Men cheering for Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of Bharatiya Janata Party, at his rally in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, on March 2.
Men cheering for Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of Bharatiya Janata Party, at his rally in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, on March 2. Credit: Sonia Paul

LUCKNOW, India — As Narendra Modi gains momentum as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate for prime minister, attention is turning to Muslim voters in the politically important state of Uttar Pradesh, who have been regarding him warily because of ties to right-wing Hindu groups that have attacked Muslims.

Uttar Pradesh has 80 seats in the lower house of the Indian Parliament at stake in the national elections, the most of any state in India. Muslims make up around 18 percent of the nearly 200 million people in the state and have historically provided support for the governing party in New Delhi, the Indian National Congress, and the regional Samajwadi Party, which is currently running the government in Uttar Pradesh.

Regional parties dominate Uttar Pradesh and could siphon off votes from either the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Indian National Congress so that neither gets an outright majority in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament. The Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., has won the parliamentary seat of the Lucknow district for the past several terms. Other districts in Uttar Pradesh are less settled.

Winning over Muslim voters in Uttar Pradesh requires a more complex strategy than just fielding a Muslim candidate, because they don’t vote as a bloc and they don’t base their vote solely on religion.

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Sanatkada's annual weaves and crafts festival being held at the Baradari complex in in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, on Feb. 6.
Sanatkada’s annual weaves and crafts festival being held at the Baradari complex in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, on Feb. 6. Credit: Sonia Paul

LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh — Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, was buzzing with activity in recent days as Sanatkada, a well-known nonprofit in the city for women has been hosting its annual handicrafts festival, where vendors from across India come to sell their goods.

Aside from shopping, the festival, which began in 2010, offers musical and theater performances, panel discussions on literature and music, carnival rides for children and food from some of Lucknow’s most popular eateries. This year, however, the festival organizers decided to use this popular event to talk about one of the biggest topics in India today — feminism.

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A view of Awadh Point, a three story building in Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, on Nov. 9.
A view of Awadh Point, a three story building in Old Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, on Nov. 9. Credit: Sonia Paul

The raised sign for Avadh Point on Victoria Road in Old Lucknow is missing two letters, the “O” and the “I.” The “D” in Avadh also hangs precariously, as if it is ready to become the third. The three-story building was constructed in 2005, but it stands dilapidated, walls thinning and paint peeling, as if it is as old as the Awadh culture it’s named after.

Since Nov. 6, the start of Muharram, which is the first month of the Islamic calendar and the period of mourning observed mostly by Shia Muslims, several figures are making their presence known at Avadh Point and other areas deemed sensitive in Lucknow for the next two and a half months: police officers.

“All the mess starts from here,” said Zeeshan Ansari, 21, a Sunni Muslim and recent college graduate who lives in the neighborhood. He was sitting on the patio of Avadh Point, gazing at the fruit vendors, shared auto-rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and throngs of people sharing the road in front of him.

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Haunted by insecurity, relief camps for victims of communal riots in Uttar Pradesh witness spate of mass weddings.

Some 300 marriages are said to have taken place in the relief camps in Uttar Pradesh since the deadly riots [Yogesh Tiyagi, September 25]
Some 300 marriages are said to have taken place in the relief camps in Uttar Pradesh since the deadly riots [Yogesh Tiyagi, September 25]
The setting was unusual for marital bliss, but it was no deterrent for the dozen-odd couples who tied the knot last week in a mass wedding at a relief camp for riot victims in Muzaffarnagar.

Having fled communal violence that recently swept parts of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and left scores dead and thousands homeless, the newly married couples of Malakpur relief camp held hands together and vowed to make a fresh beginning.

Mass weddings are not uncommon in India, where community and religious leaders sometimes host them for poorer communities to help ease their financial burden.

But a spurt of mass weddings at relief camps sheltering thousands displaced by the riots is evoking contrasting emotions. Some hail them as efforts to rebuild lives. Local authorities, however, see them as unnecessary distractions.

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