader] can’t do anything new for us.” Hardly any of the Dalits owned land here; most now have jobs or professions or run small businesses, especially in construction.
Is Singh unhappy that Mayawati lost the UP election? “It is good that she will have time to prepare for the Lok Sabha election [in 2014],” he says. Was he put off by the land acquisition and grand memorials? “There’s nothing wrong in it,” he says. “Those are images of great men. I go [to the memorial parks] twice a week to walk.”
Around the corner his earringed friend is playing with his Labrador, Rajni, a playful dog with a glowing coat.
In the courtyard of the oldest house in the village — according to its friendly but laconic owner — 26-year-old Rohit Nagar comes to talk about land. All Badalpur’s farmland was acquired by the Greater Noida Authority two years ago for parks, a helipad, and so on. “We were not happy to sell,” says Nagar quietly. “We got Rs 7.5 lakh per bigha from the government, which the court increased by Rs 3.5 lakh. But a private developer is buying land at Rs 22-25 lakh.”
Then Nagar motorbikes the short distance back to his building supplies shop. It is across the road from the Kumari Mayawati Government Girls Postgraduate College, where an exam has just ended and hundreds of girls are standing around holding pens and question papers, looking drained but relieved.
Two hours down the GT Road, on the other side of Bulandshahr and next to the Twin Upper Ganga Canal, is the Muslim-dominated village of Hatmabad. Of its roughly 1,200 households, 100-150 are Schedule Caste (SC), and most of the rest Muslim. Hatmabad is one of the district’s few dozen Ambedkar grams, villages which get special attention under a scheme of the Mayawati government to improve drinking water, housing, toilets and sanitation, drainage, roads, schools, irrigation, pensions (old age, widow, handicapped, below-poverty-line), land availability and health. Few of its residents own land, and few of those who do are from the numerically dominant Dalit Hindu Jatavs or Muslim Telis (oil-pressers), Julahas (weavers) and Lohars (metalworkers). This area, too, is firmly BSP.
The entry to the village is auspicious. There is a mango grove, two small mosques and a group of boys splashing in a canal. But Hatmabad is much poorer than Badalpur.
Shaukin looks in his mid-40s, but sells his labour and, when possible, raises goats, which he says makes good money. In one room of his two-room home an old man looks over an embroidered kameez in a wooden frame. Shaukin, sitting outside, is slightly testy. “The nalas just got cleaned today,” he says, “because we scolded the bhangi.” There are piles of strong-smelling sludge next to the drains. Where does the bhangi (a Dalit) live? “I think he comes from Bulandshahr,” he says.
Shaukin points to a corner of his yard. This alcove is all that came of the state-sponsored latrine. It was approved in late 2010 when Mayawati was to visit Hatmabad and district officials rushed to make the village presentable. When the chief minister did not come, the pradhan, says Shaukin, got busy with election work and has not allocated funds for the latrine.
His house was built a decade ago under the Indira Awas Yojana, Shaukin says. He got less than Rs 20,000, whereas for new houses built under the same scheme BPL residents were given Rs 40,000-50,000. He points to two of his neighbours, whose houses look as if they are made of bricks laid with almost no cement.
Nevertheless, Shaukin is a BSP voter. The BSP MLA, Haji Alim, may be a history-sheeter, but state schemes have borne some fruit here.
The pradhan’s house is surprisingly modest. In its small courtyard two men are working on generator parts, awash in black dust. Pradhan Lekhraj Singh is away on work. He is a Jatav; the seat is reserved for SCs and this is his first term.
Hari Om Gupta owns a kirana store in the centre of the village, a few steps away. He is a chatty young man in a tight blue T-shirt. His family has lived here for generations. “Don’t worry, I’m a Gupta,” he says with a smile, when one of us refuses a glass of water.
“All the Ambedkar village work is done,” he says, but very little of it properly. “When the CM was supposed to come, the houses [for BPL families, under the Indira Awas Yojana] were built fast. You had to pay the pradhan Rs 10,000. So those who could afford it, who already had houses, they got houses.”
There are other issues. “There is no school, no college,” he says, “but there is a nearby inter college.” (Bulandshahr’s schools are within reach.) Gupta indicates the road outside his shop. “These nalis are useless. Not much material was used.” One of the youngsters who have assembled at the shop pipes up: “The cleaner comes maybe four days a month. He sits and doesn’t work. All the drain water goes into someone’s field.”
Since we are talking over the noise of a generator feeding a wedding nearby, a studious-looking boy says, “Power supply is very bad.” But the gathering cannot agree on how many hours of power Hatmabad gets (four, six, eight, 12?). “One week there is power in the day, one week in the night,” says one. “Anyway, there is no power now,” says the studious boy sulkily.
Half the small crowd detaches to show us state-funded latrines. Here is one outside a Muslim house. Stencilled onto the front is the date and cost: November 2010 and Rs 4,540. But the tiny room is used to stack cattle feed. The owner, a young man with a shock of hair and a discontented look, says the money given was not enough to roof it well — nor to build the cistern underneath.
At Mitra Pal Singh’s house nearby, his elderly wife and brother Chandra Pal proudly show us their latrine, which is whitewashed and scrupulously clean. They were given Rs 4,500 but also spent Rs 5,000 of their own, and had to buy bricks and materials at the rate the pradhan fixed. There is a cistern, but when full it has to be emptied by the bhangi. The Singhs are Jatavs.
At an Ansari household, elderly Aslam (name changed) got a one-room Indira Awas house built for his son. On the wall is stencilled November 2010 and Rs 45,000. Aslam’s daughter-in-law says they got the money in cash, and then the pradhan took it away. The cash was doled out in small amounts, and they had to use the “approved” contractor and materials. They ended up spending Rs 30,000 of their own. Aslam does a “2-paisa business” of beedis, gutka and biscuits from a charpai near his door. His daughters-in-law embroider kurtas for a contractor in Delhi, at Rs 150 a piece. Each piece takes several days. One of the women gets the BPL dole, which is Rs 1,800 every six months. Aslam, however, has not yet got his old-age pension; the pradhan told him to wait till after the election. “We voted for the elephant,” says Aslam, meaning BSP.
Hatmabad is, by any objective standard, fortunate. Money from government schemes is available, and people know about them. The roads are good, a town is nearby, groundwater is plentiful, the area is agriculturally rich, the children go to school, different castes and religions get along. As Chandra Pal Singh says of the various complaints: “Mayawati didn’t do this. It is the officials who do it.”