Balrampur. Villagers of Balrampur have finally given up after protesting for a week to oust the long ruling Mukhiya of their village, whom they accuse of being corrupt, incompetent, and high handed. The protests had started after the villagers came to know about the similar protests in Egypt. But while the protesters in Egypt seem to be having their way, Balrampur residents found the going too tough.
“What can we do? Even the Indian journalists chose to send their teams to Egypt rather than sending those to our village,” Natha Das Manikpuri, a small sized farmer complained, “Mukhiya’s men would have broken their cameras as well, they’d have got all the drama and rowdy scenes at much lesser cost; but no, god knows why they chose to focus on that country.”
Villagers say that the protests gathered momentum after Natha wrote “I am going to protest at Phutani Chowk, are you in?” on his boundary wall, which acted as the local urinal for many young men from the village.
“When I went there to take a piss, I couldn’t help notice the call for revolt,” conceded Santosh in his 20’s, who was denied his full SC/ST scholarship under some government scheme by the Mukhiya last month. Mukhiya apparently gave only 20% of the money to him and kept the rest for “party fund”.
“He had threatened to cancel my SC certificate when I protested then,” Santosh recalled the high handedness of Mukhiya, “It had taken me six months to get that certificate after bribing the local BDO and Havildar, so I came back with whatever money I was given.”
Many others like Santosh, who were mighty “pissed off” with Mukhiya, decided to join the protests at Phutani Chowk as the message spread across the village.
For the first three days things were fine and a local Hindi newspaper even reported about the protests, but things started to fall apart after that.
“A group of money lenders came on the fourth day morning and announced that all those farmers who were taking part in the protests will have to pay 10 rupees per month extra for each 100 rupees they had borrowed from them,” recalled Hari Ram, a debt-ridden farmer, “Initially we chased them away, but by the evening, many of us were worried as shit, and started leaving Phutani Chowk.”
Mukhiya’s strategy was working and almost half of the protesting crowd was gone by the fifth day. The same day Mukhiya’s political party announced a rally against corruption to the state capital, which included free food and travel to the city. Some belly dancers were also rumored to be accompanying the rally. Most of the young men pissing at Natha’s wall too left after that.
“Only the daily wage laborers were left by the sixth day evening, when Mukhiyaji finally appeared at the protest scene,” Natha recalled, “He announced that since all of them were sitting-in idle all day for the last six days, their NREGA wages would not be paid to them.”
“The protests were over the next day,” Natha informed.
Sources inform that even though the NREGA wages were not paid to them, all the daily wage laborers were shown as working for the duration and wages were disbursed “on papers”.
Natha’s house and boundary wall was demolished as it was found to be built on Gram Panchayat’s land.
(based on the report submitted by Sidhant Sibal)