Rajesh Kumar Singh
Hindustan Times
Deokali village

Dalits hold a panchayat meeting near an Ambedkar statue at Deokali village in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri district.(Ashok Dutta/ HT Photo)

For residents of Deokali village, life changes after every election.

Who has power in Lucknow shapes both development work and access to justice.

In 2007, this Dalit dominated hamlet in Lakhimpur-Kheri district, 132 km north of Lucknow, was declared an Ambedkar village after the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) came to power that year.

A battery of officers from various state government departments landed in the village.

Some inspected the lanes, others inquired about the power supply, drains, water supply, community centre and parks.

The metamorphosis started soon. The mud lanes gave way to pucca roads.

Electric poles were installed, drains crisscrossed the village and hand pumps were placed outside hutments.

A board was put up stating that Deokali was being developed as a model village under the Ambedkar scheme.

The villagers had never dreamt they would get any facilities.

For years, they had to trudge to the neighbouring upper caste village to get potable water from a government tube well.

During the monsoon, the mud lanes were inundated. No government officer visited them to know their condition.

“We were virtually living in hell. Our condition was worse than cattle,” said, Rampal Gautam, the gram pradhan (village head).

The eclipse

The VIP status of the village was eclipsed in March 2012 after the BSP lost the assembly election.

With its arch rival Samajwadi Party coming to power, all the development schemes were withdrawn and old facilities started collapsing.

“The hand pumps are not working and the villagers are forced to draw water from wells. Majority of the villagers have fallen ill after consuming dirty water but they are left with little option but to depend on the wells,” said Sabhajit Raidas, a labourer.

The land allotted for the Ambedkar Park had been grabbed by a ‘dabang’ (muscle-flexing) backward caste farmer, said Sarvesh Gautam.

The villagers complained that they had not got possession of land allotted to landless labourers by the BSP government.

“The tehsildars and patwaris do not listen to us. Influential Yadav community farmers have encroached on the land,” one of them said.

A string of incidents across the country — from the suicide of scholar Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad University to the public flogging of four youths for skinning a dead cow in Una of Gujarat, has pitch forked Dalits to the forefront of national political discourse and there is renewed speculation on which way the community vote will swing when Uttar Pradesh votes in 2017.

At Lakhimpur Kheri, the Dalit mood is distinctly anti-SP.

“We are awaiting the assembly election eagerly to get rid of the anti-Dalit SP government,” said Ramrati Gautam, a member of the village panchayat committee.

“The discrimination at the government level is quite apparent and influential backward and upper caste farmers use pressure tactics to get the pro-Dalit schemes stalled.”

Access to thana

Who rules Lucknow also has an impact on how the local thana works.

“Under BSP”, a Brahman priest, Ramdas Tiwari, claimed, “the upper caste people were afraid of visiting Deokali. FIR was registered against upper castes for even hitting a goat belonging to a Dalit.”

In the 2007 election, the Brahmins settled in Saidpur had voted for Mayawati but in 2012 they supported Akhilesh Yadav.

“We voted against the BSP as fake cases were lodged against us under SC-ST Act. While the Dalits got compensation we were sent to police lockups or jail.”

But Dalits see it differently.

Under the SP, police responsiveness has dipped. A few days ago, a Dalit farmer Manna Sagar was beaten up by Yadavs over an irrigation dispute.

“Manna lodged an FIR but the police did not take action against the culprits. The Dalits are planning to submit a memorandum to the deputy SP and the SDM,” said the gram pradhan, Rampal Gautam.

Prosperous Dalits have applied for a gun licence.

Only two people of Raidas and Rawat communities have managed to get gun licences. The Yadavs, Kurmis and Brahmins are well armed.

Do Dalits elsewhere in UP share the uncertainties of those in Lakhimpur Kheri? The jury is still out.