Most of the news regarding women in Uttar Pradesh (UP) is often depressing. Indicators reveal that a majority of women have a low degree of freedom of movement, and low level of control over their life in U.P. The state is one of the country’s most populous, but also the poorest.

Uttar Pradesh is home to over 200 million people, and remains largely patriarchal and feudal to this day. In U.P. crimes against women are high and the participation of women in the labour force is low.

However, in the midst of an endless desert of distressing news about women often a Sonam Yadav blooms. Sixteen-year-old Sonam is a cricketer who has just returned home after winning the Under-19 T-20 World Cup played in South Africa.

Born in a family of daily wage labourers, Sonam was brought up in one room at Raja Ka Taal in district Firozabad. She is the youngest of six children. Her brother Aman Yadav worked overtime to groom Sonam into a world class cricketer.

Sonam started playing cricket in 2015 and has been coached at Firozabad’s District Cricket Academy by Ravi Yadav. Before joining the academy, she used to play on her own in the open fields near her home. Many had admired Sonam’s bowling skills. but others had taunted her for playing an ‘all-boys’ game like cricket.

Firozabad is the Florence of India, and till recently was famous for the art of hand blown glassware. Now Firozabad is also known as Sonam’s hometown. On her return from South Africa last week she received a rousing reception when hundreds of admirers showered flower petals on her path. At home Sonam was fed kheer by her mother as female neighbours and relatives sang songs of joy. The street where her home stands has been renamed Sonam Waali Gali.

Sonam plays for the Indian women's under-19 cricket team as a left arm spin bowler. She took the last wicket in the final match played against England, making it possible for team India to bring home the World Cup.

On January 29, the day of the final match, her family had rented a TV set to watch Sonam play. Team India had defeated England in a one-sided summit clash, first bowling them out for 68 runs, and then chasing down the target in 14 overs, making India the first ever Under-19 Women’s T20 World Cup winners.

“Yes we had rented a television to watch the final match. It was a big day for us and Sonam has made us proud,” Mukesh Kumar Yadav, Sonam's father, told the media. He works as a labourer in one of the many glass factories in Firozabad.

Sneh Lata, Sonam’s sister, said that the electricity metre of their home had burnt out, and no one had bothered to repair it for several months. Before Sonam’s return, a team of the local Electricity Department had surprised the family by promptly restoring the electricity connection.

“By winning this World Cup you have given a dream to young girls in India to represent the country. I believe in equality for men and women, and not just in sports. There should be equal opportunity for all Indians,” said cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar.

Meet Pandit Roli Tiwari Mishra

Pandit Roli Tiwari Mishra is yet another woman in the news in U.P. today. The Samajwadi Party (S.P.) spokesperson from Agra has taken on senior S.P. leader and general secretary of the party Swami Prasad Maurya. Mishra wants Maurya to apologise for wanting lines expunged from the Ramcharitmanas, a text written in the 16th Century by poet Tulsi Das, and considered sacred by Hindus.

Maurya belongs to a backward caste and said that he will continue to demand that the ‘objectionable portions in the Ramcharitmanas’ are either banned or amended in the text.

Maurya picks out lines in the epic poem that denigrate women, Dalits and other backward caste (OBC) people.

Maurya said that he has made his point in a peaceful manner and will continue to do so. He is against politicians who remember Dalits and O.B.Cs only during election time and only for votes. He wants the lower caste communities to be respected and their rights honoured in the spirit of the Constitution.

“The tradition of humiliating citizens in the name of religion should stop,” said Maurya who is supported in his stand by S.P. chief Akhilesh Yadav. Akhilesh too belongs to an O.B.C. community.

This is where Pandit Roli Tiwari Mishra steps into the battle field within the S.P. to take on Maurya even as she continues to praise Akhilesh for the leadership that he provides to the S.P. Mishra is from an upper caste family and warned that Maurya is a ‘threat to the nation’ as he disrespects the Hindu religion, divides Hindus into lower and upper castes.

“It is Maurya’s conspiracy against sanatan dharma, or the eternal truth of the Hindu way of life that will lead to civil war”, cried Mishra.

The fact is that the stage is being set, and daggers are being sharpened between the politics of caste and that of religion in U.P. in preparation for the general elections to be held in 2024. Mishra has made it clear that if it comes to choosing between the SP and religion, her first choice will be religion.

While Maurya is clear that any religion that does not treat members of all castes and communities equally is not for him.

Wooing Voters

In the last state elections held in U.P. early last year, Akhilesh Yadav had tried to win over upper caste votes to his side. The idea was to get some of the 12 percent votes of the Brahmins into the S.P. ballot boxes.

Traditionally the Brahmins in the state have voted for the Congress and in recent times support the ruling party in large numbers. However, there is rumbling amongst the Brahmins against the ruling party.

The upper most caste of Brahmins feel that the interest of the community is not respected by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath who is a Thakur. The resentment of the upper caste Brahmin with the ruling party is what the S.P. leadership had tried to exploit but without much success in the past.

The S.P. is now desperately trying to lead an umbrella movement engaging Dalits and backward caste people as well as Muslims in hope of a big win at the polls in the future. And the Mishra-Maurya verbal war waged in the state is a living example of a more fierce war between the politics of Mandal (caste) and kamandal (religion) to come.