‘Want reser­va­tion scrapped for all’

VI­SION FOR IN­DIA This 19-year-old woman from Haryana says she will vote for PM Modi

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - NATION MYFIRSTVOTE - Snigdha Poonam let­[email protected]­dus­tan­times.com

In 19-year-old Ko­mal Ag­gar­wal’s life, only some years stand out. The year 2014 was cer­tainly one. She thinks it’s when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) beat “60 years of Con­gress rule”. Even more mem­o­rable was 2017, when Manushi Ch­hillar, the win­ner of that year’s Miss In­dia pageant from Haryana, be­came Miss World. “She was from my univer­sity in Sonepat. Her suc­cess in­spired nor­mal girls like us be­cause she made it big with­out hav­ing any con­nec­tions in high places. She made us be­lieve that even girls who live in vil­lages can do some­thing. So many girls in my col­lege took to mod­el­ling after her win. Even I gave it a thought at one point,” said Ko­mal, whose other role models also hap­pen to be women achiev­ers from Haryana, from wrestlers to judges.

Ko­mal was born in Ateli town in Ma­hen­dra­garh dis­trict where her fa­ther runs a ra­tion de­pot and her mother, the house. Ma­hen­dra­garh makes news for one thing alone: its miss­ing girls. The old­est of four sib­lings (three sis­ters and a brother), she has kept track of ev­ery fe­male achieve­ment in the area. “Two se­niors from my school in Nar­naul have be­come IAS of­fi­cers. One is a judge posted in Ra­jasthan. Girls in this part of Haryana are very ad­vanced in ed­u­ca­tion,” Ko­mal said.

In­deed, Ma­hen­dra­garh records a fe­male lit­er­acy rate of 64.57%, higher than Haryana’s av­er­age of 56.91%

COURT VS. KITCHEN

A sec­ond-year law stu­dent in Bha­gat Phool Singh Women’s Univer­sity in Sonepat, she wants to take en­trance ex­ams for the post of ju­di­cial mag­is­trate after fin­ish­ing her Bach­e­lor’s and Mas- ter’s cour­ses.

When she is not run­ning be­tween col­lege and hos­tel in Sonepat, she is home in Ateli with 20 other mem­bers of a joint fam­ily span­ning three gen­er­a­tions. Few of them have gone to col­lege. “My fa­ther only stud­ied up to class 10 and my mother up to class 12,” she said, sur­rounded by her fe­male rel­a­tives in the fam­ily home’s court­yard. Only one of them is more ed­u­cated than her at this point. “My bua [fa­ther’s sis­ter] has fin­ished her grad­u­a­tion,” Ag­gar­wal said. Is she headed for a job? “No. She is headed for mar­riage. She is 23, after all,” the grand­mother, Su­mi­tra Ag­gar­wal, seized the ques­tion.

Ko­mal says, in many ways, her Haryanvi fam­ily is typ­i­cally con­ser­va­tive. “My mother says girls shouldn’t speak that much. When I was younger, I wasn’t al­lowed to leave the house alone, but my brother was. When I wanted to opt for law, my un­cles dis­cour­aged my fa­ther from let­ting me. My fa­ther him­self wasn’t very keen on women en­ter­ing the world of courts.”

It’s equally true, she says, that things are slowly chang­ing in her fam­ily and com­mu­nity. “My fa­ther is still wary but he has left the de­ci­sion about work­ing after univer­sity to me. My grand­mother still be­lieves in ar­ranged mar­riage, but she is mak­ing her peace with love mar­riages -- as long as the girl doesn’t elope from home but shares her de­sires with her fam­ily. My mother still be­lieves in dif­fer­ent rules for boys and girls, but she is open to lis­ten­ing to me.”

Girls, she says, must talk to their fam­i­lies. “If girls won’t speak for them­selves, how will they get ahead in life? Ev­ery time we fight, my cousin says, ‘Stop dream­ing about join­ing the ju­di­ciary; all you are go­ing to do is work in the kitchen!’ I talk back to him, ‘Let’s see in a few years who idles on the cot and who earns a salary!’”

BJP GOOD FOR HARYANA

Her fam­ily partly at­tributes the change in mind­sets to the BJP gov­ern­ment’s pol­icy ini­tia­tives. “Just four or five years ago, we heard news ev­ery day of some­one or other in the town get­ting ar­rested for killing girl chil­dren. Beti Bachao, Beti Pad­hao is chang­ing that,” said her mother, Sarika Ag­gar­wal. The state’s SRB has risen steadily over the past few years. In 2018, all but two dis­tricts recorded an SRB of over 900 girls to ev­ery 1,000 boys. Ma­hen­dra­garh was one of the two, but at 894, the num­bers have im­proved from 770 in 2012.

“Ear­lier, fam­i­lies only cel­e­brated the birth of male child through the rit­ual of kuan pu­jan [wor­ship­ping a well]. Now they get ₹50,000 to do the same for baby girls. Ev­ery­one has started do­ing it,” said Ko­mal’s aunt, Kavita Ag­gar­wal. “Fam­i­lies are lined up to open ac­counts for their girl chil­dren un­der the tax-free Sukanya (Sam­rid­dhi) Yo­jana. I also de­posit ₹1,000 for my daugh­ter ev­ery month. She can use the fund after 14 years for her ed­u­ca­tion,” Kavita added. “The av­er­age age at which fam­i­lies are get­ting girls mar­ried has gone up from 18 to 24,” said Ko­mal.

Some of this per­cep­tion doesn’t match re­al­ity. The recorded num­bers for child mar­riages, mur­ders by fam­ily mem­bers over re­la­tion­ships, and rape, are on the rise in Haryana. How­ever, Ko­mal and her fam­ily be­lieve in BJP’S vi­sion for the state. “[Ma­ho­har Lal] Khat­tar is do­ing good work. Roads have be­come wider, sew­ers have been dug, exam pa­pers are not get­ting leaked, peo­ple are get­ting jobs with­out chan­nelling con­nec­tions, and gov­ern­ment of­fices are ac­cept­ing ap­pli­ca­tions with­out ask­ing for bribes. We got sub­sidy on elec­tric­ity bills and are get­ting in­cluded in Ayushman Bharat scheme,” said Kavita.

MODI FEVER

Naren­dra Modi’s last elec­tion pitch made such a strong enough im­pres­sion on the Ag­gar­wal fam­ily that they switched their votes from the Con­gress to the BJP. When Ko­mal casts her first vote this sum­mer, she won’t have to think at all. Modi is the only In­dian po­lit­i­cal leader who makes her hope­ful about the coun­try. Her im­age of the Prime Min­is­ter is per­fect even if not al­ways ac­cu­rate.

“He has been on so many world tours, but al­ways at his own ex­pense. Un­der his regime, there have been more en­coun­ters in Kash­mir than ever. Look at how he timed de­mon­eti­sa­tion with sur­gi­cal strikes. The fake cur­rency com­ing in from Pak­istan was stopped right at the bor­der,” she said.

“His big­gest prob­lem is peo­ple – they don’t lis­ten to him,” she added, shak­ing her head in ex­as­per­a­tion. “If peo­ple stop think­ing only about them­selves, they will see the wis­dom in his moves. GST [Goods and Ser­vices Tax] will sim­plify taxes even though it has made things dif­fi­cult for now. My chacha, my mama–all of them in busi­ness–are no longer so keen on Modi. But you have to give him more time for the re­sults to show. What can a man do in just five years!”

The World Wide Web

Ko­mal and her fam­ily get all their po­lit­i­cal news from Face­book. “We fol­low var­i­ous pages: ABP News, Aaj Tak, Amar Ujala,” said Kavita. They are sus­pi­cious of What­sapp posts for­wards, how­ever. “Most of it is fake,” she pointed out. How do they dif­fer­en­ti­ate real news from fake? “You know from tak­ing one look at it. You ap­ply your mind; you ask your­self what can and can­not hap­pen in this coun­try,” she ex­plained.

Whether real or fake, the in­ter­net is Ko­mal’s go-to place for most of her needs. She uses Youtube to pre­pare for her ex­ams. “The teach­ers don’t even show up for class in our gov­ern­ment col­lege. Our en­tire syl­labus is there on Youtube chan­nels. Stu­dents don’t even buy text­books any­more,” she said. For fun, there is Tiktok. On this teen­friendly video-based so­cial-me­dia app, Ko­mal is the lead­ing star of her life as she posts 15-sec­ond clips of her act­ing, mim­ing, danc­ing and lip sync­ing. “I have kept my ac­count pri­vate. Only my fam­ily fol­lows me,” she said. Her rel­a­tives are as proud of her whacky tal­ents as they are of her aca­demic am­bi­tion. Mem­bers of her joint fam­ily – sis­ter, un­cles, aunts-- also fea­ture in these videos jointly scripted and shot at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in the house.

RAM MANDIR NOW, JOBS LATER

It’s a pity she won’t be al­lowed to carry her smart­phone into the poll booth. That doesn’t dampen her en­thu­si­asm about her first vote, though. What will she be vot­ing for? “My first de­mand is that reser­va­tions be scrapped for ev­ery­one. Peo­ple should work hard to get ahead. Mukesh Am­bani didn’t get reser­va­tion. Naren­dra Modi didn’t get reser­va­tion. They worked hard,” she said. “I also want the end to male dom­i­na­tion. In ev­ery po­si­tion of power in In­dia, there is male, male, male!”

She thinks re­li­gion shouldn’t be on any po­lit­i­cal party’s elec­tion agenda, but this ex­cludes the de­mand for a Ram tem­ple in Ay­o­d­hya. “Ram Mandir should be built. It is very im­por­tant. Oth­er­wise Hin­dus will say that this gov­ern­ment has done noth­ing for us.”

What about jobs? “This gov­ern­ment has in­creased the num­ber of avail­able jobs,” she said. Re­minded that the gov­ern­ment’s own data con­tra­dicts this view, she said she wasn’t go­ing to judge Modi’s per­for­mance based on jobs. “Not yet. I don’t have to think about jobs for an­other 2-3 years. Then I will.”

HT FILE

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