By Sumit Kulkarni:
On 1st June I along with my friends completed our fourth semester exams. As this semester was the toughest of all till now, end of exams demanded a much-needed outing for atleast a day. It came in the form of one of our dear friends’ sister’s marriage in a remote place called Sabalkheda (I don’t know if I still get it right) in Hingoli district. The next day i.e 2nd June was the marriage date and fortunately it was in the evening 6:30. So we decided to start from Aurangabad exactly at noon so that we could get there by the time of the main ceremony. As decided, 12 of my friends including me, started from Aurangabad in a rented Cruiser at noon. Now the distance to travel was roughly 250 KM via Jalna-Jintur-Yeldari-Sengaon-Sabalkheda. The journey was made of expected laughter, jokes, talks and all those things you expect when you put together a gang of friends in a vehicle on a 5-hour journey. We reached Jintur a taluka and a town in Parbhani district at almost 3:30. It was a comparatively well-resourced town much like any other taluka that I might have seen. Then after that, it was a journey that would be an eye opener and an introduction to reality for me.
We then took a turn to the road to Yeldari and eventually to Sengaon and then Sabalkheda.
First let me tell you that I am from Georai, a town and taluka, in Beed district of the Marathwada region. Marathwada along with Vidharba are said to be the least developed and most backward regions of Maharashtra. My maternal grandparents’ home is a very small village in Jalna district by the bank of Godavari river. If I ever went to my grandparents’ place, it was a tiresome journey till Purshattampuri by private transport as no bus went there and by a boat I had to cross the river to get to Golegaon, my maternal grandparents’ village. I grew up in Pravaranagar, a village in the prosperous sugar belt of western Maharastra and Ahmednagar district. Now I reside in Aurangabad a industrialised city and capital of Marathwada.
My point is that I have seen varying economical demographics. I have been living in a city dominated by small scale industries i.e Aurangabad. I have seen a middle-income town in Georai. I have seen an affluent village in Pravaranagar and I know an underdeveloped village in Golegaon.
I tell you this to ensure you that I am not exaggerating anything when I tell you about the rest of my journey.
So coming back to our journey from Jintur, we took a turn to the road to Yeldari. By now mild rain showers had started. The road to Yeldari was in a really poor condition. It was so narrow that only one vehicle could go at a time and it was not a road suitable for heavy vehicles. Yeldari was a village some 14 kilometres from Jintur. A friend from college whose hometown was Yeldari was waiting for us. As we entered Yeldari, we experienced a crowded market. The market was like any other village market, noisy and small scale. Our friend who was already waiting there joined us for the trip further. At the end of that village was a vibrant big fish market. A fish market meant that there was a river nearby. The village was on the shores of Purna river on which the second largest hydro-electric dam (Yeldari dam) in the Marathwada was situated.
Now the dam has a storage capacity of 0.19 cu mi with a hydro-electric output of 22.5 MW. The major purpose of a dam is making sure of irrigation, but to my disappointment, the purpose was not served. Although the dam was in the dead storage, it was appalling to see that the condition of farmlands was as dry as desserts and as hard as mountains. I asked my friend as to why they toil such hard lands and he told me that the average landholding in the area was about 5 acres and most of the farmers had given up their land for the dam in the 1950s, and they were not given their due compensation. And now, they did not have any choice but to toil hard land. “So what about shifting to other jobs”, I asked. He said that they had no other choice and as for self-employment was not an option because the banks did not provide loans. The nearest bank to Yeldari was 20 KM away in Jintur. So people were heavily dependent on local moneylenders who charged an outrageous amount of interests leaving poor farmers in huge debts.
As we travelled further we reached Sengaon a taluka in Hingoli district. Again to my surprise, it looked nothing like a taluka, not even remotely. I grew up in a so-called rural Pravara/Loni area but Sengaon was more rural than Loni. We were joined by another friend from Sengaon who came on a bike. I wanted to know more so I joined my two local friends on the bike. As we continued we passed through acres of barren land which was not irrigated and not even fertile. The roads were in a pathetic condition, high in the middle and cut across the edges. Only one car could travel at a time. Then there were thunders and we were graced by mild showers and a strong wind. My friends were visibly upset by the wind. The reason they told me was that the wind will uproot the already weak electricity-towers which will not be fixed for 4-5 days. They told me that the government officials did not care about them. The help reaches them after 4-5 days’ of crisis.
Then we reached Sabalkheda and by that time it had started raining and the marriage ceremony was hurried through the strong wind and rain. As our friend’s family was the traditional Patils of the village and his brother was the Sarpanch, we were greeted with a warm welcoming treatment. We congratulated the family and started our back to Aurangabad.
The journey back was horrible. It had already starting to rain heavily before we started. By the time we had just covered 3-4 kilometres’ distance, we were told that the road ahead was blocked because of collapsing of several trees. We had to take an alternative route which was about 15 kilometres’ long. The road was also covered with trees and collapsed electric poles. The scene was horrible. The houses which had tin roofs had collapsed, people were gathering their things from debris and helping each other. It was the first rain of the year. It was supposed to bring relief after a long drought but instead, it brought destruction. As we dropped our friends at Sengaon and Yeldari, I thought about the whole journey back. The 6-room-school my friend went to as a child, the destructed houses, the hard infertile land, those farmers who toiled to make their ends meet, those old people at the fish market selling fish and all those one-storey weak houses which couldn’t stand a mild storm (there was not even a single two storey house apart from some in Sengaon), those pathetic roads and the horrible condition of those villages. This was the part of my state Maharashtra I never knew. We take pride in being the most developed state in the country and forget areas like this where people live in such pathetic conditions.
Watching the rain come down heavily, almost every second day now, I wonder how those people are coping up and holding their houses which were uprooted in the very first rain. Those people live the hardest lives possible. I don’t know how we can help them but let’s not forget that there are people, even after almost 70 years of Independence, living in such pitiful conditions. I salute their determination to survive and hope that the conditions change for good.