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Crossing the bridge

The villagers of Nakraganj, a remote area of Jharkhand, have collectively banned hooch, curbed crime and raised the literacy bar. But it all began when they first got together to build a bridge. Vijay Murty reports.

india Updated: Apr 16, 2012 20:14 IST
Vijay Murty
For-10-years-the-people-of-Nakraganj-petitioned-the-state-government-to-build-a-bridge-that-would-connect-their-village-to-West-Bengal-s-Baliabera-an-area-with-which-they-trade-Last-year-the-villagers-put-up-this-bamboo-bridge-themselves
For-10-years-the-people-of-Nakraganj-petitioned-the-state-government-to-build-a-bridge-that-would-connect-their-village-to-West-Bengal-s-Baliabera-an-area-with-which-they-trade-Last-year-the-villagers-put-up-this-bamboo-bridge-themselves

The villagers of Nakraganj, a remote hamlet on the Jharkhand-Bengal border, needed a bridge. For 10 years, they petitioned their local politicians and the district administration for help only to go unheeded. In 2010, led by their young and enterprising mukhiya (panchayat head) Laxmiram Murmu, the villagers got down to work. For six months, they levelled fields, sawed bamboo, chopped wood and forged iron frames to put up their bridge.

The community initiative of Nakraganj is a success story that has dwarfed the achievements of many governments. Inhabited by 80 tribal families, this village, 250 km southeast of the state capital, Ranchi, used to be inaccessible. Reaching the market in the nearby Baharagora town meant a treacherous walk of more than 25 km. Mahuli, its major source of trade on the Bengal border under the Baliabera police station, lay across a rivulet impossible to cross in the rains. A two-crop area, Nakraganj bought wheat, livestock, spice, fish, salt from Baliabera. It sold Mahuli paddy and a few vegetables, mostly cauliflower and brinjal. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/27feb_pg-14b.jpg

“Life has become much easier now,” said Murmu. Building the bridge had made villagers confident about team work. They have since then collectively banned hooch, curbed crime and raised the literacy bar. The village roads turned spic and span. The anganwadi centre began to fill with children busy with their books. A functioning village library-cum-information centre began being manned by people well-informed about village activities.

Under Murmu, the village seemed to have found direction. Education had also been a key factor in the turn-around. “Our youngsters are now keen on attending high schools and colleges. Government-run schemes are gradually reaching us,” said the 35-year-old panchayat head, a former Kolkata Port Trust employee, with pride. Having set a standard in his home village, Murmu said he wants to develop all 12 villages under his supervision.

His good work has also earned him the respect of other villagers. “He is an able and committed leader. All gram pradhans (village heads) have extended their support to him in his noble endeavour,” said the 55-year-old Nakraganj gram pradhan, Gurmohan Murmu. “What Laxmiram Murmu has done with his village should be taken up as a model,” said local legislator Vidyut Varan Mahato.

However, all is not well. The villagers of Nakraganj may have joined hands to build a bridge, but they also need government-sponsored initiatives of social welfare. Nakraganj, a Santhal village, shares its concerns with most tribal villages of Jharkhand, a state with 26 % tribal population. Lack of irrigation facilities has forced its youngsters to migrate to bigger cities for jobs. Its women crave vocational training to supplement their family’s income.

Santhals constitute 91% of the total tribal population of Jharkhand. Their per capita income is as low as Rs 9,500 per annum. The majority survive on forest produce. Their literacy rate is a low 27.5% and infant mortality is 42 per 1,000 births. Nakraganj, for instance, is in dire need of a health centre. There is none within 25 km. It takes its ill to the Tapsia Government Hospital across the Bengal border, eight kilometre from Nakraganj, and to the Baliabera Referral Unit, 18 km away, for advanced treatment. http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/HTEditImages/Images/27feb_pg-27a.jpg

The village primary school has just one teacher for 40 students. Despite repeated pleas, the state government has not provided any infrastructure. Given this bleak scenario, Nakraganj stands out. Its people have learnt to participate in community programmes in a spirit of collaboration. Its mukhiya is spearheading this drive. He has managed to find a teacher from neighbouring Mahuli, to teach the children at the village school on a token salary.

“Developing a human resource is the best service to mankind,” said Tapan Kumar Das, a former medical representative, who now coaches students preparing for engineering entrance examinations. “But I could reach the village only because there was a bridge,” he said.

(Inputs from Anbwesh Roy Choudhury)

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