Lack of regular electricity, proper roads, educational institutes and health centres is not a criterion for recognition as a backward area by the state government. No one has learnt this harsh lesson better than the people of an isolated village in north Kashmir, Sameer Yasir reports.
It takes almost two hours in a bus from Baramulla to reach Chatosa, a stunningly beautiful village on the northern ridge of Rafiabad in north Kashmir. The road to the village snakes through beautiful maze and corn fields into the interiors of various villages lying on the periphery of Rafiabad.
The infrastructure and the life inside looks as if the village has got stuck in time. A cramped single lane road filled with ends at a fast flowing stream in the village. Chatosa is not an ordinary village. While it is located thirty kilometres from Baramulla town, it has produced a number of well-qualified professionals and social engineers. Almost all the educated villagers studied either in towns or migrated to plains, leaving their home for months together in search of a better life.
From almost two decades now, the villagers have been demanding backward status for their village. They have given representations to political leaders, ministers and locals MLAs but nothing has happened. When the list of the backward villages was revised by the state government last time, many in Chatosa thought their village would make it to the list. It didn’t.
Saif-ud-Din Pir, 70, a tall white-bearded man wearing a skull cap served in the education department for 48 years as a teacher. “I had to travel on foot to reach different schools in Rafiabad. There was no road. Even in the 21st century, the village remains cut-off for months in winters. Last year, a pregnant woman delivered a baby in an orchard when her family was taking her to Dangiwacha sub-centre hospital, almost 15 kilometres from the village,” he says.
“I studied under extreme circumstances and kept thinking that things would change. But nothing changed for the villagers. That is the reason we have been asking for the backward status,” he says.
Chatosa has a population of more than 1500 residents. There is one school which serves more than 24 villages with a population of 50,000. When 2005 earthquake took place, the only thing the government did was to provide five rented rooms, but the school was never repaired.
The school was inaugurated in 1964 by Harbans Singh Azad, the then education minister in the state government when he had come to see his Sikh relatives in the village. Despite the villagers being well educated, not even two per cent are employed by the government. “Our children fight every day to get the education but they don’t get jobs. We will fight up to the time we don’t get to the Resident of Backward Areas (RBA) status. We are the most deserving. Our village lacks everything. If you compare our hardships with the people in Kanispora, then we live in hell. They get the benefit of being a backward area but we don’t,” says Mohd Ramzan, a resident of Chatosa.
Kanispora, which lies on the Srinagar-Baramulla national highway, is seven kilometres away from Baramulla town and enjoys the RBA status. Almost 80 per cent people are literate and almost 50 per cent are employed by the government. This could be because of the RBA status but Kanispora is not by any standard a backward area. All the roads in the area are macadamized and floor tiles have been laid in its interiors.
While Chatoosa has an almost non-existent electric supply with electricity lines snapped by snow and villagers have to light candles even in the summers, there is no shortage of electricity in Kansipora which receives electricity almost 18 hours daily with regular cuts in winters.
Not just Kanispora, Drangbal which is only three kilometres from Baramulla town, has also been accorded an RBA status. But the area is hardly backward; beautiful houses and bungalows rise wherever you look and it has emerged as a plush colony preferred by the wealthy residents of the town.
In order to include and exclude the areas and categories from the list of reserved categories, the J&K State Commission for Backward Classes came into being in 1997. Section 11 of J&K State Commission for Backward Classes Act 1997 makes it mandatory for the government to revise the list of backward villages after every ten years to exclude from such lists those areas which have ceased to be backward and include the new backward area in the list.
MLA Rafiabad, Javed Ahmad Dar told Kashmir Life that he tried his best to get Chatosa recognized as a backward village, “For this, I talked to people and we are processing the file at different governmental levels.”
It seems Chatosa will have to endure its miseries for more time to come.