January 02, 2022

UP: Blatant Lies of Development Exhorted by Modi

Subhashini Ali

AS the UP elections draw closer, the visits of the prime minister to the state are becoming an almost everyday affair.  These visits are well-choreographed events with Narendra Modi alone at the centre whether under the focus of laser lights or on a high podium.  Each event is used to announce a plethora of ‘gifts’ to the people ranging from a spanking, shiny new look Vishwanath Mandir in Varanasi to cash transfers to women’s SHGs.  These state-sponsored events are also utilised in the most brazen fashion to pour vitriol on opposition leaders, Akhilesh Yadav in particular, and, of course, Muslims.  The bright lights and brouhaha surrounding these events do not, however, blind the people to their tawdry content:  the goods and gifts being handed out are often just gift-wrapped empty containers.

The prime minister visited Prayagraj on December 21st, and reportedly, a large number of women from several districts of the state were brought to his rally in buses commandeered by the state government.  Many of the women attending told TV channel reporters that they had been pressurised to attend and that they faced bitter cold, several hours of driving over bumpy roads and were given nothing to eat or drink from the time that they left their homes. They were subjected to the spectacle of the prime minister appearing before them on the stage like a magician,  pressing buttons that put money into their SHG bank accounts and then haranguing them about the transformation their lives had undergone in five years of Yogi rule.  He held forth on the security that they and their daughters now enjoyed in the state, the educational facilities that their daughters were now able to access and the help that they were receiving to become successful entrepreneurs.

Perhaps the tragic comparison between the harsh reality of their lives and the oratory they were being subjected to was more unbearable even than the cold, hunger, thirst and discomfort to which they had been exposed.

The first button that Modi pressed transferred 20 crore rupees into the accounts of one lakh beneficiaries of the mukhyamantri kanya sumangala yojana, which pays Rs 15,000 into the bank accounts of girl children in six instalments from the time of their birth to their entrance into a diploma course. The scheme was announced in 2019 with an annual budget of only Rs 1,200 crore and has so far benefitted 5.85 lakh girl children while the total number of potential beneficiaries in the state would be at least five crore and, of course, increasing every year.  The number of recipients has been deliberated controlled by an income limit of three lakh rupees imposed on their parents and, even more restrictive, a ban on any family with more than two children accessing it.  The latter ensures the exclusion of, perhaps, the majority or at least a very large number of poor, dalit and Muslim families.  The prime minister did not augment the funds for this scheme but merely transferred Rs 2,000 into the accounts of just one lakh new beneficiaries.

By pressing a second button, he transferred Rs 1,000 crore to the 5,58,700  rural SHGs in the state connected to bank accounts.  This means roughly Rs 17,000 to each SHG to be used for training its members in livelihood schemes.  The amount seems much too meagre to achieve any tangible effects.  Their conditions of life, worsened by the pandemic has left members of SHGs in urban and rural areas of Uttar Pradesh in dire need of loans and financial help.  The state has fewer SHGs than many smaller states and, in the last few years, many of these have folded up because of the inability of members to repay loans.  What is needed is government help and increased lending from nationalised banks which will free SHG members and needy women from the clutches of micro-financial institutions(MFI) and money lenders.  This is not forthcoming in many parts of India, including and especially UP. 

Increased indebtedness of women in most parts of the country is being documented and discussed.  AIDWA members in UP recently carried out a small survey in five districts of the state - Chandauli, Mirzapur, Lucknow, Kanpur and Gorakhpur.  The women surveyed lived in villages and urban slums and belonged to dalit, adivasi, Muslim, OBC and UC communities.  All of them had experienced a great increase in their poverty.  Of the 189 women surveyed,160 had taken loans from one or more sources including from SHG groups which charged between two and 10 per cent interest.  Many had taken loans from private sources at very high-interest rates because nothing else was accessible to them. Many of them had taken a second loan in order to pay off the first one.  Many stories were told about the strong-arm tactics used by MFIs to recover loans. 

What these figures reveal is that a massive expansion in SHGs availing of low-interest loans and receiving government support is the need of the hour. The prime minister’s theatrics cannot be accepted as a substitute for this.

After pressing the buttons, the PM held forth on the success of the betipadhao, betibachao programme in Uttar Pradesh and said that, as a result of BJP rule, women enjoyed security, access to education and a better life.  The reality is very different.  According to the latest figures in the Census India website, the current mean child sex ratio in the state is only 902 females to 1000 males.  In as many as 21 districts the child sex ratio is around 850:1000.  Another disturbing feature is that, despite the tall claims made by the prime minister, the child sex ratio has improved only marginally from the 899:1000 that it was in 2011.

As far as the education of girls is concerned, the pandemic has adversely impacted this in many ways. The Times of India of November 28, 2020, said that a study conducted by RTE Forum, Center for Budget and Policy Studies and Champions for Girls Education in 11 districts of the state in which 944 households were interviewed (50 per cent SC, 30 per cent OBC, 15 per cent Muslims) as stating that “About 54 per cent of girls in Uttar Pradesh were uncertain about returning to their schools after the pandemic.” It was found that 64 per cent of girls spend time on care work and chores and even when the household had a phone, only 21 per cent of girls had access to it.  This survey was conducted before the disastrous second wave so it can be assumed that the situation has deteriorated further.

It must be noted here that no laptops or smart phones were distributed by the UP government to poor children in this period and that no rations in lieu of the midday meals that they were missing were supplied to them unlike the measures taken by the Kerala LDF government to ensure that all children continued with their studies.  In addition, there are reports that child marriages increased considerably in this period.  It is also a fact that the disbursement of scholarships to SC/ST students has seen a sharp decline.  All these factors have contributed to girl children dropping out of the school system in alarming numbers. 

As far as security is concerned, violence against women and children especially those belonging to dalit communities has increased in this period. According to the NCRB, rape cases against scheduled caste women have increased by about 43 per cent in 2020 as compared to 2013.  To illustrate the situation in the state, in just a few weeks before the prime minister’s Prayagrajprogramme, the following atrocities on minor girls were reported from the State:  On November 4, two dalit sisters were raped in Mainpuri.  A few days later, minor girls were raped in Agra and Vrindavan. On November 7, in Banda,  a nine-year-old girl was raped by a 14-year-old boy.  On November 23, a minor was gang-raped in Ballia.    On November 26, a minor girl was raped in the toilet of a private school in Varanasi and, on the same day, four members of a dalit family were found murdered in Prayagraj.  The 17-year-old daughter of the family had been raped. On  December 2, a six-year-old was raped and murdered in Hapur. On December 16, an eight-year-old girl was raped in Mathura.   The attitude of the state government to atrocities perpetrated on dalit women was best illustrated in the horrifying incident of gang rape and the subsequent death of a Balmiki woman by four upper-caste men in Hathras in 2020.  The chief minister publicly denied that the rape had occurred and did everything to defend the perpetrators.  He went to the extent of ensuring that the victim’s body was snatched from her family and burned by the police at night.  The family continues to live in fear while the judicial process proceeds at a snail’s pace. 

Of course, the prime minister did not express any sympathy for female victims of unspeakable violence in the state.  Instead, he continued his erroneous litany of the benefits that BJP rule had conferred on the women of UP, and said that maternal mortality rates and institutional deliveries in the state had improved vastly.  The fact, however, is that the MMR in UP at 197 is one of the highest in the country (Kerala is 43); the percentage of institutional births is only 67 per cent (Kerala is 99 per cent) and the IMR is 47 for 10,000 live births (Kerala is 7).

As far as the ujjwala gas scheme, the construction of toilets and the provision of drinking water are concerned, there is increasing evidence that the implementation of all these is very different from the tall claims made in the prime minister’s speech and elsewhere.  The increased prices of gas cylinders have made them unaffordable for millions of poor women in the entire country.  The inflated numbers of usable toilets installed in the state have been exposed by several surveys and reports.  While the state government’s claims that it has constructed more than two and a half crore toilets in the last five years, the actual figure is about 1.5 crores.  Of these a very large number are unusable.

The January 29, 2019 issue of Khabar Lahariya, a rural news portal run by rural women, had an article that challenged the claim of the UP government that toilet coverage was now 100 per cent and that 99.8 per cent of UP villages were open defecation free (ODF). The residents of one such village, Semra, say that this is not so, not just their village but its block, Mau, suffer from severe shortages of toilets and even the BDO, agrees. Records show that 366 households in Semra were entitled to toilet subsidies and the target is shown to be met but records show that only 264 have been constructed. The other problem is that about 300 eligible families were ‘left out’ of the survey.

The entire Mau block has been declared ODF but the BDO’s data shows that as many of 3,927 of the sanctioned toilets remain to be built!  The government is supposed to conduct a verification drive before declaring an area ODF  but of the 97,000 villages declared so in UP, only 33,000 have been verified. This is just a small illustration of the way in which an issue so crucial to the health, wellbeing and security of women is being lied about in a public relations exercise.

Recently thousands of women teachers in government schools have been demanding leave for three days every month because the toilets in the schools are totally unusable and they have to suffer terribly during their periods.  Similarly, throughout the Covid pandemic, it was reported that toilets in hospitals were also unusable and their condition was adding to the risk of infection. 

All in all, the prime minister’s speech may have served only to add salt to the wounds of deprivation and despair of the women brought to listen to him.