On good days,Raja Ram (45),a Dalit of Patti Kala village,earns Rs 70. A couple of years ago,however,he made Rs 400 to Rs 500 every day. That was the time when Ahraura,located in the newly constituted Marihan Assembly constituency in Mirzapur,was the hub for extracting pink sandstone from the hills for use in the memorials and parks that the Mayawati government was building in Lucknow.
The colossal projects,worth thousands of crores,were Chief Minister Mayawatis symbols of Dalit pride and dignity. When rivals accused her of wasting public money on her whims,Mayawati said her projects had given a better life to the people in Mirzapur from where the stone was coming.
Now,when the memorials have been built and the demand for pink sandstone has slumped,Ahraura has fallen back on hard times. There is nothing happening here now; now we sell slabs used in roofs, says Piyush Srivastava,who runs a stone cutting plant. Srivastava is reluctant to share how much money he made in those days,but accepts there were people who did not have a two-wheeler but now owned Tata Safaris. Many built new houses.
Marihan,which was known as Rajgarh before the delimitation,is a Patel-dominated constituency with Mauryas forming the second biggest chunk of voters. Dalits are present in varying numbers across 30 to 40 villages around Ahraura. While Patels and Mauryas are generally labour contractors,Harijans and Musahars work in the hills,breaking stones.
Post-delimitation,many Maurya-dominated areas,like Madhupur,have gone to Ghorawal assembly constituency in Sonbhadra. The sitting BSP MLA Anil Kumar Maurya,who won twice from Rajgarh,is now contesting from there. He set up a stone cutting plant in Sonepur,and never bothered about our problems, said Awadhesh Singh,a farmer.
But the Dalits arent bothered. We have been voting for the BSP for the last four elections,things are not going to change this time, says Suddhu Ram,one of the few to have survived beyond 60 in a village where an adult man either suffers from TB or is extremely vulnerable to the disease.
Constant exposure to dust since childhood,when they begin breaking stones,has made TB an occupational hazard. The government has so far done nothing to enforce labour safety laws and rules for those who cut stones. Nor has any facility been created for the treatment of the ailing.
With the boom gone and the money spent in clearing debts amongst other things,people in Mirzapur are again hand-to-mouth,a few newly built houses notwithstanding. The village has no road,no source of water,no electricity,not even a dispensary. The one thing that happened in her (Mayawatis) regime is that we could live with pride, said Vijay Kumar,a Dalit.
Kripa Shankar,also of Patti Kala village,says: In the last five years,nobody has troubled us. Neither the police,nor anybody else. When Mayawatis work was on,we used to get money regularly,which was not the case earlier.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections,the Patels had voted for Bal Kumar Patel,SP MP from Mirzapur,but many now seem disillusioned. Like Maurya,who is from Varanasi,Bal Kumar is from Banda and took little interest in the area,said Awadhesh Singh.
There is some nostalgia for the Congress. Mishri Lal Patel of Saraiyan village said: Whatever development took place here,it was during the Congress days. After that,no one did anything. He recalled that as Rajgarh MLA in 1996,Lokpati Tripathi,the grandfather of Congreess nominee Laliteshpati Tripathi,was instrumental in setting up a canal system in Ahraura,Jargo and Dongia check dams for irrigation. But the system has been poorly maintained and there has been no expansion.