Anuj Hanumat had a torrid time on July 20. The Jan Express reporter was covering a swearing-in ceremony of panchayat leaders in Manikpur town of Chitrakoot, Uttar Pradesh, and got a chance to question a couple of BJP legislators attending the function.
Anuj had done a pair of reports for his Hindi paper about the plight of two destitute Brahmin families denied government housing. Why had these families been left waiting for decent dwellings for two years, the reporter asked Chandrika Prasad, minister for PWD in the Adityanath government?
“You can publish whatever you want but stop spreading lies like this,” the Chitrakoot MLA retorted, lashing out at the journalist.
Sometime later, Anuj posed the same question to Anand Shukla. “You are misguiding people and asking an MLA about something that happened a year ago,” the BJP legislator replied. “If you are so worried, why don’t you contest the panchayat election in your area? If you were a responsible citizen, then you would have submitted a letter regarding the matter. You never did that.”
Why would legislators be so agitated by a rather stock question about the plight of their constituents? Because with the assembly election around the corner, the politics around privileges and divisions of caste is as touchy as it’s urgent.
There is a scramble to win over the Brahmin community which, with 10 percent of the population, is not only the largest voter block after the but also quite influential.
The Bahujan Samaj Party is a “Brahmin Sammelan” in Ayodhya. The and the are planning several events to woo Brahmins. The clamour for Brahmin votes has grown louder since the Uttar Pradesh police shot dead gangster Vikas Dubey, a Brahmin, in July 2020. The killing with the Congress party’s “Brahmin Chetna Samwad” aimed at regaining support of upper caste Hindus supposedly “sidelined” by Thakur chief minister Adityanath.
In this backdrop, reporters in Uttar Pradesh have been chasing stories about the political and administrative outreach – or the lack of it – to Brahmins.
Anuj’s reports were a part of this trend. One told the story of Ramdas Tripathi, 80, from Sakrouha village in Chitrakoot who had been denied a house under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana for two years. Headlined “Is it a crime to be Brahmin under BJP’s rule?”, the January 30 report questioned whether the Hindutva party actually meant its slogan of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”.
The Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana is meant to provide pucca dwellings to both rural and urban families living below the poverty line, like Ramdas’s.
“Since there is so much talk around the Brahmin community these days, I wrote a couple of stories about this vote bank politics,” Anuj said. “I reported about two families who had received no assistance under flagship schemes like Awas Yojana and Ayushman Bharat. When I first visited last year, Tripathi’s home was dilapidated and this year it came down completely.”
Anuj Hanumat's report in the Jan Express.
Ramdas’s grandson Pankaj Tripathi confirmed Anuj’s reporting to Newslaundry. “We have been living in abject poverty. My grandfather had applied for a house around two years ago,” Pankaj said. “Our request was listed at number 48. We kept following up with the sarpanch on our application, to no avail. Several families on that list received their houses, not us. The only benefit we have got so far was a toilet constructed three years ago.”
The Tripathis have a red ration card under the Antyodaya Yojana which entitles the poorest of poor to receive 35 kg foodgrains a month at a subsidized rate of Rs 2 per kg for wheat and Rs 3 per kg for rice. They own eight bighas of land, five of which are mortgaged. On the remaining three bighas, they grow wheat, arhar, chana and til, but not nearly enough to feed a family of five.
Ramdas Tripathi's house.
Anuj did another report about Ramdas on July 20. The old man died the same day. There was public outrage as his tragic story started circulating on social media, prompting Anand Shukla to visit the family the next day. Two days later, on July 23, the MLA, seemingly riled by the outrage over Ramdas’s death, went live on Facebook and lashed out at Anuj, calling him a “vulture-like journalist who is in cahoots with the opposition”.
Referring to Anuj’s questioning of him on July 20, the legislator added, “I was not sure about his intentions but he could not put words in my mouth. Such vulture-like journalists only want to blackmail me and put pressure on me.”
Anuj responded in a Facebook Live of his own from Ramdas’s village later that evening. “The politics being played over the death of a man has forced me to do this,” he began. “When a person is elected to power, he is expected to work for people. Politics in Chitrakoot has stooped so low that problems of the most marginalized are being ignored now.”
In his July 20 report, Anuj also detailed the plight of Virendra Shukla, a Brahmin from Sikari Sani village in Rajapur tehsil of Chitrakoot.
Virendra, who is disabled, owns just about one bigha of land which doesn’t yield enough to feed his family of five. He has received a gas cylinder under the Ujjwala Yojana but can’t afford to refill it. “I built a toilet after getting government assistance of Rs 12,000. But I do not have a roof over my head,” Virendra said in a on July 21. “My house came down in the rains and I can’t afford to reconstruct it.”
He didn’t apply for a house under the Awas Yojana because he wasn’t aware of it. Instead, for two years, he wrote a series of letters to his MLA, Chandrika Upadhyay, as well as the district magistrate and the block development officer. He didn’t hear back.
After learning about the scheme, he has tried obtaining a red ration card, which would officially designate his family as living below the poverty line and make them eligible for a house. He hasn’t succeeded so far.
In August, facing flak for not helping the family, the local administration gave Virendra Rs 95,000 from the Disaster Management Fund.
“I spent some of the money to buy food. And for Rs 14,000 I bought bricks to rebuild one wall of our broken house,” said Virendra. “But our roof is still a polythene sheet.”
Instead of helping address these pressing problems, a miffed Anuj complained, the BJP leaders went after a journalist who brought them to light. “Supporters of these MLAs even floated a picture of mine with Akhilesh Yadav and claimed that I was doing all this in order to get a ticket to contest the upcoming election,” he said. “Why can’t these leaders give straight answers instead?”
Pictures by special arrangement.
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