Every time Sanjay Dutt’s name surfaces in the media in connection with the 1993 Mumbai blasts, the inhabitants of this village in Uttar Pradesh go on an overdrive to express their solidarity with the actor.
Chilbila, a nondescript village in Meja tehsil in Allahabad district’s eastern fringes, was where Jaddanbai, Nargis’ mother and Sanjay Dutt’s maternal grandmother, was brought up. The village’s connection with Sanjay Dutt may be a bit tenuous, but for the residents it’s a good enough celebrity connection — one that would deliver them a miracle, the kind many villages in India pray for to escape rack and ruin. The Chilbila villagers arrange special community programmes and prayers at temples and mosques, with some offering “chadars” at the local shrine for the actor’s well-being, in the hope that that Mr. Dutt will eventually visit them and end their infrastructural and livelihood woes.
On March 21, when the Supreme Court upheld Mr. Dutt’s sentence, they prayed for his release at the asthan and temples. “We have been organising special programmes for him. Woh iss gao ke bete hain [He is the son of this village],” village pradhan Noor Jahan said.
In the absence of civic amenities, the villagers believe that their difficulties will go unnoticed till they associate themselves with a politician or a celebrity. “If they [the Dutt family] just give us a second of their time, they can change the naksha [structure] of this village. The government cannot go to all the villages to see how its schemes are functioning and check irregularities,” she said. For Chilbila’s 4,500 inhabitants, who are mostly Scheduled Castes and Muslims, the wait has been long. In 2009, when Mr. Dutt was campaigning for the Samajwadi Party, he visited Sirsa but could not make it to Chilbila, barely 10 km away, leaving the villagers heartbroken.
Amid much enthusiasm, the late Sunil Dutt, Sanjay’s father and then Member of Parliament, donated a hospital to the village in memory of his wife Nargis, who passed away due to cancer in 1981.
Today, the six-bed Naveen Prathmik Swasth Kendra lies in neglect. Its compound is used by children for playing cricket, while those not fearful of encroachment have converted a portion of it into a makeshift cattle-shed. As the gate of the hospital was locked, this reporter climbed over a wall to reach into the compound and found that much of the equipment and furniture are missing. The hospital has no power or water connection.
“They stole even the wash basins and halogens,” said Barkat Ali, 75. “We have not seen the doctors for over two years, the compounder comes when he likes and usually says there’s no medicine. We complained to the authorities but nothing has happened.” The Chief Medical Officer was not available for comment.
Without the hospital functioning, the inhabitants of Chilbila and nearby villages have to travel as far as 10 km for primary treatment. “We have serious problems when any woman goes into labour, especially at night,” says Guddu Pradhan.
Nargis’ ancestral house too lies in decay, serving as a storehouse for the villagers. “They have all left for Kolkata,” says Arif Hussain, its caretaker, when asked about Nargis’ immediate relatives.
The nearest police station in Meja is 20 km away, while the nearest check-post is more than half that distance. Cultivation of pulses like urad, chana and arhar was fairly productive last season, but this time recurrent power cuts are already creating hurdles in the watering of the fields for wheat cultivation.
“The power often goes in the evening and comes back at dawn, making it difficult to study,” said Imtiaz, a middle school student. The village has just one primary school and one middle school, though 150 homes have been constructed under the Indira Awaas Yojna.
Besides its infrastructural miseries, the village has a high rate of illiteracy and unemployment. Every house The Hindu visited reported that two to three members had left in search of better livelihood.
“Half the population is out in search of work,” said Ali. Most young men are in Mumbai, Jabalpur, Surat, Mirzapur, Allahabad and Kolkata, engaged in labour and small trades, with the weaving and loom industries being the favoured destinations. Shamim has been working in a tailor’s shop in Mumbai for the last two years. “What can you do with Rs. 125 when you have 10 persons to feed,” he asks to a query on the MGNREGA scheme in the village.