The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is a political party that has contested elections harnessing the Dalit votes. The BSP's woman leader, Ms. Mayawati, a Dalit herself, has been claiming that her party and the Uttar Pradesh state government she leads, are actively involved in trying to ameliorate the living condition of the Dalit community.
The BSP, that claims to be working for 'revolutionary social and economic movement of change with a view to realise … the supreme principles of universal justice, liberty, equality and fraternity enunciated in the Constitution of India' however has achieved nothing much on this front. The BSP, like most of its counterparts in the country, is not interested in the welfare of the ordinary people, but is preoccupied with the welfare of the people who control the party.
Uttar Pradesh, with an estimated 243,286 square kilometre land area, occupies one-third of the highly fertile Gangetic plain. Yet, it is one of the most backward states of India and is the most populated state in the country with an estimated 190 million people. The backwardness of the state owes much to its elected representatives. 100 out of the 403 seats in the state assembly are occupied by individuals having criminal antecedents, ranging from charges of corruption, murder, rape and robbery, to name a few. The Chief Minister, Ms. Mayawati herself, is accused of corruption involving 40 million USD, in the infamous Taj Corridor case.
The state underperforms on various fronts below the national average. For example, the literacy rate is 57.36 percent for the state as opposed to the higher national average of 65.4 percent. India's population stabilisation solely rests upon two states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Yet, Uttar Pradesh has a population growth rate of 25.8 percent against the national average of 23.8 percent. Even according to the state government, in terms of social development indicators like medical facilities, teacher-student ratio in primary schools, death rate, infant mortality rate, literacy, per capita income, electrification of villages and per capita power consumption, the state currently lag behind other parts of the country. Nothing tangible was achieved in the state to change the status quo after the forming of the current government in May 2007.
What is visible however is the omnipresence of statues and decorations in the urban areas, particularly within the cities, where huge statues of Mayawati are erected. Whenever there was criticism against the Chief Minister or a member of the government, stiff resentment was the response, claiming that these are rumours spread by the upper caste or the opposition.
It is however true that the current administration will have a tough way forward if at all the government is serious in addressing the people's need. The bureaucracy of the state has a few decades of corruption, nepotism and criminality as their practice and experience to shed off. Experiences and practices that are rooted within the system will take time to be removed. Of particular importance is the widespread practise of corruption. Every aspect of public life in the state is under the influence of corruption. The BSP like many other political parties in the country is known to demand 'donations' from the rich and the poor alike. Those who pay higher amounts of such donations expect to receive favours from the government.
Corruption percolates from the top to the lowest levels of the administration. For example, it is common for the government licensees like the Public Food Distribution System (PDS) agents to sell food grains in the black-market. The food grains supplied to the PDS shops by the government to be distributed for the poor, in these conditions never reach the intended population. The effect of this form of corruption is devastating particularly in rural areas where the poor live. The state police, an agency mandated to take actions against this is equally or even worse in terms of corruption. It is public knowledge that recruitment and promotion in the state police, particularly for the lower and middle ranks, are made after paying huge amounts in bribes. It is equally known that the officers, majority of them, soon start making good of the bribe they paid by demanding and accepting bribes.
Similar state of apathy exists in state-run health centers. Government hospitals are understaffed and ill-equipped. In rural areas, public health service centers, commonly referred to as PHCs, remain closed mostly throughout the year, denying health services to the poor villagers. Schools are also equally understaffed. Several government schools remain closed or as good as non-functional, since the school buildings are no more safe to house the children.
The poor in the villages mostly face the brunt of this administrative neglect. The state has a predominantly rural population, of which an estimated 11 percent is unaccounted due to caste prejudices and errors in the census data. The state is home for malnutrition, starvation, deaths from starvation, high rates of mortality and the prevalence of malnutrition-induced deceases. A high percentage of those who face this harsh reality in life are the members of the Dalit community.
Almost 90 percent of the Dalits work as landless agricultural labourers. Yet, when the central government initiated discussions for a national land reforms policy and a law, the BSP was in the forefront to oppose the move. A national land reforms law with statutory limitations on individual and collective land holdings will help to improve the living condition of the poor. States like Kerala in India where such policies are in force since long, has proved that land reforms will not only reduce poverty, but has also the potential to end caste based discrimination.
It is in this backdrop that Mayawati and the state government she leads are preparing for a state-wide celebration of Mayawati's 53rd birthday. Billions of Indian Rupees, estimated to be about US$975 million, is projected to be spent for building monuments by the state administration in the coming years. The question is, would these monuments be later remembered for the glory of a Dalit leader or will they remain the ghosts of her reckless administration?
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.