[First published in The Hindu dated May 31, 2015]
Jitu Banbasi is a happy man today. A member of the Scheduled Tribe Musahar community, from Jayapura village in the Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh, he lived in a makeshift brick house earlier but is now entitled to a pucca house painted in bright yellow and cobalt blue in Modiji ka Atal Nagar.
Treated as outcasts earlier, often denied even drinking water by upper caste village residents, the Musahars cannot but thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi enough. For it was after he adopted the village, about 30 km from his Lok Sabha constituency Varanasi, on November 7, 2014, that the seeds of transformation were sowed. Now Jitu is eagerly awaiting the formal inauguration of the colony so that he can occupy his new house. Thanks to the new houses, villagers too are treating the Musahars with more respect, he claims.
Journalists from Delhi are visiting Jayapura in droves to study “development” — Mr. Modi’s model of development — which the village epitomises. Villagers admit that the flurry of developmental activities in the last seven months has been unprecedented. Most homes in the village have got new toilets, and houses for the poor have been constructed, undertaken mostly by Corporate Social Responsibility wings of major companies.
Jayapura was little heard of until the Prime Minister adopted it.
But the lucky village has now received a visible boost in rural banking, road construction and solar power projects. At the house of the village head Durgavati Devi, solar power panels imported from China could be seen lined up for installation works. The approach roads to her own house were being re-laid now with alternating maroon and grey coloured paver blocks.
Sonu Patel, a resident, proudly showed off a solar-powered lantern. Such lanterns were distributed to villagers here recently. The streets too got new solar-powered lights, sponsored by the Union Bank of India’s CSR wing.
Om Prakash, an employee at the local Syndicate Bank branch, said the bank had opened 300 accounts for villagers under the Jan Dhan Yojana.
Easy loans were being processed for farmers and small business owners to boost the local economy.
Despite these positive changes, the lack of investment in government-funded programmes is conspicuous. Ms. Durgavati admits that the implementation of the rural employment guarantee programme has not progressed. “We will prepare a budget estimate for NREGA in a future panchayat meeting,” she said when asked about the scheme.
Lack of water supply is a perennial problem in the village. New toilets built under the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, to discourage open defecation, lie mostly unused. Housila Prasad Sharma, a local resident, says farmers still depend on well water to irrigate the fields.
High dropout rate
Villagers also complain about the lack of a secondary and higher secondary school. A bench in the Musahar housing colony sported a Narendra Modi quote: “ Padhi likhi ladki roshni hai ghar ki” (An educated girl is the ray of light in a house). However, most girl children, including those in the Musahar colony, drop out after primary school as parents feel it is unsafe to send them far away for higher schooling. Says Srinarayan Patel, spokesperson for the village pradhan: “There are secondary and higher secondary schools in Jakhini, Rajatala, and Badhaini, which are 2-10 km apart, but the nearest school in Jakhini, for example, has a capacity for only 50 students whereas the demand from students in all nearby villages put together is four times more.”
The absence of a primary health centre is another issue. Ms. Durgavati says one of her neighbours died of brain haemorrhage recently due to lack of timely medical aid. The nearest PHC in Jakhini is inaccessible by road after evening hours, and there are no ambulance services.
But the visible infrastructure boost that “Modiji ka gaon,” as Jayapura is popularly called, has got in the last few months has infused hope among villagers. Many homes in the village, including that of the pradhan, sport the saffron flag of the Hindutva outfit, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, raising questions about the choice of Jayapura for adoption.
As soon as the vehicle carrying us crossed the village limits, hitting the approach roads leading to Varanasi, the ride got rockier. Along with Jayapura, we had to bid goodbye to colourful and smooth paver block roads too.