Included in the Indian territory way back in 1971, the remote border village of Hunderman Brok near Kargil is still awaiting a road that connects it to the outside world
Twenty-one-year-old Mohammad Hassan, sporting a leather jacket and denims, is deep in conversation with a group of village elders in more traditional attire, all squatting comfortably in the verandah of his mud-plastered house. He is oblivious to the fact that this seemingly ordinary scene represents an unusual milestone in the journey of change that this border village in India's northern-most region is embarking on. For this dusty, non-descript Himalayan village has seen much over the centuries, from its role in the historical Silk Route, to families divided by the wars with Pakistan in this strategically-sensitive region and the more recent Kargil war.
The conversation turns to the dismal state of education in the village, to the aspirations of its youth, and development and rights — all matters not usually pondered over in the struggle for survival in this challenging high-altitude terrain. The transition from past to present and a hopeful future becomes evident when Hassan's firm, young voice responds patiently to the elders' raspy questions.
Village Hunderman Brok is not alone though. Nestled in one of the most picturesque regions, Hunderman Brok is merely 10 km uphill from the main Kargil town in Jammu and Kashmir. This village, like others in the region, remains cut-off from the rest of the world for almost six months a year due to extreme climatic conditions.
Located in close proximity to the town, the development scenario of this border village that was included in the Indian territory by the Army during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 still reflects a dismal picture.
“During 1947, the Pakistan Army had their bunkers in Zanskar but soon they were pushed back by the Indian Army. During spring, a Pakistani officer came and took away his army members from Zanskar but before Losar (Buddhist New Year), the Pakistani Army seized Hunderman and stayed in control for the next 25 years. In 1971, Indian forces pushed back and regained control of the village. In this cross-border conflict, we suffered the most,” shares an octogenarian, also Hassan’s namesake, referring to the divided families across the borders.
“We haven’t come a very long way from the past. Then, we had only a single school in Brolmo village [now in Gilgit-Baltistan]. After the war in 1971, the first primary school was constructed only in 1974 which was later upgraded to a middle school,” says Ahmad Hussain.
During those three years, when there was no education, a trend emerged across the village where youth sought out the livelihood option of being hired by the security forces as porters. The trend became popular and lasted through the decades. The third generation, to which Hassan belongs, has managed to get some education. “In Class VI, I was shifted to Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, Leh. With a poor educational background, it was really difficult for me to keep up with the rest of my class. It is a problem I continue to grapple with, even in college,” says Hassan, who is currently pursuing graduation from Government College, Chandigarh and wishes to come back and work for the development of his village after his post graduation.
Unlike Hassan’s case, children have to go to the town after middle school but there is no road leading there. The so-called road that connects the village to the rest of the world was conceived under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and was to be completed in 2011-12. But for reasons unknown, work on the road lies abandoned.
“We live on the border and yet are completely ignored by our government. In 1971, after the Indian Army took over, we had no identity for almost a year. Gradually, we tried to move on and adjusted with what we had. Today, children of Hunderman Brok are unable to get quality education and a major hindrance in achieving this is the absence of road and transport facilities,” rues Hussain. However, they are quick to acknowledge the role of the Indian Army. “They support us at each and every step,” they echo.
But for education, children are forced to either leave the village and rent a room in Kargil or stay with their relatives in town. Only a few can afford this; the rest simply drop out of school.
Those living away from home to study are not happy either. “I stay with my relatives in town to attend school. But it’s difficult to study here as during study hours, I have to help them with their chores. Parents, back home, always cooperated during study hours,” says 22-year-old Iliyas who has failed one of his Class XII exams. Villagers believe that if transport services were available then children from the village could have had better access to education after middle school. And better future perspectives!