It is a house without a door.
Unplastered, unpainted, made of exposed bricks, it stands on the outskirts of Baksha village in Uttar Pradesh’s Jaunpur district, on the southern side of the railway line, where few families live.
The missing door isn’t a sign that its residents feel safe. Rather, it signals the insecurity in their lives. “We could not get a door made because we ran out of money,” said Narma, as she massaged the arm of her old widowed mother, Dhanpatti, sitting on a plastic mat with other Musahar women. Like elsewhere in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Baksha’s Musahars are at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, virtually banished to the outskirts of the village.
Three years ago, after her husband died, Narma had moved back to her mother’s house, which was then merely a mud hut with a thatched roof. Inside lived more than a dozen people – the families of two of her brothers, Nanku, who is a sweeper, and Surendra Vanvasi, who works in a brick kiln. Their eldest brother lived with his family in Jaunpur town where he pulled a rickshaw.
What gave the large family some elbow room was the fact that Vanvasi, along with his wife and five children, spent eight months at a brick kiln. They shaped and baked mud into bricks for others, but could not afford to build a brick home for themselves.
Neither could Lalati Yadav, who lived across the railway line, in the main settlement of the village. Her husband died because he drank too much, after pawning away three-quarters of his family’s five bighas of land. Yadav raised her three children in a mud house with a thatched roof, only slightly bigger than Dhanpatti’s. “It leaked in the rains,” she said.
A lifetime of insecurity miraculously appeared to end, when the women heard in 2014 that they had been selected for a government grant to build a Lohia house.
Soon after he was sworn as chief minister, in May 2012, Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav announced the launch of the Lohia Samagra Gram Vikas Yojana, named after Ram Manohar Lohia, the Independence-era socialist leader that the party holds up as its icon.
The scheme was aimed at developing basic infrastructure in 10,000 of Uttar Pradesh’s most backward villages. Every year, about 2,000 villages were chosen as Lohia villages. Funds were given by the state government to village panchayats for building roads, drains, toilets, but most of all, the scheme came to be identified with the construction of brick houses called Lohia Awaas, or Lohia homes.
India has an acute rural housing shortage. Estimates of the shortfall range from 40 million, 62 million to 140 million units. Only 65% of the rural homes in Uttar Pradesh are made of baked brick and concrete, according to the 2011 census. In Jaunpur district, this percentage is even lower at 59% – which means roughly one in two homes are made of little more than mud, grass, stone and wood.
Since the mid-eighties, the central government has provided housing grants to rural families living below the poverty line under the Indira Awaas Yojana. But in Uttar Pradesh, the last survey to identify BPL families took place in 2002. Several poor families did not make it to the list. To provide housing assistance to such families, in 2008, the then chief minister Mayawati introduced the Mahamaya Awaas Yojana for Dalits, following it up with Mahamaya Sarvajan Awaas Yojana for non-Dalits.
In 2012, after he took charge as chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav ended Mayawati’s rural housing schemes and started the Lohia Awaas Yojana. It was similar to Mayawati’s schemes, but came with a higher grant – Rs 1.2 lakh per family. This was higher than the Rs 70,000 then available under the Indira Awaas Yojana. Even after the Indira Awaas Yojana was rechristened Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana in 2016, and its grant raised to Rs 1.2 lakh, the Lohia Awaas remained more attractive – its grant had been hiked to Rs 2.75 lakh in 2014 and further bumped up to Rs 3.5 lakh in 2016.
It isn’t just the higher amount that makes the state scheme more attractive than the central one. The Lohia house comes fitted with solar powered-lights and a ceiling fan. For this, Rs 30,000 is deducted at source, and the rest of the grant is directly transferred to the bank account of the beneficiary.
In the first year of the scheme, 1,599 villages were selected as Lohia villages, followed by 2,104 villages in 2013-’14, 2,098 villages in 2014-’15 and 2,100 in 2015-’16.
Baksha’s turn to become a Lohia village came in the year 2014-’15.
Every Lohia village gets housing grants for 25 families to build a two-room house over a minimum area of 22 square metres.
The guidelines issued on February 20, 2013, laid down the eligibility criteria in simple terms: the house would be allotted to the female head of a family that has an income of less than Rs 36,000 and does not have a brick house.
The gram sabha was tasked with carrying out a rapid assessment and preparing a list of eligible beneficiaries, starting with those with the lowest income. This list was to be vetted and cleared by the block development officer.
In effect, the process empowered the village pradhan to select the beneficiaries.
In Baksha, of the list of 25 families prepared by the pradhan, eventually 18 were cleared for the grants.
Only one of the families selected was Dalit – the family of Dhanpatti.
There is enough evidence to show home insecurity is more acute among India’s Dalits and Adivasis. That’s why 60% of homes under the Indira Awaas Yojana are reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Data from the 2011 census shows only 47% of Dalit households in rural Jaunpur have brick and concrete homes compared to 59% of the total rural households in the district.
By the norms of the Lohia scheme, 23.41% of homes are reserved for Dalits in proportion to the state’s Scheduled Caste population. According to the 2011 census, Dalits in Baksha form 13.39% of its population.
While reservation sets the bar for the minimum number of homes that Dalits should get under the scheme, there is no reason to exclude Dalit families beyond that limit, if they are among the village’s poorest.
In Baksha’s Harijan Basti, it is easy to spot eligible candidates for Lohia homes.
Dinesh, who digs borewells for a living, stood outside his family’s mud hut one evening. “Look at our madiya [hut],” he said, with a smile. “Ab hum log colony layak hai, aisa nahi hai ki nahi hai. We are eligible for a colony, aren’t we?”
“Colony” is the colloquial term for a government-funded brick home.
The young man said he had asked the pradhan for a Lohia house, but the pradhan shooed him away saying his name was not on the list.
“Aheeron ko mile, humko nahi mile,” said his sister-in-law, Soni. “Biraadari paksh ke hai na.” The Aheers [Yadavs] get it, not us. After all, the pradhan belongs to that community.
As it happens, seven of the 18 Lohia houses have been allotted to Yadavs. Baksha’s elected pradhan is a widow, Shanti Yadav, but for all practical purposes, the pradhan is her brother-in-law Bharat Yadav.
Asked why only one Lohia house had been allotted to Dalits, Yadav initially tried to fob off the questions. “I am just class five pass. Gaon waalon ki den hai ki main pradhan hoke baitha hoon. It is the grace of villagers that I am the pradhan.”
Pushed further, he said, “because the rest [of the Dalits] are on the BPL list.”
That’s not true – Dinesh is not on the BPL list, for instance.
Asked why as many as seven houses went to Yadavs, the pradhan said: “They needed government support. On their own, they could not have laid a brick.”
A recent survey by Lokniti, Centre for Study of Developing Societies, asked voters a question: “If Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh take place tomorrow then what will be the most important issue for you while casting your vote?”
Twenty one percent of the surveyed voters identified development as the main issue, 15% settled on unemployment, 11% said price rise, 7% fell on corruption. As this Mint article reported, caste did not feature anywhere in the issues that mattered.
But this hardly means that caste is not a factor in the elections – as the article pointed out, the same survey showed people were voting along caste lines. Yadavs were voting predominantly for the Samajwadi Party, and Dalits for the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Baksha’s Lohia homes offer a clue for this voting pattern.
The residents of the village want development but know that development itself is delivered through caste allegiances. The government might design schemes that appear to be based on objective criteria. But in their implementation, there is ample room for discretion.
If a Yadav pradhan loyal to the Samajwadi Party favours Yadavs over others, naturally Yadavs return the favour, voting for the party.
On the roof of Lalati Yadav’s white-washed house is the flag of the Samajwadi Party.
Life’s blows might have made her timid and nervous but when it comes to politics, she is resoundingly clear about whom she supports. “Akhilesh Yadav,” she said. “After all, he gave us the colony.”
In a village that sees frequent power cuts, the solar-powered lights and fan installed in her house remain an attraction for the women of the neighbourhood, who frequently come and huddle there.
Yadav is house proud. Apart from the money she received from the government, she invested Rs 60,000 of her own money, borrowed from a self-help group.
So how much did she get from the government? “About Rs 2.5 lakh.”
The full amount? Or did some of it get siphoned off?
“No, the full amount,” she said, hesitatingly.
One of her neighbours laughed: “Jekar gaand maari jaye, uhko pata chale, sab ko naahi.” Only the one whose bottom is pinched knows the pain.
Yadav lost colour. “He is our neighbour,” she said, weakly, referring to the pradhan. Then, finding the courage, she whispered, “He took Rs 20,000, Rs 25,000 from others, he took just Rs 15,000 from me.”
Yadav gave a bribe – if not willingly, at least knowingly.
But, from Dhanpatti, a bribe was extracted. Her son Surendra Vanvasi said he was away working at the brick kiln when the pradhan took his mother to the bank and got her to withdraw Rs 27,000 and hand it over to him. “Our mother is old and senile,” said Narma. “She got fooled.”
Vanvasi valiantly fought with the pradhan, but the money never came back. Out of spite, the pradhan even blocked the family’s solar light and fan, he said.
Since then, the family has lived in a house without a door.
Predictably, Vanvasi does not think well of Akhilesh Yadav. He swears by Mayawati.
“Humlog ko baithe ka sikha diyan, rahe ka sikha diyan, bole dole ka sikha diyan.” She taught us how to sit, live, speak.
“Nahi to koi ginti humare sab ka na raha.” Otherwise no one even counted us.
Did they get any welfare benefits when Mayawati was chief minister?
“No one could beat us up,” he said. “That was good enough.”
For the Musahars, dignity is development.
Over the next few weeks leading up to the Uttar Pradesh elections, Scroll.in’s ‘A Village Votes’ series will bring readers glimpses of how the residents of Baksha, a village of 2,500 people in the eastern part of the state, are making up their minds about who to support.
The previous parts of the series can be read here.