Uttar Pradesh Speaks: Don’t you utter a word against Modi or Yogi!

The Government has done a fantastic job of concealing the last five years from the people and the perception is that speaking against the PM or the CM can do no good or bring any luck !

Representative image
Representative image

Vijaya Laxmi Singh

I spent my childhood and early teens in Lucknow, where I never felt like I was missing out on any opportunity. But I spent all my vacations in Ballia, my hometown, where I wasn’t allowed to sit outside the ‘dwar’ (door) of my house. I would constantly be told to stay indoors, not talk to men, not step out in their presence, questioned why I was wearing whatever I was wearing, where I was going and why.

When I was in the 6th standard, a state cricket team visited Ballia to play a match. I was very excited to meet them because I had only seen cricketers on TV. But my uncle scolded me for sitting with boys and talking to them. I was just a child. Was I not allowed in the public sphere? My father’s words, “Ye sab kuein ke mendhak hain” (these people are frogs in a well) offered poor consolation.

From being my favourite place in the world as a child, Ballia offered at best a bitter-sweet experience as a teenager. But for most women there, this was the reality they lived. Patriarchy is so ingrained in us that these women didn’t even feel that the way they were being treated was not normal, that they were facing discrimination.

The state of education in small towns and rural areas of the state is a sham. All my female relatives in Ballia were allowed to pursue higher education, but they never went to college. They just gave their exams without attending classes, got their degrees and were married off.

I saw a cousin who nursed ambitions of becoming a CA and open an orphanage change. She pursued her graduation from Banaras and went back to Ballia. I’m not sure what happened in those three years that she was back in Ballia, but she sacrificed her goal of doing an MBA, got married and now all she talks about is groceries.

Ironically, Ballia is held up as an example of development when union minister Anurag Thakur visits, but no real work is done on the ground ever. I went around Ballia reporting on the issues that people face. People are still defecating in the open. Someone I talked to said, “Hum to naali ke keede hain”, because they go to relieve themselves on the railway lines and have to get up and run when a train comes.

In another area where Dalits and Muslims lived, I saw sewage water had entered their houses and they were living in those unhygienic conditions. One man wanted to show me his kitchen flooded with sewage water, and how they had kept small stools on the floor to avoid stepping in the water. But his brother told him, “Yogi Modi ke khilaaf kuch mat bolna.” (Don’t speak a word against Modi or Yogi), for fear of repurcussions. He was himself standing in the sewage water as he spoke.

It’s not their fault either. They have asked the municipality, the ward member, the chairman and the MLA for help. But nothing has worked. Pumping out sewage water cannot be a big deal for the authorities. But they will not do it. And people will not resort to threats and violence.

Make no mistake. There is simmering anger. But this anger is not going to turn into any action. BJP and RSS have deployed a whole bunch of people who go from door to door telling people how much the PM and CM have done for them. And the union and the state government have done such a fantastic job of concealing the reality, I must admit.

I was infected with Covid during the second wave and had to share my oxygen support with the person lying next to me in a hospital in Ballia. But despite my father’s influence and connections, I could not get an oxygen cylinder for myself. But I was lucky. What about those who were not?

Growing up in Lucknow, I had a lot of Muslim friends. When I moved out of Lucknow, the number of Muslims I met significantly declined.

If I still have some hope for UP, it is because of large groups of people who are aware and also active. For heaven’s sake, even our gossip sessions at the nearby chai ki tapri are about politics! That’s what gives me hope.

(Vijaya Singh is a student journalist from Ballia, UP)

(As told to Garima Sadhwani)

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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