Development of Indian cities in the recent past has been quite an eye-opener for the world. The world looks at India with pride today, be it in the medical, social, economical or cultural fields of development. Our natural resources are the envy of many nations but when we look at our villages in the 21st century, our heads hang in shame. If writings on development issues of the rural and marginalized communities are to be believed, we have every reason to believe that the remote villages of our country are deprived of all the basic facilities. The situation of the villages lying on the borders of the country is perhaps the worst of all.
Guzariyal, a border village of Kupwara District in Jammu and Kashmir, famous for the Sufi shrine of Baba Abdullah Ghazi, is one such village. Guzariyal comprises ten mohallahs that house a population of about 14000 people. Everybody here faces one problem or the other; water, dilapidated roads, insufficient electricity and absence of educational institutions. Ganai Mohallah, 7000 feet above sea level, is blessed with age old traditions but lacks every facility that is necessary for mere survival in this contemporary world.
Roads and water supply are the lifeline of any village and town. Guzariyal Village has neither. From these arise several problems of livelihood. In the absence of roads, these villages are disconnected from the rest of the state and the country. The situation gets worse when a natural disaster strikes. “On 5th October, 2008, a powerful earthquake destroyed everything that we had in the name of shelter. We took help of our relatives and friends to build our houses again. Since we don’t have any approaching road in the village, we had to unload all the material before the nallah and take it from there manually on our heads,” shared Basheer Ahmad Lone.
Health care facilities are located several kilometers away from the distantly placed hamlets. In case of emergencies, caregivers carry the patient on their shoulders in a cot. Crossing strenuous paths of hills and forests to reach hospitals located in the district adds to the gravity of the medical crises. A bridge was built for emergencies by the local people, but most of the time it is also buried under ice or water.
“We work like horses and donkeys to build our houses. The people in power make misleading and false promises to take our votes. Besides physical suffering we undergo psychological turmoil as well. We have to put our lives at risk and walk half a kilometer in the jungle, which is full of wild animals, to fetch water,” said a local woman. Every woman of the village demands that wells be dug in the mohallah. Between June and October, the water level goes down and the men in the family are forced to leave their jobs to fetch water from distant areas.
Abdul Gaffar, a young local from the village said, “If the government utilizes the geographical surrounding of this area, water could be easily tapped from surrounding forests. This would not only quench the thirst of the locality, but also fulfill the irrigation requirements of the region. The fields in the village would become productive.”
Similar is the case of education. Parents do not send their children to school as with the meager income that they earn they could only provide one thing: food or an education. They chose the former. Most of the generation has dropped out of school after Class Five. Gaffar further said, “In 2011, a house was rented under the SSA scheme to start a school. Though 15 children study in this school at the moment, but the teachers have to struggle really hard to keep the educational environment intact. In the absence of educational facilities, there is no government servant in the mohallah.”
A local teacher claimed that 75% of the people in this village are illiterate. The primary reason for such high illiteracy is the absence of a high school or higher secondary school. He said, “After Class Eight, the students need to travel 5 to18 km to attend school. The pre-partition middle school was shifted from Hardshoo, Sopore to Baramola in 1945 and converted into a primary school. It attained the level of Middle School in 1969 and in 1998 the government built six rooms in a two-storey building.” That was the last time anything changed in that school.
The women of Ganai Mohallah hope that someday, their sons and daughters will be educated and will bring development to the village. Little do these women realize that they have barely begun.
Naseema Begum said, “Anganwadis provide nutrient food to children…” Her remark comes as a pleasant surprise, but she completes her sentence with a harsh reality, “… but unfortunately, we don’t have an Anganwadi here.” The government claims to have opened thousands of Anganwadis in the country. Where are those Anganwadis?
After many failed attempts with government officials to make their lives a little easier, the local people gathered a sum of Rs.80,000 to purchase three horses so that they can bring their rations on their own to the village. The horses were really helpful - till they were hunted down by wild animals. People say that by sending their dear ones to fetch water from the jungle, they actually put their lives in danger. The approaching path to the village goes adjacent to the nallah. Wild animals frequent the region. Public Works (R&B) department rejected the people’s request to build the road saying that they don’t have enough funds. On the other hand, the PMGSY scheme claims that their duty is to connect roads, not mohallahs.
It may be recalled that Meer Saifullah, an MLA from this area for the last five terms, had done his best to bring enough substitute electricity and water in the area, but due to the shortfalls in the electricity department, the receiving station of Karalpura only gives three hours of electricity to the fifty villages in an eight km radius. Ganai Mohallah, rich in culture and high on patience, bears the brunt of electricity shortage and its people are bound to live life in the dark. This is the reason why one is bound to say that ‘we have complaints even in this age.’
Written by Pir Azhar, a Jammu and Kashmir based journalist for Charkha Features and republished here in arrangement with Charkha Development Communication Network.