Elections come and go but the miseries of Kabutaras, a nomadic community turned settlers in Bundelkhand remains unchanged.
With polls over in the region, the community that is sparsely spread in the region straddling across Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, is back to its traditional hooch business unconcerned by political divides.
As the date of counting for the recently concluded Assembly elections near, it is time to make a kill for Kabutaras, who are busy brewing what is called in common parlance 'Lahanga brand' or 'Kanjad Whisky'. It is called so because the hooch is brewed by women and the community is also called Kanjad (nomadic).
In Datarnagar 8 kilometers away from Jhansi town, villagers give blank looks when asked whether they ever thought of contesting Assembly polls. They had never gone beyond village pramukh elections.
In the cauldron of caste conflict that continues to riddle the Hindi heartland, Kabutaras seem to have been left out in education and employment sectors and even a political voice owing to their dispersed population and lack of organisation.
A novel Alma Kabutari by Hindi writer Maitreyi Pushpa won the SAARC Literary Award 2006 for its poignant depiction of the harsh realities of life in the community.
In the intriguing world of Kabutaras, women take the lead role in the hooch business as the men prefer a subsidiary role to avoid physical harassment by the police. Many Kabutara women find themselves booked in police cases as such.
But a quest of change is sweeping the community now and Datarnagar is a testimony to it.
Jainarayan, ex-Pramukh of the village says, "around 300 boys and girls go from the village to study in different English medium schools of Jhansi. We could not study but our children are. They will change our fate."
The same village, where the eight class pass Suniluma is the only government servant, a peon, now sends 300 kids to convent schools.
Villagers proudly name Narendra, who is the only LLB degree holder in the village and Veer Singh, the only male graduate.
The Kabutara population is dispersed in Datarnagar, Gursarayan, Garoutha, Charkhari and many other parts of Bundelkhand straddling across Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
Realising that lack of education is a key hindrance in their development, the financially well-off Kabutaras are now investing hugely in educating their kids as the new generation is eager to get rid from the tag of hoochmakers.
Elderly Sitabai, though tight-lipped about her profession, blurts out "we will prefer our children to branch out into other fields and if possible take some job outside the village".
Villagers recall that it was then then Minister of State for Home Balwant Nagesh Datar, who had made some efforts for development of the community in 1953.
"This colony is named after him. During his time we were provided a piece of land and the Kabutaras started living permanently in a shift from the nomadic life," says the former village Pramukh.
Dharmendra Kumar a local says the Jhansi DIG of Police L V Antony D Kumar had also taken efforts to get Kabutara youths in police when he was the SSP here a few years ago.
"Kumar had arranged for special trainings for the youths of Kabutara privately so that they can qualify the tests for the recruitment of constables," he recalls.
Kulpahad in Mahoba district is another such village. Rahul Gandhi had addressed a rally here on January 19. But the youth are not keen on politics.
"Here most of the youth work as labourers. They work during the day and doze off as soon as they are home. Who is bothered about all this," says Santosh Chaurasia.
Folklores have it Kabutaras are descendents of the famous Rani Padmini of Rajasthan. Their legend has the queen, wife of Chittor king Rawal Ratan Singh known in the annals for history for her famous "Jouhar" act did not commit suicide along with other women during the attack of Ala-ud-din Khilji but but escaped along with a band of guerilla forces and entered enemy territory.
During the British period, the Kabutaras were branded a criminal tribe. Even after independence, they continued to attain notoriety for crime mainly robbery which they performed with great brutalities.
They were classified as "criminal tribes" by the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871, which was annulled when the tribes were denotified in independent India.
They gradually gave up crime but as they had neither any land nor any other asset, they took to hooch brewing, a practice, which continues till date.
Interestingly, while on one hand, they remain hooked to hooch, pilgrimage is also a fad in the community. In Kulpahaad Sajjam mukhiya had built a Shiva temple. Temples also dot Datarnagar and many villagers have joined the Radha Swami Satsang in Beas.
In Kulpahad village, an NGO Arunoday Sansthan has taken some initiatives to help the community.
The district administration had also allotted small plots of land to some families. But as long as the governmental efforts are nothing more than a drop in the ocean, and a new generation of Kabutaras take over, their destinies appear linked to hooch brewing.