The Bharatiya Janata Party government in Uttar Pradesh has a string of events planned on the occasion of Ambedkar Jayanti—the birth anniversary of one of India's greatest Dalit icons, BR Ambedkar. At the heart of the initiative is an attempt by the BJP to make inroads into a community that has never been its traditional base in the state.
Dalits, who account for about 21 percent of Uttar Pradesh's population, have mostly sided with their champion and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati in the past. However, coupled with the BSP's poor show in the assembly polls and the BJP's resurgence, the party seems to have realised that it's the right time to connect with the marginalised community, members of which are among India's poorest.
Here are some events planned.
Celebrations in schools
The Times of India reported that the government, in a first, had issued an order for celebrations to be held on Thursday, a day before the Ambedkar Jayanti, for students of Class I to Class VII. Attendance is mandatory.
Joint Director, Basic Education, Lalita Pradeep told the newspaper, "Usually, there is no celebration on birthdays of great personalities in government schools. Though April 14 is a holiday, the minister has asked schools to hold discussion a day before. The idea is to apprise our kids of the significance of Ambedkar in our life.''
Launching schemes for Dalits
The BJP is also likely to launch a 'kanyadan yojana' — a scheme that will allow the government to sponsor marriages of women from backward communities.
An official told The Hindustan Times, "There is a provision for financial relief for marriages of poor girls but the CM wants the government to hold mass marriage functions where girls from poor Dalit families are married. This would also ensure that families of these girls are not forced to give dowry."
The report also suggested that the government has asked officials of the social welfare department to think of schemes keeping in mind the needs of Dalits and Ati Dalits. There are plans to put up Baba Saheb Ambedkar Community Centres in Dalit localities.
PTI reported that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and Union Power Minister Piyush Goel will launch the Centre's 'Unnat Jeevan by Affordable LEDs and Appliances' (UJALA) scheme for the state on 14 April.
Under the scheme, consumers can buy 9 Watt LED bulbs, BEE 5-star rated energy efficient fans and LED tube lights at nearly half the market price. Bureau of energy efficiency (BEE) under Ministry of Power has designed a system of 5-star rating of the products.
Another report in The Hindustan Times suggested that the BJP also planned 'samarasta bhoj', during which people from upper caste would break bread with the Dalit community. Caste-based discrimination, despite being outlawed in 1955, is still prevalent in India and most people from the so-called upper castes continue the centuries-old practice of untouchability to further marginalise the economically and socially backward classes.
While the BJP is trying to win over the Dalits, Mayawati-led BSP has organised a convention and a procession. While professionals and intellectuals will speak about Dalit issues at a convention in Lucknow, school children will lead a procession highlighting the 'Bahujan movement'.
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