When Laxman Singh Bhatiya, a farmer from Bhatiyakhera village of Madhya Pradesh’s Mhow district wants to sell his produce; he wades through a river, and then treks 8km mostly through a dirt road to reach Mhow.
The Bheel tribal makes the arduous journey, carrying his head load through a narrow jungle trail and the dirt road, mostly used by bullock carts and two wheelers to reach Mhow — the cantonment town and teshil headquarters every day.
Sixty-five years after the country became a republic; this picturesque tribal village tucked away in the tribal heartland of the state still seems to be caught up in a time warp.
The near absence of basic amenities in the 150-strong impoverished Bheel tribal village is really striking with no road connectivity, schools or even toilets.
The children of the village, about 20km off the Indore-Khandwa highway, have to trudge more than 5km through a narrow jungle trail to the nearest school in Bhagora.
“It is not possible for us to carry large quantities of farm produce on our head, so we are forced to sell everything to the local cooperative society, which pays us a much lower price than the prevailing market rate,” said Laxman.
Drinking water is a major problem, especially during the summers when the river dries up and becomes muddy, he said.
Surprisingly the village has electricity. But, televisions do not work because of poor reception.
Even mobile connectivity is unreliable. During the rainy season, when the Choral River swells, the villagers are forced spend their time indoors.
And what if anyone falls seriously ill? “We have to carry that person on a ‘khatia’ to Bhagora and from there on a motorcycle to Mhow for treatment,” says Jairam Bhatiya, another villager. Sometimes, people die en-route, he adds.
“A few months back a youth of our village suddenly had high fever. We were carrying him to Bhagora, but he died on the way,” said Jairam. The village primary school once, but that has closed down as teachers do not want to come.
Now the building is being used to shelter cattle.
No elected representatives have ever bothered to visit the village, Laxman said, adding that the only official who visited the village was district collector Raghvendra Singh, who spent a night in the village in 2011.
“Raghvendra Singh promised that all of us would get houses under the Indira Awas, but only eight houses were built and then it was stopped. A road was also promised, but nothing came of it,” he said.
The only government officials who visit the village are health workers, who come to administer polio drops. Villagers cite several development-related issues ignored by the successive governments and the political party leaders.
“Every panchayat election, (the village falls under the Bhagora panchayat) the candidates promise us many things but no one does anything. I think one among us should stand for election just to get things done,” added Sitaram.
But not everything is gloomy. The air is pure, and surrounded by forested hills all around, the view is spectacular, especially during the monsoons when small waterfalls dot the hills.
The villagers realise that they live in a beautiful setting, but as Sitaram points out that the surrounding forests have prowling leopards that often prey on their farm animals especially goats.
“Leopards killed four of my goats last year, since then I have stopped rearing them,” said Sitaram.
Asked whether he had received any compensation, he said, “Getting compensation is a big ‘magajmari (hassle), you have to do the numerous rounds of forest office. “Who is going to trek to Mhow so many times?”