At a checkpoint in Uttar Pradesh
which is holding seven-phased assembly polls.
This isn't a work of fiction, nor is
it constructed to bash politicians or start a revolution,
especially at a time when this sprawling state is going to the
polls. It's an account of ordinary people, generations of them.
Their demand? That something be done for them to have a better
quality of life, eventually.
Holding on to that hope, Uttar Pradesh resident Birju turns a
leaf, he has just turned 78. He's still awaiting the fulfilment of
promises made to him when he was a newly wed. Today his
grandchildren are married.
As he says, "Parties come and go. Politicians come and go. We
remain. And this is what we have." He points to the local school
with half-finished walls and deteriorating toilets. The roads were
ruined over the monsoon. Every other year, roadworks take place
but the material used isn't good enough, protests an elderly
farmer. As more villagers join in, the age-old discussion on what
needs to be done gets more and more heated.
It has been six months since I have moved back to India. Giving up
the old boroughs of London, where my last conversations in the
city were based around the lack of job opportunities in a modern
society, depressive state of established and emerging financial
markets, of neighbouring countries that required bailouts.
Yes, the banking sector kept me occupied for the better part of
four years. The City of London seemed like a bubble though. India,
its state-wide elections, politics and everything associated, felt
part of a different planet. I decided to move back to India to
work in the rural sector.
I was fortunate enough to be given an opportunity with an
organisation already established in the sector, pioneering
development and movement among people. To work within a structured
framework that allows one to interact with farmers and villagers.
To try and provide them an educative insight on the right to price
information with respect to the crops they produce, to work with
them on issues important to their existence, directly approach
them and tell them about healthcare and sanitation, provide them
facts and figures on what goes into financial planning. This is
the company that gave rural India the power of electronic
communication, E-Chaupal, as some might have heard.
And work brought me to Uttar Pradesh, right in the middle of a
political storm - the state is holding assembly elections. As I go
from village to village, account to account, it becomes evident
that the simple needs, those that were and are promised, are the
ones often forgotten.
As we move in the area of Bahraich, we're stopped again. "Excuse
me - out of car." An armed officer accompanied by two uniformed
men with video cameras record the process of checking. As we find
ourselves held up at yet another checkpoint, I am reminded by the
officer on duty that they're authorised to check every vehicle
that crosses their path. They anticipate a heavy movement of cash
and physical gold. We're more than pleased to see their diligent
As we wait, I am approached by a group of children, who request
for a photograph. We agree, and it opens a dialogue. "Will you
vote, when you're eligible?" I ask. All of them, without the
slightest hesitation, nod their heads.
Is it because it's your right? No, they say. It's because there is
the possibility to get 'something' out of it. It's like gospel -
they can get incentives if they vote. It could be anything, from
blankets to cash prize, mobile phones or part payment of a
So, this is what tomorrow might turn out like? Like, today. This
is the system. It only moves in circles, from parent to child. And
you can't help but feel disappointed. But, then again, they have
their reasons - it's like a festival, one of them said, where
gifts are handed out. They've grown up observing it and will soon
be taking part in it.
As songs break out on the radio, cattle feed on brown grass and
children play cricket with wooden planks as makeshift bats...I
hear the officers speaking to each other about a raid, minutes
ago. Of cash being hauled in a nearby district. "Cash for votes,
sir", as I overhear these men in uniform, I sense a feeling of
pride among them.
Policemen, more often than not, are termed 'corrupt'. But on that
day of all days, I felt a sense of duty on their part. They high-fived
each other and laughed. And with a spring in their step walked
over to me, "Sir, free to go." As the four of them sat on their
assigned plastic chairs in the sun, it felt like there was reason
to believe in people, those who take oaths too.
Will we continue addressing issues such as education, sanitation,
healthcare, infrastructure, electricity? I guess we will. But
perhaps, rather than ridiculing the system, we could try to
contribute to it. There is a lot that needs to be done, and now is
a good time to start.
The writer is involved with ITC's E-Chaupal project.
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org