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The hut that became a headline

Life has not been same for Sunita Kori, a Dalit woman of Amethi, since Rahul spent a night at her hut in 2008.

Sunita Kori with her children in her hut with its new asbestos roof, in Jawaharpur village of Amethi. (Vishal Srivastav) Sunita Kori with her children in her hut with its new asbestos roof, in Jawaharpur village of Amethi. (Vishal Srivastav)

Life has not been same for Sunita Kori, a Dalit woman of Amethi, since Rahul spent a night at her hut in 2008. Recently she got AAP, SP largesse. The biggest fallout, she claims, is village jealousy

A small hut, with bare bricks and an asbestos roof, stands solemnly among several huts in Jawaharpur village of Amethi. But as nondescript as it looks, it also draws a lot of attention. And that’s not just from fellow villagers passing by. Its latest visitor was Uttar Pradesh cabinet minister Gayatri Prasad Prajapati. The Samajwadi Party’s Amethi MLA drove from Lucknow on January 26 and handed over a letter sanctioning Rs 1.6 lakh to Sunita Kori, a Dalit woman who lives in the hut, so that she could use it towards construction of a home under the Lohia Awas Yojna scheme. Two weeks before Prajapati came calling, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) member Kumar Vishwas visited the hut and promised Kori that his party would provide a shed for her roofless home. The shed, that now sits comfortably over the hut, was swiftly put in place.

The cycle of political guests at Kori’s home began with Rahul Gandhi’s visit on January 26, 2008, when the Congress vice-president had dinner with Kori and her husband Madan Lal, and spent the night at their hut. While the visit must have come in handy for Rahul, the Amethi MP, to take on then chief minister Mayawati’s Dalit vote bank, life has not been the same for the Koris since.

The biggest fallout, they claim, is that the attention has made them an object of envy for neighbours. It’s not uncommon for them to hear taunts from others in the village. Such is the “jealously”, alleges Kori, that villagers have blocked her hut, as well as a dozen other huts belonging to her extended family of in-laws, nieces and nephews, from the main access road. Kori’s and her other family member’s huts are located in an enclosed premises; all members can only step outside through a small door of one of the huts.“They did this after Rahul Gandhi used the main road to come and visit me,” says Kori. They live in “constant fear”, and a woman of the family, after taking a look on the other side of the wall, says that “someone is recording this interview”.

The Koris blame every dispute with other villagers on “jealousy over the Rahul visit”. Last October, Kori and Lal were “beaten with sticks by neighbours”. Showing bruises on his left arm, Lal says they were beaten because of a dispute Madan’s brother had with the neighbours. “It became an excuse to vent their jealousy over the Rahul visit,” alleges Kori.  In January last year, when Kori’s  niece was allegedly raped, the parents reported the matter to the police. They allege that instead of registering the case as rape, the police filed it under IPC Section 354 (criminal force on a woman with intent to outrage her modesty). Acting station officer, Sangrampur police station, Anoop Swami, however, says, that the case was later registered as rape and “the accused, Kamlesh, a resident of an adjacent village, surrendered before the court on February 18, and was sent to jail.” But he was let off a month and a half later after paying a bribe, alleges Jiya Lal, the girl’s father, . “No rape has ever taken place here. Why was my child raped?” he asks.

But others in the village of about 60 families, mostly Kori-Chamars (SC), Thakurs, and a few Gaderias, Yadavs and Kashyaps (all three OBCs), tell a different story. Village pradhan Lallu Singh, a Thakur, says that the village has ostracised Kori’s family because of “her behaviour”. “She waves the Harijan Act too much.” But Madan Lal blames caste wars as the root of the problem. “The Thakurs are promoting enmity between Koris and our neighbours, Gaderias and Kashyaps. Our family, because of the attention we’ve got, has become their target,” he says.

Far from Rahul’s visit helping the family financially, work opportunities for them have only dried up since. The men of Kori’s family, who are daily-wage labourers, are often “denied” work by contractors who dismiss them as “netas”. After Kori’s house was burnt in 2012, allegedly by SP workers celebrating their victory in the UP Assembly elections, including the Amethi seat, Lal was given the job of a field officer in the Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana. But soon, Lal was fired with the official explanation that “he wasn’t good enough”. Kori, in an attempt to help her husband get back his job, met Rahul when he visited Amethi a few months ago. He obliged her for “barely a minute, and offered me nothing”, she says. But Kori isn’t angry with her “brother”, as she calls Rahul. “I was just hoping for a second chance for Madan; but it’s OK,” she says.

Rahul had spotted the outspoken Kori when he visited Amethi in 2008; in the course of his tour, he had met a women’s self-help group, of which Kori was a part. The women were holding a meeting when Rahul joined them. He chose Kori to have dinner with that night.

The political rivalry has affected caste equations in the village, too. Lallu Singh, a Samajwadi Party worker who “always had scorn for Sunita Kori’s family because of her open support for the Congress”, had to mend his ways because of the growing competition among politicians to woo her. When the SP burnt down her hut, Lallu Singh had to help rebuild it on the orders of Prajapati. Doesn’t it tire her — this constant use of her hut, and herself, as a political tool? Kori, almost like a politician, gives a non-committal reply: “Whoever comes to my home is welcome, whether it’s Rahul, Vishwas or Prajapati. How can I deny a guest to my home and not offer them food?”

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