Caste divisions hinder growth in Uttar Pradesh | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 28.07.2010
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Caste divisions hinder growth in Uttar Pradesh

With nearly 190 million habitants, Uttar Pradesh is India's most populous state. Yet it really lags behind other Indian states in terms of education, economic and overall development.

Poverty is rampant in Uttar Pradesh

Poverty is rampant in Uttar Pradesh

It is one of the largest states of India and perhaps the most politically influential. Uttar Pradesh has produced several of India's prime ministers and top politicians. But over the past more than 60 years of India's independence, Uttar Pradesh couldn't reach the level of development achieved by some of India's other states. One of the reasons that have prevented its growth is the extreme difference between the high caste and the lower castes, also known as Dalits, and the Hindus and Muslims in the state, says Craig Jeffrey, an expert on India's social and political change at the University of Oxford:

"If one looks at a state like Kerala in the south, which is often put forward as being a development success story, it was a success because low castes and other low classes got together in the early 20th century and protested against the upper caste and the upper classes and said we want our fair share. Now in Uttar Pradesh, there are very big caste and religious differences among the poor. So the poor find it very difficult to come together to demand a better settlement from the state."

BSP supporters at a party meeting

BSP supporters at a party meeting

Regional parties' role

In the early 1990s, the dominance of India's mainstream political parties in Uttar Pradesh started fading out. The regional parties, such as the Samajwadi party or Socialist Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, a party advocating the rights of Dalits, began taking centre stage by forming alliances with Muslims, lower castes and other deprived sections.

The year 2007 marked a new era in Uttar Pradesh's politics, when Mayawati, the leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party became the state's first woman chief minister and that too with a rather unprecedented alliance with the upper caste Brahmins.

Mayawati's rule

She promised political stability and the betterment of the poor. But what followed disappointed her voters, say experts. "It has been over three years and I am afraid the story is not very positive," says Craig Jeffrey. "I have been spending time recently interviewing low castes in western part of Uttar Pradesh and they are very disappointed by Mayawati’s record. They feel that Mayawati has sold out to the upper caste, that she has not fulfilled the commitment of her party to try to raise poor people's position through education, better health care and more jobs."

UP's Chief Minister Mayawati receiving a garland made of Indian Rupee banknotes

UP's Chief Minister Mayawati receiving a garland made of Indian Rupee banknotes

Yet he thinks that people will still vote for her in the next elections. "It is a little bit like a football team. You support a football team, even if it is not playing well. I think a lot of people from the low caste think like that about Mayawati: 'She is our person. We feel proud of her. Even though I am disappointed, we will not vote for anybody else,'" says Craig Jeffrey.

Rampant corruption

Uttar Pradesh is also known to be one of the most corrupt states. A lot of corruption is driven by the cost of elections and politicians needing money in order to contest elections, says Jeffery:

"To become a politician in Uttar Pradesh is very expensive, so politicians have to make money from somewhere and they make money from senior members of the bureaucracy. The senior members of bureaucracy get the money from those lower downs and those lower downs get the money from the public. So there is a system where everybody at each stage has to make money."

Many schools lack proper facilities in India

Many schools lack proper facilities in India

Education system needs reform

With corruption being embedded so deeply in the system and a poor rate of development, many wonder how long the state will take to see the boom that the other states in the country are witnessing. For that the education is going to be vital, as Craig Jeffrey explains:

"The Indian government has been quite successful since the early 1990s in getting children into primary school. The big problem is that there isn't very much in the way of education once children get into schools. The class room facility is very poor, the curriculums are rather outdated and children don't see any value in staying in education. So not many of them go on to secondary or into higher education. So there needs to be a thorough review of the running and governance of schools and universities really for India to develop."

This is crucial, bearing in mind the fact that there is going to be a huge increase in the young adult population over the next 30 years. And as Jeffrey says, the young adult population will be an asset to India if they have proper skills and other problem solving abilities that will allow them to become entrepreneurs or get them a job.

Author: Disha Uppal
Editor: Grahame Lucas

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