rediff.com

NewsApp (Free)

Read news as it happens
Download NewsApp

Available on  

Rediff News  All News 
Rediff.com  » News » No neta campaigns in the village that had this horrid tragedy

No neta campaigns in the village that had this horrid tragedy

May 05, 2014 14:24 IST

No neta campaigns in the village that had this horrid tragedy

     Next

Next
Archana Masih/Rediff.com

Monday is the last day of campaigning in Gandaman where 23 children died after eating a school meal, but no leader has found time to campaign among the villagers. Archana Masih/Rediff.com returns to the lonely village in Bihar.

"This patch used to serve as a helipad, but in this election neta log have not found any time to come," says Surinder Prasad, standing with a bunch of villagers near a memorial outside the school where 23 children died after eating a poison-laced midday meal on July 11, 2013.

The patch that he points to is between that school which served death to its pupils and an under-construction high school.

Nine children from Surinder Prasad's house ate the killer meal. One died; eight miraculously survived, but the marks of the tragedy survive on his furrowed face.

He wears a grimy shirt and a lungi. At 8 in the morning, he is making his way from his tea shop on the main road to his village of around 1,200 voters, most of whom are from the backward castes.

"Nobody cares. What are we complaining that no contestant has come asking for our vote this time, when Nitish Kumar hasn't found time in 9 months to come here," he says, launching a scathing attack on the Bihar chief minister, adding that he did not even visit the surviving children when they were admitted to the government hospital in Patna.

After the tragedy, Gandaman was declared a model village and its inhabitants agree that it has seen development they could never expect, but it has come at the cost of their children's deaths.

The one room school that housed the school has been repaired and made into a community hall. A new middle school, a creche (anganwadi) and a primary health centre have been constructed, while a high school is in the process of being built -- all this in less than a year, which is impressive considering the tortoise-like speed that government work often operates at.

There is 22 hours supply of electricity, something that Mangal Mahto, a 65-year-old villager, says he has never seen in his entire life. A tea shop owner, he does not reveal who he will vote for, but says netas should not take the poor voters in villages as fools any more.

"Do they think there is no need for them to come and meet the voter? To find out what our troubles are?" asks the man who looks at least ten years older than what he says his age is and does not remember a time he has not voted.

Please click Next to read more...


Image: A bullock cart carries a bamboo container used to store wheat on the road to Gandaman.
Photographs: Archana Masih/Rediff.com

     Next

No neta campaigns in the village that had this horrid tragedy

Prev     Next
Prev

Next
Archana Masih/Rediff.com

Election in these parts has never been short of high-pitched action

The commitment to exercising their franchise on Election Day is exemplary in large swathes of the Hindi heartland and a lesson for city folk.

There are no party posters anywhere in the three neighbouring constituencies of Hajipur, Chhapra and Maharajganj, but voters rattle off the names of the contestants, their political histories, the distance to the polling booth with fluent ease.

Announcements about political road shows and meetings are made by wandering vehicles with loudspeakers and by word of mouth. As for posters, the only ones that can be seen are those from the Election Commission encouraging voters to use the power of their single vote.

On the road to Gandaman that crosses the former factory town of Marhoura, with its many dilapidated bungalows from the Raj era and factories that have long shut down, one comes across a few trees with boards indicating the direction of polling booths in villages that are off the main road.

Gandaman falls in the Maharajganj constituency, where the sitting MP, the controversial Prabhunath Singh's recent troubles include threatening the district magistrate, one of the reported reasons that necessitated the appointment of a special poll observer for the Saran-Maharajganj constituencies.

On Sunday, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Yadav was irate that Saran district officials searched his wife and party's candidate Rabri Devi's campaign vehicle without the presence of a lady constable or a search warrant, and vented his ire at the police.

Election in these parts has never been short of high-pitched action.

Please click Next to read more...


Image: Children on a bullock cart pass by the school area in Gandaman.
Photographs: Archana Masih/Rediff.com

Prev     Next

No neta campaigns in the village that had this horrid tragedy

Prev     Next
Prev

Next
Archana Masih/Rediff.com

'Modifesto' has happened

"All the three parties get votes from here -- phool, lalten, teer (the symbols of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Janata Dal-United, teer has done work in Bihar," says Shivji, who praises Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, but has a BJP handbill in his pocket.

The villagers are upset about not receiving the Indira Awas Yojana, a central government housing scheme for weaker castes and those below the poverty line.

"After this village was declared a model village, it was told that not a single thatched hut would remain. 572 people were registered -- our bahu, beti went to Masrakh for it -- and finally only 200 received the Indira Awas Yojna," says another villager who does not want to be named for this feature.

"That is the big reason why Nitishbabu's votes are getting cut from here and Laluji is stronger," he adds.

"Modifesto has happened," interrupts Ram Prasad Gupta from the neighbouring village.

"If they see Dilli, then it's Modi, if they see state -- then it's teer in the name of development. Modiji is coming to Dilli, dekh lijiyega (you wait and see)," he declares with rock-solid confidence.

Please click Next to read more...


Image: The road off the main road that leads to Gandaman.
Photographs: Archana Masih/Rediff.com

Prev     Next

No neta campaigns in the village that had this horrid tragedy

Prev     Next
Prev

Next
Archana Masih/Rediff.com

'Sarkar bhi budbak hai'

We are standing by the memorial to the deceased children whose names are etched on the black granite. It is not made with skilled craftsmanship, but the fact that the state chose to honour its ordinary citizens, for once breaking away from its obsession with deifying political leaders alone, is worthy of recognition.

The men say that although the primary school, creche, health centre is ready, they don't know when the village will be able to use its services because its inauguration is still awaited.

'Maybe it hasn't happened because of the election code of conduct, but I am quite certain that the inauguration and the remaining schemes like the water tank will be completed before the assembly election next year," says Naseem Akhtar.

Some villagers also blame the election code for not receiving the grain they are entitled to as below the poverty line card holders for the last two months.

Thirty-five kilos of grain is given per family per month, but the villagers say never have they received that amount in totality -- it is routinely less by around 10 kgs.

There is also a chorus of disappointment against MNREGA (the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act), the UPA government's flagship programme for employment for the rural poor, which has been riddled with corruption.

"Sarkar bhi budbak hai (the government is a fool). Does it expect that unskilled men will build roads when there are enough JCBs (road rollers) to do that work?" asks a villager.

"1,000 MNREGA accounts were opened, but we have not got money or a spot of work since the scheme started," he adds. "The mukhiya is a dabbang (scary character), there's no point approaching him."

Please click Next to read more...


Image: The memorial to the 23 children who died in the midday meal tragedy built by the Bihar government.
Photographs: Archana Masih/Rediff.com

Prev     Next

No neta campaigns in the village that had this horrid tragedy

Prev     More
Prev

More
Archana Masih/Rediff.com

'Ghooskhori has increased in Bihar'

The villagers say they have come a long way from that kind of exploitation when they were treated like bonded labour by the upper castes, but since the majority of them are backward, they continue to be exploited -- not blatantly, but subtly.

"To get an awasiya (domicile) certificate we have to pay a bribe of 100 rupees," says Joginder Kumar, a student enrolled in a college 8 kms away.

"Nitishbabu is giving money like the waters of the Ganga, but ghooskhori (bribery) has increased in Bihar. His officials have betrayed him," says Surinder Prasad, who is worried that the women who lost their children in the midday meal tragedy have received no psychological counselling.

In election season, the villagers vent their ire on the netas, even as they agree that their village has seen development. "Our village has become better than many others around here, kaam to bahut hua hai (a lot of work has been done)," says Akhtar, "but this election netalog have no time for us."


Image: Villagers outside the school area in Gandaman.
Photographs: Archana Masih/Rediff.com

Prev     More