‘Hopeless In Bathinda’ – A Poignant Account Of Politics & Progress

‘Hopeless In Bathinda’ – A Poignant Account Of Politics & Progress
Lakhi Soni for Homegrown

I was campaigning for my father-in law in the Kalipur village of Bathinda constituency, Punjab, when the farcicality and inhumanity of politics actually hit me. It was my first day and my very first stop, my campaign team and I got out of the car and made our way to the village compound where all the men folk were gathered (women generally shied from such meetings and had little participation in political affairs) beneath the shadow of a central tree. I could feel the dust in the atmosphere and it bothered me for a bit, but when I glanced at my audience who lived and breathed this dust every day, I got an absurd sense of encouragement to commence with my campaign meeting. My meeting had become quite the show. Behind me, there was a group of young boys who were giggling the entire time. I felt like everyone there was amused to see and hear a young girl come and edify them about basic human rights and living conditions. I think luck was being generous to me as by the end of my speech, everyone listening seemed convinced.

After I announced that I was going to take their leave, several men came up to me and said that they wanted to show me their village pond. I was careful not to show my pleasure at this offer as for me it was exciting that people were keen to acquaint me with their lifestyle. Mind you it’s not a common occurrence especially during the election time as firstly it is very hot, the scorching summer month of May when people rarely want to be out in the afternoons and secondly, they are way less concerned with becoming guides to political figures as the candidates come with all the answers and solutions, hence why take them on manoeuvring rounds. But, for me it was different as it was for my father-in law. His campaign wasn’t based on giving answers, his campaign was set on figuring out the problems in the area and then devising strategies to combat the problems with the help of the people who the problems most affected. I set out with them. Half a mile later we had reached our destination. The entire audience had followed us. I stood there for few minutes, scanning the surrounding, with my back to a high-water tank of urban waterworks and my front view presenting algae covered pond. After a half-an hour of candid discussion with the village folks I realized that this dirty pond is the only source of water for the entire village. Drinking, bathing, cleaning, all water is collected in the water tanks and distributed to every house in the village. To my dismay, I was told that many young boys of the village were already living with rotten teeth. Cancer was spreading rapidly in the village. Almost every elderly village member has had at least two operations for different water borne diseases. I would like to interrupt my story here to confute a tittle-tattle current throughout Punjab, that Bathinda is the most developed constituency. On several occasions, the sitting MP of Bathinda has given out statements that her constituency has been developed as much as the Californian city. But, the knowledge I was gathering was contradictory and scary. To continue, as I stood their witnessing the first horrific truth of the ‘so-called development’, I learnt that the pond had decayed dead bodies of dogs, birds rotting since the past few months. Much to the regret of the people, nothing had been done to purify the waterworks and they were sure that nothing will be if the current party continues to rule. A visitor in Punjab is considered as an agent of God. Hospitality is the essence with which Punjabis live. However, in this particular village, even a glass of water to drink could not be offered. Honestly, I did not have the guts to ask for a water in the palpating heat and neither did the village people have the intention of offering me murky water.

There is nothing more terrible than to live such an unpleasant reality. I was young and inexperienced in those far-off Bathinda districts, but, even so, I felt disturbed. The Bathinda I experienced in that one month was a place where the clash wasn’t just with the political systems but with one’s own self. To be born in a place where you grow up to only wait for death, is really vicious. What struck to be most appalling to me was that I was convinced that these people wouldn’t vote for the same candidates who caused them to live with iniquity. Bathinda is consumed by drugs, youngsters flying out to different continents as they see little worth in their own, farmer’s suicides rates are high here, and to add to all of it - poor living conditions. However, on Election Day, the result resurrected the already existing candidate. There were a lot of things to react to. I was furious at the time. I wondered how could people not become conscious after all that they had been living with. They all understood the facts we presented them with and they recognized that they were being treated awfully, let alone fairly. However, they still didn’t vote for a better tomorrow, more than once.

I subsequently learned that they wanted change, they knew that they deserved better than this, but they somewhere also had accepted that they were victims. The one month of campaigning with my father in-law taught me quite a lot. I still wonder if people are ever going to become brave enough to act against what’s harming them the most. I certainly hope that they do, because until they won’t become brave, politics does appear hopeless.

About the writer : Vireet Randhawa holds a MSc in Organizational and Social Psychology from the London School of Economics. She began writing while she was still an undergraduate student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women. She shares an inordinate fondness for both erudition and writing.

Featured illustration by Lakhi Soni for Homegrown.

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