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Buried under the snow, how long?

Srinagar, Thu, 16 Feb 2012 ANI

Srinagar, Feb 16 (ANI): It is February and still freezing. The entire winter season this year was characterized by cold waves especially in North India that claimed several lives. The heavy snowfall disrupted normal life with water pipes freezing and roads blocked in several parts of the country. And Jammu and Kashmir was coldest among all northern Indian states.


The misery was manifold for the dwellers inhabiting the rural hilly regions of the Jammu and Kashmir, where the snowfall was followed by the warnings of avalanche. The harsh conditions stalled the already despondent "normal" life in these hamlets located near the Line of Control (LoC).


The villagers have to put up with shortage of drinking water, poor health care facilities, undeveloped transport network, inadequate communication and power lines. They feel ignored and excluded from the development circle.


While visiting the Sheikh Mohalla, a picturesque village in the Warson region located 30 km from the Kupwara District in Kashmir, I was stunned at the plight of villagers who seemed to be living in the age of the cave dwellers.


To draw a contrast between the lifestyle of a Sheikh Mohalla resident and that of an urbanite, all one needs to do is peep into the state capital Srinagar and the disparity becomes crystal clear.


With a population of about 200 villagers, the village has not a single "pucca" road to access it, despite the critical need for roads for people living in such difficult terrain. Villagers travel using narrow trails or climb through the rugged mountain cliffs at considerable risk. During the winter season, the situation becomes even more challenging when snowfall further mars the already tricky paths. For the villagers struggling for mere survival, scams involving several crores in the rest of the country or snowfall affecting ATMs make no sense.


Gulam Hassan, one of the ward members, unfolded the much darker side of the picture. "Whenever someone falls sick, we carry that person on a cot to the hospital which is five to seven kilometres from the village. Many a times, patients have died before they could make it to the hospital, with people carrying the cot only to realise later that they were carrying a dead body on their shoulders instead of a patient."


When asked about benefits from national or state level programmes, he blandly replied that when no official or bureaucrat has visited their village till date, the question of information about schemes or projects provided to its people simply doesn't arise.


The absence of a single primary health care centre in the village makes them feel that the promises of the government to provide each and every village better health care facilities is unlikely to become a reality. "The villagers today are suffering because of their illiteracy and that is the reason they lack awareness of their rights and duties", he said regretfully.


Oblivious to the development programmes, projects and schemes, they are unaware of the positive intent of the government, which has sanctioned huge budgets for their benefit. This is evident from the fact that every year at March end, crores of rupees from sanctioned budgets are returned to the government unutilized.


At every Panchayat elections and Lok Sabha elections, the naive villagers step out and cast their votes in the hope that they would get the attention of the new candidates; but none of the representatives have lived up to these modest expectations.


One good thing about this largely illiterate community is that they are keen to provide education to the younger generation. But there is not even a single primary school in the entire village. This situation doesn't bode well for the future. If the road, if you can call it that, continues to be in its present condition, the dark clouds of unemployment will take over the lives of the youth. One can imagine the consequences in a region as sensitive as Kupwara.


Their isolation from the urban regions has made them face a life full of challenges. Even though the benefits of developed regions have started trickling in through the rural borders, the basic needs are still largely missing.


Our government spends huge amounts of money to protect the border areas. Whose duty is it to protect the basic rights of the people who bear the brunt of the conflict at the borders? Why do we fail to understand that there is no point shielding the boundary from the enemies when we do not have the support of its inhabitants; something that can be achieved simply by including them in the mainstream?


The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that we have to take concrete steps to make them feel a part of the administration. All round development can become a reality only when their basic rights are respected By Irfan Ahmed Lone (ANI)


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