The two halves of Abu Road block

Although it is the railway line that divides the block into Bhakar (hilly) and Bhitrot (plain) regions, poverty is the real divider. While the Bhitrot area, due to its accessibility and contiguity to the town, has seen development, the Bhakar region has remained neglected

brajesh

Brajesh Kumar | October 18, 2012


A BPL tribal family living in the Bhakar region of the block
A BPL tribal family living in the Bhakar region of the block

If the babus of the planning commission were asked to name the line that divides Abu Road into two halves, they would have said: below poverty line (BPL).

This line that demarcates this quaint block in Sirohi district of south Rajasthan into two is the railway line connecting New Delhi to Ahmedabad.

The left side of the railway line (if one is coming from New Delhi) which is the unfortunate side as it is untouched by any signs of development, is called Bhakhar, which means ‘hilly area’ in the local dialect. And the fortunate side, the right side of the railway line is called Bhitrot or a plain area.

“While Bhitrot has seen considerable progress, Bhakar has lagged behind,” says Narsa Ram of Doosra Dasak, an NGO working in the region.

Babulal Solanki, who lives in one of the villages in the Bhakhar region, says majority of the tribal families in the hilly areas are extremely poor with no means of sustenance. They live in the interiors of the forest and depend on the forest as their main source of livelihood.

The Abu Road block is one of the five blocks in Sirohi district, in south Rajasthan. There are 25 panchayats and 85 villages in this block. While 50 percent of the panchayats lie in the plains, the other half is dispersed in small, scattered clusters of houses situated on the slopes of mountains and small valleys.

The percentage of families below poverty line in Abu Road block is 51%  – this ratio rises to about 72% among the tribal (Garasia and Bhil) people. Garasia scheduled tribe makes 68 percent of Abu Road population. More than 65 percent of the area here is forested, of which six percent is cultivated. 

On the hilly side, the entire population is tribal while the plains have a mix of demography – traders’ community (Marwaris) making up for 25 percent of it. 

The contiguity of villages in the plains to the Abu Road town has ushered in development here. The tribal population here has leaped ahead of its brethren in the hilly region on the other side of the railway line. There are better school, health centres and roads in these villages.

On the contrary, villages in the hills have lagged behind. There is no electricity in most part of the region. Teachers often bunk schools and health centres largely remain closed.

Babulal Sisodiya, a resident of Kyeari village in the hilly region, had to shift to the plains to enable his children to get proper education.

“Educating them in the hills would have been very difficult,” he says.

While the literacy rate for the block is about 44%, NGOs working here say literacy rate among the tribals is abysmally low.

“In Neechlagarh panchayat in the hilly region, there are just five girls who have passed class 12. In Takia village in the same region, there is just one boy who has a class 12 pass certificate,” says Narsa Ram of Doosra Dasak.

Most students drop out by the time they reach class seven or eight, he says. Quality of education in government schools is extremely poor. 

According to a survey by Azim Premji Foundation, an NGO that works on education in Sirohi district, out of total 253 schools in Abu Road block, 98 schools are single teacher schools, and there are three that have never opened their gates.

“Most of the single teacher schools lie in the hilly area of the block,” says Balkishan Sharma of Azim Premji Foundation.

The anganwadi centres, a kind of pre-school in villages, are in equally bad shape. According to the norms of the integrated child development services (ICDS), there should be one anganwadi centre per 300 people in tribal villages.

“However, in Abu Road block, tribal areas have one centre per 1,000 people,” says Sharma.

The major reason for the lack of development in the Bhakhar area is its inaccessibility. While the panchayats are connected by concrete roads, the villages, called ‘fali’ here, can be reached by narrow pathways running through hills and rivers.

There is one primary health centre (PHC) in the region and a number of sub-centres. While the PHC has basic minimum facilities, and is open most of the time, the sub-centres hardly open. At Bhanwaria village in Uplakhejda panchyat, the sub-centre remained closed for days and the villagers have not seen the auxiliary nurse and midwife (ANM) for quite some time now.

“We hardly see an ANM here,” says Saburi Ram, a villager. Years of neglect and discrimination notwithstanding, it’s not all doom and gloom in the Bhakhar region of the block. Garasia Samaj Sudhar Samiti, an organisation formed for the development of the tribals in partnership with NGOs like Doosra Dasak and Janchetna, has been putting concerted pressure on the district administration to reach out in these far-flung areas.

Recently, the SDM of the area launched a programme called ‘Ab Muniya Padhegi’ to encourage villagers to enroll their daughters in government schools. “It was inaugurated last week in one of the villages in the hills and would be taken to all panchayats soon,” says Narsa Ram of Doosra Dasak.

Under the programme, the block administration have dwelt on the importance of education for the girl child and informed the villagers about the right to education.

The block needs administration’s proactivism on a regular basis to bring the tribals on both sides of the railway line on an even keel. 

 

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