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India, what’s that, ask Gulgulias

- Condemned as beggars but completely deprived of government dole

On Sunday, a 28-year-old Indian citizen of Dhanbad district, who’s likely to vote this year, said he did not know the name of his country.

Given a choice between “Hindustan and Pakistan”, the man got rattled and answered: “Nahin baba itna hamko nahi maloom, lekin itna maloom hai isko Dhanbad chhetra boltein hain (I don’t know so much, but I know this area is called Dhanbad).”

Prakash Gulgulia (28), of Baghmara block’s Pandeydih area, 40km from Dhanbad city, isn’t exceptionally ill informed. He is exceptionally disadvantaged.

A rickshaw-puller and father of three, the member of the ‘untouchable’ community of beggars earns around Rs 100 a day but gives Rs 30 as rent to the rickshaw owner. As Rs 70 can’t feed a family of four, his wife Phulkumari and three children go begging.

Prakash was among the 120-odd Gulgulia protesters, including women and children, who had gathered near Randhir Verma Chowk, 50 metres from district headquarters, on Sunday, to seek homes under Rajiv Gandhi Awas Yojana, a central scheme under Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM).

The protesting Gulgulias, whose mud homes in the Upper Tilha area of Pandeydih degenerated into a pile of slush under the onslaught of Cyclone Phailin in October, are homeless since then.

They held placards they themselves couldn’t read.

In the course of the conversation, Prakash reveals he hasn’t heard of Gandhi or Vivekananda. No member of his family had ever gone to school.

On why his daughters Rinki (10) and Meena (4) and son Akash (4) don’t go to school, Prakash offers two valid reasons. “Being untouchables, they won’t be allowed to sit with other children. Also, how can they afford to leave begging and go to school?” he asks.

True, he got a voter ID card last year, but he desperately needs BPL, ration and health cards. So do all the others with him.

Prakash’s friend Mohra Gulgulia (35), also at the protest with wife Kukum and five children aged between 12 years and three months, said their seven-member family depends on the income of the eldest child.

Mohra and Kukum’s son Dinesh (12) cycles a rickshaw and earns, like Prakash, around Rs 100 a day, of which Rs 30 goes to the owner. “I can’t work because I am epileptic. I and our other family members beg, but our breadwinner is Dinesh,” he said.

He added they would not leave the city without an assurance from the government on their homes and entitlement to basic welfare schemes.

Anil Pandey, a social activist fighting for the Gulgulias under the aegis of Samast Samarpan Foundation since over four years, who accompanied protesters at Randhir Verma Chowk, said their deprivation was shocking.

“Over 9,000 Gulgulia members live in Singhnagar, Bhuda and Pandeydih in Jharia, Dhanbad and Baghmara blocks, are deprived of basic facilities, including homes, BPL, ration, health and old age pension cards,” he said.

He added their solitary claim to official identity — the voter ID — came after a “prolonged crusade of four years”.

“Tonight, the Gulgulia protesters will stay at Raen Basera made for rickshaw-pullers or under the open sky. Minister Mannan Mallik (also Dhanbad MLA) will meet them on Monday,” Pandey said. “We are hoping for the best.”

How can the great divide between Jharkhand’s haves and have-nots be bridged?

Tell ttkhand@abpmail.com