Villagers say they had to pay Rs 5,000-10,000 to get selected for the housing scheme
Pankaj Kumar | January 21, 2013
Once again I paid a visit to Ravidas Tola neighbourhood in Maghra village of Biharsherif Block. Ravidas is a community that is classified as mahadalit, the most marginalized of the marginalized lot. It was early in the morning, and most people were in a rush as if in hurry to reach office. I stopped one man, Muni Lal Das, and asked him where exactly people were rushing to. He replied, "Sir, we all are going to nearby ponds for defecation."
"Don't you have toilets at home?" I asked.
"Sir, we have no proper house to live in and you are talking about toilets!" was the reply and Muni Lal did not have more time to answer my questions. Which was understandable in the given circumstance.
One of them later found time to chat. Sarjug Ravidas said, "Saheb, why have you come to us? No one can change our destiny. Several babus came here and talked to us but nothing has changed in our lives."
Sarjug was upset with the mukhiya or village head, Nageena Paswan, because his name was not included in the below poverty line (BPL) list.
"I filled up the necessary forms many years before and went to the gram sewak and the block development officer but nothing has happened. The mukhiya has ensured that the names of several people from Ravidas Tola were omitted," added Munarki Devi, as people started gathering around.
Soon, the story emerged of power politics at play in Maghra. There are two rival camps in the village, one headed by the mukhiya, Nageena Paswan and another by Bimal Paswan. As the village is in the reserved category, only dalits can contest the gram panchayat election.
"Nageena has won the election for the second time in Maghra. That's why he is settling the score with the people whom he thinks have voted against him," said Bimal Paswan, who spoke at length about alleged wrongdoings in the Maghra panchayat.
An 80-year-old woman, meanwhile, joined the conversation and spoke about injustices to her. Soon she was sobbing. "Babu Saheb, we get the old-age pension, but we never get food grains under the BPL card," said Basanti Devi. "At the time of elections, we were told that we would be given houses under Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY), but we have got nothing yet." And she blamed the gram sewak and the mukhiya for her plight.
Rajendra Kumar explained, "Sir, most people of Ravidas Tola have been deprived of their rights because the mukhiya thinks that we have not voted for him. I am getting kerosene at the same rates as upper-caste people in Maghra village pay, because my name has been deleted from the ‘red card’ (meant for BPL) and added to the ‘green card’(for above poverty line or APL)." He added he was deprived of all the benefits being given to mahadalits.
It was the same story for almost 40 families of Ravidas Tola. They all were perceived to be against Nageena Paswan and therefore denied benefits under various welfare schemes.
To be fair, there are three or four people from Ravidas Tola who have got IAY funds to build houses but then others said that it was because Nageena Paswan saw these beneficiaries as ‘neutral’ or even supporters. Moreover, they said, these beneficiaries too had to bribe him.
"Bribe is fixed for receiving IAY funds. The amount ranges between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000. If the mukhiya takes it directly, he takes Rs 5,000-7,000; otherwise his lieutenants demand Rs 10,000," said Chhote Ravidas, who knew rates because he himself had also paid. "I bribed Nageena Paswasn, I gave him Rs 5,000 as I did not have much saving."
According to Chhote, his name was in the gram sewak’s list of beneficiaries selected. Yet the mukhiya's lieutenant Awadhesh came to demand money. Still Chhote was relieved that by approaching the mukhiya directly he could save Rs 2,000.
"I had to take a loan at an interest rate of 10 percent to pay the bribe," added Chhote’s wife.
Chhote Ravidas has received Rs 30,000 as first instalment and the next instalment of Rs 15,000 is yet to be released.
Bijender Ravidas corroborated the rates. "I paid Rs 5,000 to the mukhiya and Rs 1,000 to the banker in the central village bank for building a house under IAY," he said.
Lalti Devi said, "Sir, I have a half-constructed house of one room, where my son and daughter-in-law stay. My husband sleeps in the panchayat bhavan and I sleep in open just outside of my house." An eligible case for aid under IAY, but not yet lucky.
As the passers-by overheard magical words like India Awaas Yojana, they too hankered for my attention, believing that I would help them resolve their complaints. Actually, they all had only one complain, that is, Nageena Paswan was blocking all welfare benefits meant for them. Most of them were mahadalits, they fulfilled all the conditions for securing IAY funds and yet the mukhiya along with the gramsewak had some other conditions.
"Sir, tears come from our eyes during winter as we sleep without proper shelter over us, but the cruel mukhiya doesn't care at all," said Nageena Ravidas.
It seems the local politics of the two groups has added to the miseries of these mahadalits. Also, the move to create a separate category of mahadalits out of the dalits had good intentions but it has worsened their condition.
People spoke of how a few people, like Birje Paswan, Awdhesh Paswan and Kamlesh Paswan, could get IAY funds despite being comparatively better off than the rest – thanks to their close ties with the mukhiya. "They are rich but they have been given houses under IAY and the poor have got nothing," said a relative of Tetri Devi. Tetri left the village as she had no place to stay here. As the last option, she had to go to her married daughter’s home, a place she wanted to avoid for social reasons.
People like Niranjan Ravidas, Lagan Paswan, Pramod Paswan, Kanhaya Paswan, Rajesh Paswan, Dasrath Paswan had the same complaint and similar problems, which they described to me hoping I would help them find a way out.
Initially, they were hesitant in identifying themselves but soon they all wanted their names to be written in my notebook.
I came out of Ravidas Tola and started off towards another neighbourhood. People started following me. The whole crowd was coming along and they all wanted me to see their houses. They probably thought if I took a photo of their homes they would get more welfare benefits.
I left the place in a hurry. Once away from the crowd, I dialled the mukhiya’s number to get his version of the story. "Am I talking to Nageena Paswan-ji?” I asked. He was not available on phone.
At any rate, whether or not the mukhiya was as corrupt as people alleged, the fact remained that so many eligible – indeed needy – people were not receiving the benefits meant for them. Governments keep coming up with more and more welfare schemes for the poor, but ground realities are different.
Meanwhile, these complaints of paying bribes to get IAY benefits are not limited to this village. In Chandasi village of Noorserai block, I had met a man who worked as vanposhak, called Ramlagan Paswan. He had told me, "Sir, i had not house of my own, so I paid Rs 7,000 to the mukhiya for a house under IAY."
IAY, then, is building houses aplenty but for the mukhiyas, not the poor it was meant for.
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