Sunday, December 21, 2008

Vidarbha Agrarian crisis-Tale of 2 Kalawatis

Vidarbha Agrarian crisis-Tale of 2 Kalawatis


Tale of 2 Kalawatis

One attained national fame after Rahul Gandhi held forth on her at the debate on the confidence motion. The other, like the celebrity Kalawati before her discovery by the heir apparent, continues to wallow in poverty, unheralded and ignored by the development gravy train.

Until a few months back, no one wanted to step into Kalawati Bandurkar’s chappals. The mother of nine — seven girls and two boys — lived in a thatched hut on encroached land. She was her family’s only breadwinner after her husband’s suicide four years back.

That was until Rahul Gandhi landed at her doorstep. The heir apparent named Kalawati in a speech extolling the Indo- US nuclear deal — which was then still in the works — and how it would help people like Kalawati.

Overnight, the woman turned into a celebrity at Pandharkawada.

Applications and files bearing her name began to move swiftly in the panchayat samiti office without her running around to push them anymore.

“ My life has changed a lot, and for the better. He just came and talked to me for 15 minutes, and nothing has been the same ever since,” she says.

Kalawati got an electricity connection within a month of Rahul’s speech ( it didn’t have to wait for the nuclear deal). A tap water connection has also been fitted outside her door so that she and her family don’t have to travel far to fetch water.

“ I had received no compensation even four years after my husband Purshottam’s suicide.

But after his visit, I got Rs 3 lakh as compensation, out of which I have already paid Rs 1 lakh to my husband’s creditors.

“ We had also been struggling to get below poverty line and caste certificates for more than two years. But now, all I have to do is tell my name, and my work is done,” she says.

Indeed, Kalawati has even received some out- of- turn benefits, with the gram panchayat promptly transferring the encroached land on which she lives in her name.

Private donors have made a beeline to be of help to her.

Someone replaced her thatched roof with a tin shed; another donated her a sewing machine.

A third has gifted her daughters a bicycle they can ride to school.

Kishore Tiwari, president of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan, has even donated her a buffalo.

But is Kalawati Bandurkar’s metamorphosis symbolic of Rahul’s impact on people’s lives, or simply a totemic change? The answer lies a few feet away, inside the door- less, window- less and wall- less house of the other Kalawati.

Four bamboo sticks and a couple of sheets overhead form the hovel of Kalawati Koichde, a senior citizen, who lives with and supports her paralysed 70- yearold husband, Tamba Koichde.

Their prized possession is a ragtag charpoy.

“ Our walls fell away a couple of years ago. But no one from the panchayat samiti or the collectorate office has bothered to help us or even visit us,” she says. “ My husband’s legs are paralysed and he can’t even see properly. So it is me who fends for both of us.” Her married son lives nearby.

“ We do get to eat and sleep at his place, but that is happening only because I work in the fields every day and bring in money,” she claims. Her husband nods in agreement. “ We want Rahul Gandhi to visit our house too.

Only then will we get even basic facilities,” he says.

Their life is indeed symbolic of the village. “ Only one family has benefited from Rahul’s visit, when more than half the villagers live below the poverty line,” says Purshottam Tekam, a resident. “ We wanted Rahul to adopt the whole village.” Even the younger Kalawati agrees. “ I am taunted when I go to the fields to work. They ask me why I should work when I have a lot of money,” she says.

“ Some allege I must have narrated a sob story to Rahul, insinuating that I did not deserve what has come my way.” That’s the reality Rahul never discovered during his whistlestop break at this nondescript village. His Discovery of India remains incomplete.

Courtesy: Mail Today


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