Banyaari: A cut off world

Patients being  brought  to hospital in house boat made ambulance in this file pic of nineteenth century.
Patients being brought to hospital in house boat made ambulance in this file pic of nineteenth century.

Profiling a village that finds connectivity with the rest of the world only through a boat, Haroon Mirani reports the apathy of government towards its inhabitants.

It is 60 km from Srinagar, but decades away from any signs of modernity.
On the banks of River Jhelum, Banyaari, a village of fishermen and water chestnut farmers, doesn’t have a basic approach road depriving its inhabitants of any facilities.
Divided by River Jhelum into Banyaari Sharki (East) and Banyaari Garbi (West), the village comprises of many hamlets. Apart from fishermen and chestnut farmers, there are many carpet weavers.
Residents say that they have been forgotten by everyone; the government for them means tax collector.
Banyaari is surrounded by other villages such as Bakhsibal, Mukhdamyaari, Aalampora, Tsringpora that lie along the Jhelum.
Banyaari Garbi is entirely cut off by Jhelum and Ghulam Yaari river that surround the island village. Residents use a boat rowed along a rope, once provided by government and later replaced by the residents themselves.
Villagers say, around 30 years ago the government had planned to construct a bridge on Jhelum connecting Banyaari Garbi, but after three months of preliminary surveys, the planners disappeared. (Now this week the villagers were excited as foundation stone for the bridge was laid by chief minister Omar Abdullah. But they anxiously await a bridge rather than just a promise of one.)
With no roads, no government policy ever reaches these people. Officials and legislators rarely bother to visit.
Villagers fume at the name of the local legislator, who they accuse of practising vindictive politics.
“Our legislator Mohammed Akbar Lone doesn’t care for us. If we go to meet him for our problems, he accuses us of being from opposite party,” says Bilal Ahmad a villager.
They also accuse Lone of receiving commissions on any government work and diverting benefits to National Conference workers instead of deserving candidates.
The only government intervention in the development of this village have been three water pumps for drawing water to irrigate fields provided by the Awami National Conference government way back in eighties. None of them ever worked.
Half of the village has been notified as backward. Candidates from other half compete in open merit. To villagers, reasons still remain mysterious.
Literacy in the village is among the lowest in the state, as children can’t afford to cover longer distances over non-existent roads.
“One has to wear shin-high boots even after a drizzle on these roads. How can our children go to school,” said Bilal. “Besides, no one can afford education here. Most children help their parents in their work.”
The villagers also accuse the government officials, contractors and political workers of corruption. “Any scheme, plan, beneficial work is hijacked by the corrupt officers and political goons and nothing reaches to us,” laments Bilal.
In the entire area there is hardly a graduate, just a dozen high-school and few senior-secondary school pass outs.
Being unlettered, they have often been at the receiving end of troopers. “As we can’t communicate with troopers due to lack of knowledge of Hindi or any other language, they often beat us up,” says a villager. “The troopers think we are lying and hiding some information, while in reality this is our hard truth.”
Another villager, Mehrajudin says the government only remembers then for tax collection.  “We only have to pay taxes on every other occasion. For getting license of collecting water chestnuts we have to pay Rs 190 per year, earlier it was Rs 25,” says Mehrajudin. “We have to pay Rs 190 for monthly electric fee, whereas in towns it is much lower.”
The villagers are also unhappy about the charge levied on them for using the Kahcharai, which was free earlier. “For every sheep we have to pay Rs 3 and you can calculate our collective fee,” says Mehrajudin.
The prosperity of different hamlets in this village fluctuates from poverty to extreme poverty. People live in unhygienic conditions with no access to healthcare.
“May people have died here for want of healthcare. We ferry patients in boats and most often they die before reaching the hospitals,” said Mohammed Ashraf Dar.
The poor villages toil hard to earn their livelihood. Most often middlemen make money on their sweat. The rice fields in the area are not so fertile and prone to floods. “Almost every year floods destroy our crops and we don’t even have means to draw water out of our fields with electric motors,” says Dar.
Among the villagers there isn’t much hope either. “We have no hope for our future. Our forefathers have lived this life, we have gone through it and our future generations will continue to suffer,” he said.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here