The idea of visiting a remote village itself was quite exciting, but our excitement turned into adventure in the first few hours of the task at hand. As we headed towards our designated village i.e., ’Sarli’, for the rural immersion part of our Induction Training at the India Fellow Social Leadership Program, we were informed about the change in the destination, which was the neighboring village of ‘Dungawari Kala’. Though, while looking for the destination, we were lost and reached ‘Dungawari Kurg’, an equally remote village which seemed lost into the depths of poverty. The feeling / sense of adventure lost right there and various emotions and experiences embraced us or maybe just me.
Since we landed at a different destination, we were welcomed by nothing but the rains. Thereafter, we decided that it would be courteous to meet the ‘sarpanch’ before exploring the village, since he was to provide us with the accommodation. While waiting for the sarpanch to return home, we got the chance to meet his family and to our surprise we figured out that the actual sarpanch was his wife and not him. A sudden uncomfortable moment dawned upon us and stayed with us like a friend for those few days.
If I was asked to choose one of all those moments which comes to my mind, that which stands out strongly and one that will stay with me for a while; I believe that moment would be the evening which I spent with the youth of ‘Dungawari Kala’.
When we interact with the students of age group between 14 to 20 years of different backgrounds, we experience lots of energy, chaos, lots of insights, sulking, hopefulness amongst them, but to my surprise, the youth of the ‘Kala’ village of the same age group were in despair. Young people in general are bold and they believe in stating their views openly, but here in Kala, when I started my conversation it was mostly one sided. I was doing most of the questioning and the answering. They seemed hesitant to speak. When I pushed them a little, I realised that their hesitance came from the fear of being overheard by someone. I have never come across such a feeling of insecurity to speak out in any of the villages I have ever visited so far. This to me, a keen believer of rights, was a failure of the right to express oneself.
As time passed on and the evening progressed they became more comfortable to speak, though in a low voice. When I asked about their education, most of them had stopped studying at class 9 and when I tried to figure out this pattern, I observed that, if they had finished their 10th standard, they could take up better career opportunities, and so they had been denied studying forward. They figured out an alternative form of learning i.e., open school learning, where they would receive their academic text books just 10 days before the exam. This, I believe is a failure of right to education.
As the evening progressed, their faces got blurred; not because I have an eye sight issue but because there was no power in the village. I was surprised to know that only 30 out of 300 houses in the village has electricity supply. On further investigation, I realised that electricity had been denied to this village under the pretext of telling people that they did not fall under the poverty line. The same reason was stated while sanctioning of the government subsidised houses and toilets. Here again I saw a failure of right to basic amenities.
In a conversation about employment, I suggested that they join computer training programmes which is available for free of cost at district headquarters, they said that it would cost them INR 600 for transportation. I explained to them about subsidised bus fares available for students that I knew about, while my co-fellow explained how they need not wait for books from the government, but how they could buy each book individually and share and discuss it among themselves. Having said all this, they began blaming one individual who they thought was the reason for their backwardness. This was the same sarpanch at whose house we had been planning to stay in.
All the above discussion took place when I was seated in the centre and more than 30 youth and 20 elderly people were sedentary around me. Though their faces were invisible in the dark, when I spoke about responsibilities, education and moving forward, I could sense the feeling of hope rising slowly from the disparity surrounded, maybe not everyone, but a couple of them.
Looking back, I do not think this sense of hope was established because we made sense to them, but a simple matter of satisfaction for them that they had been heard by someone. A feeling of hope that maybe, someday there will be a change in their situation; maybe, someday a sense of normalcy will come into their lives. Hope is a good thing, sometimes the best of things, says a popular quote that I know of. I know that I am not the change or hope that the village of Kala was looking for. I know that my time was limited and so was my reach. If hope for a brighter future rises among them, I strongly believe that they took the first step towards their progress.