'Is baar votejati par nahi, kaam par milega.'
Nitin Kumar reports from Lucknow.
"I thought the world of him (Yogi Adityanath). He failed us," says 24-year-old Rahul Gautam, a Dalit from Gorakhpur district in Uttar Pradesh.
After Adityanath became chief minister, he took up the Herculean task of boosting gross state domestic product (GSDP) to $1 trillion in five years, providing jobs to millions.
But according to Gautam, who holds a B Tech degree, no progress has been made, so far.
He is unemployed and looking for a decent-paying job for the past two years.
"Giving us reservations isn't enough. Where are the jobs, despite thousands of vacancies? Today, the only jobs we have are selling golgappas, tea, and fruit. Is this why we have spent lakhs on our studies?" asks Gautam, who had taken a loan of Rs 3 lakh to complete his bachelor's degree.
Though the Dalits are not a monolith and their vote depends on a variety of issues and factors -- such as income status and caste -- they all have one common resentment against the current Bharatiya Janata Party regime: Its decision to include 17 communities belonging to Other Backward Classes in the Scheduled Castes list, besides outsourcing jobs to the private sector.
"The only benefit of reservations we have is in government jobs. The Yogi government is determined to snatch that too," says Shyam Kumar, a 22-year-old college student, who wants to join the UP police after graduation.
The Valmiki community, members of which constitute the majority of the cleaning workers, is among the worst-hit among the Dalits because of the outsourcing of Class IV jobs.
"People from other castes are taking our traditional jobs. Today, people from upper castes and OBCs are also getting recruited for cleaning jobs. They get these jobs and then outsource their work to us at a fraction of what they receive," says Vinod Allahabadi, vice-president, Uttar Pradesh Local Bodies Employees Federation.
Though several Dalit communities agree that the government under Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati had empowered them, they say the perks of reservations and other benefits were enjoyed largely by the Jatavs.
"Reservation ki malai woh kha gaye. Of the 100,000 vacancies of cleaners filled during the BSP's rule, Valmikis got just 16,000," says Allahabadi.
The Scheduled Castes constitute 21.5 per cent of the state's population as against the 15 per cent reservations given to them.
"Instead of providing us proper representation, the government added dominant backward castes to our list," says Rahul, adding, "More castes in the list mean fewer opportunities."
According to the Census 2001, out of the 66 Scheduled Castes, the Jatavs have the highest population -- 56.3 per cent.
With a 15.9 per cent population, the Pasis are the second-largest community.
The other dominant ones are the Dhobis, Koris, Valmikis, etc.
Dubbing Adityanath "anti-Dalit", Anil Chamadia, former professor, Mahatma Gandhi Anterrashtriya Hindi Vishvavidyalaya, and visiting professor, Jamia Millia Islamia, says, "Including OBCs within the Scheduled Caste fold is the BJP's strategy to finish the benefits of reservations the latter are getting."
Chamadia says crimes against Dalits had increased exponentially during BJP rule.
"There is no programme to empower the Dalits. No institute had been inaugurated for this in the past four-and-a half -years. No relief was provided to them, who constitute the largest share in the unorganised sector workforce, which took the severest blow following the lockdown last year," he says.
However, the Uttar Pradesh government talks about its chief minister's Pravasi Rozgar Yojana, Kanya Vivah Sahayata Yojana, and health insurance for labourers during Covid waves to counter these claims.
Dalits this time, Chamadia says, will vote either for the BSP or the Samajwadi Party.
But not all Dalits plan the same.
Many accuse Opposition parties, especially the BSP, of indulging in vote bank politics.
Anand Kumar Jatav, a 32-year-old shoemaker in Agra, says "Behenji (Mayawati) neither helped nor raised her voice in support of the Dalits for the past few years. She will not enjoy our complete support."
"We made her CM. Today, when our daughters are being raped, we are being harassed, and the government, instead of providing us economic relief, is forcing us to take commercial electric connections for our small units, she didn't say a word," says Anand, adding, "Why should we continue to vote for her?
The delay in releasing scholarships and financial aids has made many Dalits drop out of school and college in UP.
"My sister did not complete her graduation because the government did not release the scholarship money in time. The college management harassed her for fees, so she decided to quit," says Rishabh Kumar, a 35-year-old paratha vendor, adding, "Ration is free, but one has to give a bribe to get the ration card. Why can't the government see what we are going through?"
The pandemic wreaked havoc during the second wave in UP.
People were denied admission in hospitals, which cited a lack of beds and oxygen.
Dalits say they were the worst-hit in that moment of crisis too.
For the Pasis, Koris, and Khatiks proper representation in jobs is one of the major issues.
The majority of them are working as labourers or vendors.
Regular harassment by police is the biggest problem.
"Only the poor go to government hospitals but when Covid spread in our city nobody cared for us. We were left to die," says Amit Singh, a dhobi, in Lucknow.
Dalit activists say there are many schemes that governments start but due to lack of education and poor implementation people don't get their benefits.
"We have many schemes for Dalits, but implementation is the problem," says Lakshmi Narayan, owner of Gaurav Traders and member of the Agra Shoes Federation.
A manifesto with a promise of education and health infrastructure and a leader who can fulfil it are what the Dalits are looking forward to.
Though the SC/ST Atrocities Acts have empowered the Dalits, they still feel excluded from society.
Tajendra Rajora, a local Congress leader and businessman, says, "Many people still don't eat food in our house. Some privileged Dalits do get benefits and are not subject to atrocities. No government can remove it."
A Scheduled Caste person faced crime every 10 minutes in India in the past year, with 50,291 cases registered in 2020, an increase of 9.4 per cent from the previous year, the data from the National Crime Records Bureau said.
"The leader with a vision on giving education, medical infrastructure, and law and order will get our support," Anand adds.
"Is baar vote jati par nahi, kaam par milega (this time work will get votes, not caste)."