Fifty kilometres off the Taj Mahal, on the border that separates Madhya Pradesh from Rajasthan, a steep, rocky path off the highway leads one to thorny ravines. Inside these precipitous gorges of prickly foliage and rocky boulders, lies Rajghat, a village so removed from modern day India that all benchmarks of 21st-century progress break down in it.
Cut off from everyone and everything, and because of the total lack of amenities, people have started calling Rajghat the ‘village of bachelors’. Why? Because potential brides refuse to marry men from this village. It has been 20 years since the villagers witnessed a wedding celebration, according to the villagers.
“Who will want to send their daughter to this jungle? When there is no facility in the village, no visible infrastructure, why should anyone? People aren’t mad, no?”, a visibly upset Ram Charan, a village resident, asks us.
Take a quick walk through the village, and Charan’s anger seems totally justified. It has been 70 years since India gained independence, but for this village, the word means nothing. The village, in fact, has nothing. Literally. There is no clean water to drink. Or electricity to light up homes. Or toilets. Or even a pucca road that connects to the nearest town. The walk to the nearest health centre is a 2-mile hike, one that many villagers are forced to take since many suffer from ailments from drinking the polluted water of the Chambal.
Not that they have a choice. Villagers say the sole hand pump in the village supplies saline water that’s completely unportable. The act of accessing the dirty, polluted river water is fraught with its own risks – the risk of being gobbled up by gharials that lurk in the Chambal waters, or worse still, encountering human corpses that sometimes come floating in by the river bank.
They have heard of things like fridges, air conditioners, and washing machines, but the mere thought of using them is a distant dream. “A few of us do have mobile phones, but you have to walk 2 kilometres to the nearest town to get them charged,” Dileep, a village resident, tells YKA.
Villagers say that most boys in the village are bachelors because they just can’t find a willing bride to bring to Rajghat. And so, those who want to get married lie. “The lucky few who did manage to get married were able to do so by going outside the village, and not disclosing where they are from. They marry in Agra and Varanasi and bring the bride home only when everything is done. The girl can’t run away then. We know it’s not right, but what else can we do?”, one of the villagers tells us, on condition of anonymity.
Questioned about the abysmal state of affairs, authorities point out that the village lies in the National Chambal Sanctuary, a 5400 square kilometre tri-state protected area especially earmarked by the government for protection of species like the critically endangered gharial and the Ganges river dolphin.
“The biggest issue is that this is forest land, and because of that, there are a lot of issues here in getting things done. There can be no construction within 500 metres of the river, so we can’t do much. We can’t build a road, or provide any facilities since any kind of construction affects the conservation zone,” Manish Faujdar, SDM, Dholpur, told us.
Asked why residents are allowed to stay in a conservation zone, he said, “They have been staying for years! Ideally, the government should be rehabilitating those staying near the forest area. But in their case, there is no such proposal on the table,” he added.
Authorities say they expect to provide pumped water to villagers in the next few months, but to those who have been hearing the same promises for decades now, the government’s assurances ring hollow.
“Time and again people come, say things will happen. Neta log aate hain aur vote leke chale jaate hain. Fim directors film bana ke chale jaate hain. But koi kuch nai karta. Dekhte dekhte mujhe 50 saal ho gaye (Politicians come for votes and go. Film directors shoot movies and leave. But no one does anything. It has been 50 years since I am seeing this),” says Prabhu Dayal, another resident.
The one person residents are particularly furious with is the Chief Minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje, who incidentally, is also the Maharani of Dholpur. Married into the Dholpur Royal family, it’s not difficult to get why she has earned the people’s rage. Belonging to the area and being the head of the state, she has done nothing for them, residents of Rajghat say.
Villagers sense the Maharani knows they aren’t happy. That’s why she sent half of her 30 ministers to Dholpur before the recently concluded bypolls in April, they say. And even though BJP did manage to win the seat, it is evident that people are slowly losing hope in their Maharani, at least in this village.
If you could ask Raje for anything, what would it be, I asked a few residents. Their answers were so simple, at times they seemed child-like. “Sabse pehle humein sadak chahiye. Ur phir peene ka paani. Aur kyunki hum andhere mein jee rahe hain, toh bijli. Aur agar ye sab ho jayega, toh har ghar mein bahuen (First of all, we want a road. Then water. And because our life is dark, we want power. And someday, if this falls into place, daughter-in-laws in every home),” Dayal tells me.
It is not too much to ask for. But for this little village, it’s still an impossible dream.
Photos: Shikha Sharma