Editor's Note: A network of 60 reporters set off across India to test the idea of development as it is experienced on the ground. Their brief: Use your mobile phone to record the impact of 120 key policy decisions on everyday life; what works, what doesn't and why; what can be done better and what should be done differently. Their findings — straight and raw from the ground — will be combined in this series, Elections on the Go, over a course of 100 days.
Faizabad: Atrauli and Parsawal villages are just over 80 kilometres from Lucknow, on a small island between two streams of the mighty Ghagra river. Falling under Barabanki district and Lok Sabha constituency, the villagers here had no idea that the 2019 parliamentary elections to elect the country’s 17th Lok Sabha were more than halfway through.
“No one has come till now asking for votes or even to tell us to participate in the voting,” said Ramraj of Atrauli village, who was shocked to hear from this reporter that elections are happening in their country. “Last year (the 2017 Assembly elections), the gram pradhan visited the village and told us about the elections but my name was not on the voters' list so I could not vote. Other people of my family did,” he said. They voted at the polling booth in Tiket Nagar, across the river.
No electricity, no water, no roads, no healthcare, no schools, the residents of these two villages may well still be living in the bronze age. This correspondent had to park his bike on the river bank, cross over by boat and walk for half an hour to reach Atrauli village, which had about 40 kuchcha homes. Atrauli village, with a population of about 700 people, had 400 voters while Parsawal village had about 300 voters, as per records available with the district administration.
No electricity, no water, no roads, no health care, no schools, the residents of these two villages may well still be living in the bronze age. Image courtesy: 101Reporters
Barabanki district magistrate Uday Bhan Tripathi was not willing to accept that there were villagers living not too far from the state capital who were totally unaware about the elections. “I have learnt about this only through you guys," said Uday Bhan Tripathy. “This is very serious and I assure you that my officials will visit the villages and the district administration will tell the villagers about the electoral festival and make them participate in the May 6 voting.”
Agriculture is the sole means of survival for these villagers, all belonging to the Ghatwar caste. They grow wheat, rice and some pulses, mostly for personal consumption, though they manage to get a small income from it. Ramraj, father of six children, said because the majority of the villagers are from the Scheduled Caste, upper caste people do not like talking to them.
The villagers survive on whatever they can grow on their 19 bighas of land, but the revenue department has no record of how much land is cultivated as the cultivable area keeps changing according to the level of the river waters, which submerge the islands during the July-September monsoon season. Most huts are just a small living space with an earthen stove, firewood, cots and clothes hanging on a wire. Mosquito nets are strung outside every house.
“It is very difficult to live in this village without any basic facilities,” said Ram Kumar Ghatwar, 41. “My wife was unwell and I had to go to the government hospital which is just five kilometres from the village but it took me the whole day because it takes a minimum of two hours to cross the river.”
The villagers survive on whatever they can grow on their 19 bighas of land. Image courtesy: 101Reporters
When asked if he knew about the elections going on, he said, “We could have known about it if we were told by the politicians and other responsible people. Since there is no bridge across the river, people hesitate in coming to us.” Durga Prasad, 52, a father of nine children (six daughters, three sons), says that he was born in the village and would die here and in his lifetime, he has never seen the excitement of elections except for the Gram Panchayat elections.
“The pradhan and their supporters come to the village during the Gram Panchayat elections. In other elections, people do not take any interest in us. Why should anyone take an interest in a village where reaching there itself is a challenge?” The gram pradhan of the village refused to say anything on this issue with the excuse that his relative was in the hospital.
There is no electricity in the village and there are no television sets or radios, added Prasad. “For entertainment, we go to see the nautanki whenever it is organised,” he said. “Mobile phones are used only for communication with relatives and family members.”
Upendra Singh Rawat, the BJP contestant from Barabanki, when told about life in Atrauli village in his constituency, said it sounded untrue as his party workers were reaching each and every corner of the constituency. “I do not know why people did not reach the village,” said Rawat. “If this is true, I will definitely go and talk to the villagers before the prohibition under the Model Code of Conduct comes into force.” But till the end of campaigning for the fifth phase ended, neither Rawat not any of the other contesting party workers had visited the village.
Tanuj Punia, the Congress candidate, said it was too late for him to go to the village as he got to know about it just an hour before campaigning was due to end. “I regret not knowing this before,” said Punja when this reporter caught up with him while campaigning in Zaidpur village. “I am sorry for it but I will speak to the officials regarding this.” District administration officials refused to answer this reporter’s queries, saying everyone was on poll duty.
Laxman Prasad, a small time social activist from Tiket Nagar area in Barabanki district where the polling booth for these villagers is located, said the condition of the villagers of Atrauli and Parsawal is pathetic. “They will not be able to identify their MP if he or she was standing in front of them,” said Laxman Prasad. “The MPs and MLAs never care to visit these areas. Even the pradhan is seen only during elections. Several letters have been written to officials for construction of a bridge to link the villages especially as they are flooded during the monsoon and villagers are forced to leave the village and live with their relatives.”
So is there any hope for these villagers? Not according to Laxman Prasad. “Only God can help them.”
(The author is a Lucknow-based freelance writer and State Editor, 101Reporters)