A Basti on the Banks of the Ganga in Patna, Where No One Campaigns
Gaighat on the banks of the Ganga is a far cry from the rest of Patna. There are no election posters here, no campaign loudspeakers, and no crowds.
One man with a broom tries to make a dent in the trash on the bank, in time for the Chatt Puja, while carcasses of two buffalloes float near a water tank.
The remains of idols from Pujas past have also washed up on the shore.
“When it rains, everything comes up. You even see human bodies”, says one of the locals. People who cannot afford a funeral often float the body in the Ganga.
The small number of people on the ghat belonged to scheduled castes – fisherman, labourers hauling sand, and people from the Dom community – historically accorded the occupation of dealing with dead bodies, both animal and human in the Hindu caste hierarchy.
Life has been going on as usual, on the margins. In the Dom basti comprising around 20 families, election campaigns are never seen, says Ram Basra Dom. The Mahagathbandhan, the Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM), the Lok Janashakti Party – no party has ever campaigned in the basti.
A BJP car has been coming by once a week and it plays some music on a loudspeaker.
— Ram Basra Dom
Land for Land
Two of the fishermen agree to take us across a small stretch of the river to a sandbar. We see their village from the boat. Many of the families have relocated because of a road through the village, and the government’s ghat revamping project.
The families were compensated in due time. But Ram Bali thinks ‘land for land’ is the only compensation that makes sense.
Ram Baran, the other fisherman, remarks:
There can be a wedding in that family, or a hospital expense… anything really, and the money is gone.
‘Feudalism was Better’
So what is the one thing Ram Bali wants from his new government? Well, an old feudal system that governed fishing rights across this stretch of the Ganga. In the old pattedari system, fishing rights were given to people through a tender process, and a small fisherman like Ram Bali had to give a fixed amount of money or catch to the contractor.
“Why go back to a feudal system, where you had to pay someone for the right to a livelihood?” we ask.
Ram Baran is quick with a reply:
Back then, we had security. You paid a fixed amount and no one bothered you. Now even children come and harass us and take our catch. The old system was better.
The end to the old system, rather than allowing them more freedom as individuals, has made them prey to every one, including criminal elements who have way more power than them.
But who will they vote for? Ram Bilas at least will vote for the ‘kamal’ (lotus). “Why?” we ask again.
Voh gadi meh se Narendra Kumar Modi ko TV pe dekha (I saw Narendra Modi on TV in one the campaign vans).
Well, Amit Shah’s Vikas Raths seem to be working somewhere.
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