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Know your country: Uttar Pradesh, the land of million Grigoryevs

Know your country: Uttar Pradesh, the land of million Grigoryevs

Know your country: Uttar Pradesh, the land of million Grigoryevs
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By Vijay Kumar Gaba  Jan 6, 2020 5:45:47 PM IST (Updated)

UP has the highest population density amongst the larger states in India, but only one-fourth of its population lives in urban areas. The state has over 45 million urban dwellers.

This is the second installment of a series that CNBC-TV18 is launching known as Know Your Country. Helmed by our columnist Vijay Kumar Gaba, it is based on his observations about India and its people during his numerous travels across the length and breadth of the country. The second article is focused on Uttar Pradesh, its social fabric and economic challenges. Follow the series here

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Starting from Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, I travelled through Brij, Rohilkhand, Awadh and Budelkhand regions of the state covering 11 of the 18 divisions. My first impression of the state strongly reminded me of the famous Anton Chekov story “The Malefactor”. Most of the youth and middle-age people I interacted with behaved like Denis Grigoryev, the protagonist in the story.
"Denis Grigoryev!" the magistrate begins. "Come nearer, and answer my questions. On the seventh of this July, the railway watchman, Ivan Semyonovitch Akinfov, going along the line in the morning, found you at the hundred-and-forty-first mile engaged in unscrewing a nut by which the rails are made fast to the sleepers. Here it is, the nut! With the aforesaid nut he detained you. Was that so?"
"If I hadn't wanted it I shouldn't have unscrewed it," croaks Denis, looking at the ceiling.
"What did you want that nut for?"
"The nut? We make weights out of those nuts for our lines."
"Who is 'we'?"
"We, people.... The Klimovo peasants, that is."
For once, every resident of the state appeared to be a free spirit – as if no rule of law exists. They would do whatever suits them – some would do it sheepishly, but most would be audacious in their defiance of rules. “Don’t bother…yahan sab chalta hai” almost appeared to be the state anthem.
On probing a little deeper, I discovered that these are 200 million people (good enough to constitute the seventh most populated country in the world) who are in great rush to move forward. The youth in particular is very diligent and eager to grow out of the perennial constraints that have afflicted this historically rich but economically backward state since independence.
I found, in the past two decades education is perhaps the only area where the state has made definite progress. Though the standard of government schools continues to be below par, private English medium institutions have mushroomed in every nook and corner and people, especially lower middle class and backward class, are making a tremendous effort to afford their children "good" education.
The American dream is fast catching up with the middle-class youth in UP. It is more like Hyderabad and Bengaluru (where youth aspire to get foreign jobs on the basis of their professional skills and training) and quite unlike Punjab and Gujarat (where youth aspire to settle abroad by using their contacts and money). The unfortunate part is that the parents are eager to see their children at least settling outside the state, if not outside the country. The brain drain is the most serious problem in the state much like Bihar and West Bengal. No surprise that the demographics of the state is degenerating much faster in favour of less educated, less skilled, poor, unemployed and unemployable.
The youth in the state is “self motivated”. In that sense the feudal structure of the state appeared to be cracking from many places. The youth is certainly exploiting the government facilities but I found them least reliant on the political establishment or government - something I did not find elsewhere in the country, except in Gujarat.
Most farmers in the state are now aware of technology advances. They keenly follow the price movements across global and local markets. Most farmers follow midterm weather forecasts and El Nino developments. In most of the rural and semi-rural areas of UP the popular inclusion scheme PM Jandhan Yojna (PMJY) has been marketed and sold as some sort of blessed goose that will regularly keep laying golden eggs. Many elder people check their mobile phones daily to see if any money has been deposited (by the government) into their account last night.
There is little awareness about the rich historical past of the state amongst youth.
Growing like ginger
Bareilly, the original capital of the Rohilla empire, once known as the abode of Lord Shiva (Nath Nagri) and birthplace of Barelvi sect of Islam, is now more popular for Priyanka Chopra and Disha Patani. It is a typical Tier-II town in UP. A proposed smart city, Bareilly has Shopping Malls, hundreds of small shops accepting digital payment, over 100 percent penetration of mobile telephones, and almost entire population hooked to social media. A myriad of private management, engineering and medical colleges has mushroomed all over.
For a city which in the 1970s proudly burned down theatres for displaying movie posters in English, now Queen's language is the preferred medium of education of children even for domestic helps. Consequently, each street of the city boasts of its children working as managers, engineers and doctors in large metropolis and foreign countries. The proud parents travel frequently to Mumbai, Delhi, Benguluru, the US, the UK, Dubai, Singapore and Australia.
The city is growing like ginger - in all directions and without any plan. Each marriage adds a new room to already crumbling and overcrowded house. A shop mushrooms overnight in the front courtyard of the house as an unemployed youth get ready to marry.
The city has virtually no industrial base to create employment. A small camphor factory and a matchbox factory are the only traces of industrialisation in the city.
Bareilly was a major centre of traditional arts like Kashidakaari, embroidery, Zardozi, bamboo art etc. But in the last two decades, these arts have lost ground to professions like mobile & auto mechanic, catering, e-rickshaw, etc.
The roads which were occupied by cycle rickshaw and cows are now a melee of young rash bikers, minibusses, cars, auto-rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, and cows. Brawls over parking are common and frequent.
Losing identity
The moment you exit from the Babatpur Airport in Varanasi, you see the modern symbol of development - A concrete six-lane highway that links the airport to the city (30 km); large showrooms of automobile; Delhi Public School; etc. However, as you reach the city you fail to find the Kashi, you have been hearing, reading and imagining about.
The city has become a generic Tier 2 north Indian city of India. You would struggle to tell a difference between Kashi, Patna, Bareilly, Moradabad, Aligarh, Agra, Panipat, Hissar, Jhansi, Allahabad. It is cacophonous and insensitive beyond any doubt.
The main streets are dotted by showrooms of large apparel, appliances and food brands. There are 50x more private coaching centres than schools. It appears that all people just want to learn to speak English, and become doctors, engineers, CAs and IAS officers.
If you try on your own, it might take 2-3 days to find a place that teaches Indian languages, religion, classical music and dance, silk weaving, or sculpting etc.
The city is dotted with the symbols of Clean India mission. But to the dismay of all visitors, these symbols are dirtier than the city itself. Indubitably, the city has become cleaner in the past five years. But "cleaner" is not necessarily "clean" per se. It is hard to find any change in the mindset of people, who spit red anywhere and everywhere, litter with freedom, sweep their shops and homes to throw the garbage on the road. The entire city has open drains that remain filled with sewage water and choked with plastic bags. Stray animals are found in abundance.
I spoke to many religious men on various famous ghats. No one, yes none, wanted their children to study Sanskrit and religion. One of them had four children - two are studying medicine, one preparing for civil services and the fourth one is running a gym.
The signboards make it abundantly clear that the city is desperate to shed its traditional image and look progressive with English.
For time immemorial the city has been associated with "Faith" and "Devotion". A 7km walk from Bhairasur Ghat to Assi Ghat anytime during the day would tell you that the "Faith" and "Devotion" are now mostly constricted to the Old, Rural, Illiterate and Poor populace. Save for unmindful rituals and fearful compliance, the young, urban, educated, middle-class people are cynical about "Faith" and lack "Devotion".
I met a group of visitors from Kyoto (the sister city of Kashi), who had come to Kashi with great expectations. Trust me they carried a message that will demotivate many prospective Japanese visitors.
The following are some of the key observations made during the travel through Uttar Pradesh:
  • Awareness about gender equality is rising. Girl child is being treated much better across all segments of the society. The best part of travel through UP is the sight of young girls (in large groups) riding bicycles to schools in even remotest parts of the state. They could be seen everywhere - in cities, towns, hamlets, villages, on muddy village paths, on concrete highways; everywhere. They appeared enthusiastic and fearless. This gives a lot of hope.
  • Owning and brandishing double-barrel guns had traditionally been a passion, especially in Western UP. I however found a conspicuous change – utility vehicles (SUVs) have replaced gun as primary passion. Sophisticated revolvers though continue to remain a coveted possession in both rural and urban upper-middle class.
  • 3Ms (Monkey, Mobile and Motorcycle) have been a major nuisance in Uttar Pradesh for many years. Recently cows have joined the list. These C3M are making the life of common men extremely difficult and perilous. Walking on roads was unsafe due to raging motorcycles riders driving callously while talking on mobile. Cows aimlessly straying on roads have made the conditions worse. Roads, streets, narrow by lanes, markets, rail tracks, farms, schools, temples, garbage collections - cows are invading almost every space. People are annoyed and scared.
  • The common feature across the state is total and complete disregard for political establishment and government; though local self-government in the rural areas has gained tremendous strength in the past two decade.
  • Motorcycle and smartphones have replaced radio & bicycle as a mandatory dowry item. It is almost impossible to marry your daughter if you cannot afford a motorcycle and smartphone in dowry. A Gram Pradhan (village’s local body head) felt this is a collateral damage of better road and mobility network.
  • Many people told me how the state has been mismanaged post-separation of Uttrakhand. Special status and large hydropower production has led to new industries flocking to Kashipur/Rudrapur area, besides neighboring Paonta Sahib and Baddi in HP. Many small industries like leather and textile have lost to cheap Chinese imports. Agra sells more Chinese fake leather shoes and Varanasi sells more Chinese artificial silk sarees now.
  • Society is divided on caste and religion. However, in recent years the division on the basis of caste has been diminishing but the religious divide is deepening. Contrary to the popular perception, the social divide appears stronger in urban areas, as compared to rural areas. College going youth appears to be in favor of discrimination on the basis of religion.
  • The electricity situation has improved materially in past five years, both in urban as well as rural areas. However, it is somehow not reflecting in industrial growth or air pollution.
  • Highways and major city roads have seen a significant augmentation. However, rural roads are mostly in bad condition.
  • Heaps of garbage and used plastic bags could be seen in almost cities (including capital Lucknow), towns and villages.
  • River rejuvenation programme was found to be limited to "high value" assets at select locations.
  • Petty crimes continue to be on the rise. The trust gap between people and law enforcement agencies is very high.
  • The stress in small businesses is on the rise. The impact of GST and demonetization is still visible. Despite new programs and promises for cottage industries and local artisans, the improvement is not seen significant.
  • The cane farmers of Rohilkhand and Awadh are generally happy as crop is good and mills have paid arrears. Otherwise, most farmers were found cribbing.
  • The literacy rate is improving tremendously. But the level of teachers' qualification and therefore standard of education remains a matter of grave concern. A large number of institutes of higher education (management, medical, engineering etc) are mushrooming in almost all parts of the state. Some of these are good but very expensive. Most of these are however of very poor quality. The graduates of these poor institutes are generally disillusioned, distressed and totally unemployable.
  • Public health services are in poor conditions in most rural and semi-urban areas. Private nursing homes and hospitals with inadequate facilities are mushrooming and blatantly exploiting patients.
  • E-governance projects have resulted in lower corruption in some public services. But perception about police and judiciary remains very poor.
  • Economy
    • Over 16 percent population of India calls UP home, but UP's economy is just 8 percent of the national economy. Accordingly, the per capita income of UP residents is about half of the national average. About 30 percent of UP population lives below the poverty line, the largest in India. Thus, the income inequalities and concentration of wealth is also higher in UP, as compared to the national averages.
    • UP has the highest population density amongst the larger states in India, but only one-fourth of its population lives in urban areas. The state has over 45 million urban dwellers, but there are only six cities with a million-plus population. The largest city Lucknow hosts about 3 million people. Even villages of UP are crowded as per national standards.
    • The economy of the state is tough to understand. The trade and industry (except sugar) are generally stressed. The rural sector does not appear buoyant either; though the rural populace appears satisfied with the development on the front of electricity, road connectivity, primary education, government support for old, girls, and minorities.
    • The employment condition continues to be poor. The tendency to migrate is rising much faster amongst the educated.
    • The village houses are increasingly becoming pucca (brick and mortar). Small solar panels, tractors, motorcycles now appear normal. Bullock carts are disappearing fast.
    • Vijay Kumar Gaba explores the treasure you know as India, and shares his experiences and observations about social, economic and cultural events and conditions. He contributes his pennies to the society as Director, Equal India Foundation. The views are personal. 
      Read his columns here.
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