Ground Zero - In-depth reportage from The Hindu

A spike in the footprints of time

Goyara Mugali lies in the heart of the drought-prone region, battling bad crop, water crisis and unemployment. Migration is high and crime rampant.   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt

In Goyara Mugali, the sight of a bloody battle between the British and Mughal forces in 1857, the landscape is dominated by the yellowish-brown characteristic of arid Bundelkhand. Congested lanes, uneven broken paths, ramshackle semi-pucca structures, overflowing drains, mounds of filth and dysfunctional handpumps showcase the infrastructural poverty of the village located in Banda district, a few kilometres from the Ken river.

Amid this dismal backdrop, Aftab Mustafa’s tidy, rustic dwelling on the edge of the slope leading down to the village’s two large ponds almost feels like a luxury. But minutes after we step into his house, the fan stops moving. A power cut. Unscheduled. Handheld fans are no match for the searing heat and humidity — Banda is one of the hottest districts in India with temperatures soaring above 47°C.

Yeh hai bijli ka haal (This is the state of power supply),” exclaims Aftab. He quickly puts the disruption behind him and rummages through a pile of documents he summons from his room. It has photos, paper cuttings, receipts and certificates, some of them inscribed in the local Bundeli dialect, of the volleyball camps and events he has attended over the years. Aftab’s most prized article, however, is a plain white piece of paper on which he has scribbled names of young men with brief details of their job status or achievement. There are 20 names on the list.

Volleying for jobs

Over the last three decades, Aftab, a farmer, has been imparting volleyball skills for free to young men from his village. Not as a recreational activity but with a focussed aim: jobs. The list of 20 is of those who have either landed government jobs under the sports quota or excelled in volleyball at the State or national level. Around a dozen of them have got employed with the Railways, paramilitary forces, State-owned companies, etc. Little wonder then that around here, Aftab is better known as ‘Coach’.

Goyara Mugali’s connection with volleyball dates back several decades. Aftab remembers playing since he was 16. “From the time I was born [in 1963], I found my elders already had a culture of playing volleyball. We had some great players like Munne, Nabbu Kadir, Usman Ramza Baba and Gafoor Mukhiya from this village. Naturally, even I latched on to the legacy,” he says.

(From Left) Khaliq, Mubarak Pehalwan and Asif Khan Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

(From Left) Khaliq, Mubarak Pehalwan and Asif Khan Photo: Rajeev Bhatt   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt


Aftab, however, could never succeed as a player. Instead, he took up coaching, having picked up enough skills at the stadium in Banda that came up after the Emergency. He started taking boys for selection exams to the top sporting colleges across Uttar Pradesh, in Lucknow, Gorakhpur and Dehradun (now in Uttarakhand), and also got them admitted to the prestigious sports hostels in Faizabad, Banda and Allahabad.

Rizwan Khan (33) and Sharafat Khan (34) are among the success stories of Goyara Mugali. While Rizwan is stationed in the 7th Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force in Giridih, Jharkhand, Sharafat Khan is in the Border Security Force. Aftab’s wards, they qualified for the paramilitary through the sports quota in 2004 and 2006 respectively.

Running on empty

The village lies in the heart of the drought-prone region, battling bad crop, water crisis and unemployment. Migration is high and crime rampant. “We have to struggle for everything here. There are no opportunities. Educational facilities are limited. The only scope we saw was sports,” says Rizwan, who was groomed at the Lucknow Sports College.

The ‘coach’: “Over the last three decades, Aftab Mustafa, a farmer, has been imparting volleyball skills for free to young men from his village. Not as a recreational activity but with a focussed aim: jobs.” (Sitting left to right) Sharafat Khan, Rizwan Khan, Aftab Mustafa and Tauqueer, a former colleague of Aftab from his volleyball playing days.

The ‘coach’: “Over the last three decades, Aftab Mustafa, a farmer, has been imparting volleyball skills for free to young men from his village. Not as a recreational activity but with a focussed aim: jobs.” (Sitting left to right) Sharafat Khan, Rizwan Khan, Aftab Mustafa and Tauqueer, a former colleague of Aftab from his volleyball playing days.   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt


Another success story is of Nijaat Khan, who played the under-19 for India and today works for Coal India. Then there is Ijaz Khan, Rizwan’s brother, who currently works in Ratlam with the Railways. Ijaz was a batchmate of cricketer Suresh Raina at the Lucknow Sports College.

Inspired by this lot and under Aftab’s guidance, every morning around two dozen young men, mostly teenagers, gather at the makeshift “mini-stadium” in the village to train. The facilities are primitive. The stadium came up on land carved out during redistribution by the government, with only poles erected for the net.

Till a few years back, it did not even have proper boundary walls until then Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) minister Vishambhar Nishad provided funds for its fortification. Even today, the boys have to purchase the balls and nets themselves. The local Nehru Yuva Kendra, established by the Government of India in 1988 to provide skill-building avenues to rural youth, is inactive.

“There is a shortage of funds. Those who qualified for the academies or got jobs occasionally arrange equipment and tournaments for the youth,” says Sharafat, who was in his village for the Id celebrations.

Despite the difficulties and paucity of equipment, Aftab has been able to make a name for himself, even finding recognition by the Bundelkhand Volleyball Protsahan Samiti. Two years ago, the district administration appointed him as its official district volleyball trainer. However, he resigned in a fit just after three months complaining that the pradhan and secretary of the gram panchayat of a village, Mawai, tried to extract bribe from his ₹10,000 monthly salary. Today, Aftab yearns for the government’s attention.

The battle of 1858

But better volleyball facilities are not the only thing Goyara Mugali craves for. It also demands recognition for its storied past. The village was the site of a bloody battle between the British forces and the army of the Nawab of Banda, Ali Bahadur II, during the concluding months of the First War of Independence. As per information recorded in the district gazetteers of Banda and Hamirpur, on April 19, 1858, an army led by British Major General Whitlock engaged the Nawab’s army “on an uneven country near Goera Mughli, 13 km of [sic] Banda.” The Nawab had eschewed his friendship to the British and sent a force to assist Tantia Tope in an attack on Charkhari, some say, to honour the rakhi sent to him by the Rani of Jhansi. The mutineers proceeded with 850 men of the 50th Bengal Native Infantry, 200 men of the 23rd Native Infantry and of the 2nd Regiment Irregular Cavalry, Gwalior contingent and half a battery of guns. At Goyara Mugali, however, the British army drove the Nawab’s army from three positions successfully across the Ken, capturing eight guns and killing 800 people. Banda, then a town, was captured and the Nawab, who escaped from the field, was forced to retire to Indore with an annual pension of ₹36,000.

This battle was one of the last decisive battles marking the end of the mutiny. “Narayan and Madhu Rao [descendants of Baji Rao Peshwa, who ruled over parts of Banda] on this, surrendered unconditionally to Whitlock,” reads the Banda Gazetteer. The Hamirpur Gazetteer adds, “With the defeat and flight of the Nawab the great rebellion as far as this district is concerned may be said to have come to an end.”

A spike in the footprints of time

Today, as one walks through Goyara Mugali one can still spot markers of the time of the Mughals in the form of a Mughal Baba shrine, few old wells, graves and carvings. And of course its Muslim inhabitants, most of whom are Yusufzai Pathans, a Pashtun tribe that settled in India in the 18th century.

It has been a long-held grouse among residents of Goyara Mugali that despite its connection with the freedom struggle, it did not get its due recognition from the government. “This is a deshbhakt (patriotic) village. It is historic. Eight hundred people laid down their lives here. Because we are Muslim, there was no special initiative to develop it,” says Asif Khan, the former pradhan.

He envisions that if the freedom fighters who were martyred that April were identified, their kin could be provided pension and development touching the entire village. Though officials, and even the youth of the village, are mostly unaware of the battle, over the years several officers have acknowledged the historical significance of the village. In the 1990s, villagers say, then district police chief Vijay Kumar had even inspected the site and was working to prepare a list of martyrs from the village. “But nothing came of it. He soon got transferred,” says Asif, a .315 bore rifle placed behind him.

Legend of the fall

The rifle is symbolic of the malaise that has made Goyara Mugali infamous in the entire region. The village boasts a bad reputation for crimes, in particular murders. Since 1923, village elders say, more than a hundred murders have taken place in the village, most of them over interpersonal rivalries and varshasva ki ladai (battle of supremacy) within the Pathan community.

The rivalry between Idris Pehalwan and Jamil, an uncle-nephew duo, is a thing of legend. It started over a property dispute leading to the murder of a maternal nephew of Idris by Jamil in 1991. Idris retaliated by murdering a close aide of Jamil, who then responded by murdering three relatives of Idris on a single day. In 1993, Idris got Jamil’s father murdered. Jamil then murdered Idris, before himself being gunned down in 2002. “Things have been quiet ever since. Migration also helped calm tension,” says Khalif, a relative of Idris, who returned to his native place after several years of working as a labourer in a sports company in Mumbai.

The embers of distrust, however, still burn strong. Two days after Id, representatives from two rival families had to travel 12 km to the Mataund police station to agree on a “compromise.” The village keeps the police on its toes. “We ensure that there is a weekly picket in all villages but for Goyara Mugali it is daily,” says Anita Chauhan, Mataund Station House Officer (SHO).

Posted in March this year, Chauhan says policing challenges here are similar to other cities/towns in U.P., the topography of Bundelkhand making the job tougher. Goyara Mugali is located near the edge of Banda close to not just the Hamirpur district border but also Madhya Pradesh — border areas are usually susceptible to criminal activities. The village tops the list of history-sheeters (habitual offenders) by a long stretch, with as many as 15 out of the 48 names hailing from it. But Chauhan insists Goyara Mugali’s crime rate today is “normal”, attributing it in part to migration and the youth’s interest in sports.

Waiting for redemption

Despite its notoriety, there are instances of cooperation with the authorities, adds SHO Chauhan. The villagers aided in the ‘encounter killing’ of the leader of the Raj Karan gang in the early ’90s. Goyara Mugali has also a little tale of composite culture. Despite being predominantly Muslim, its residents elected the lone Brahmin inhabitant, Shiv Dayal Pandit, as the pradhan for over three decades not just because of his goodwill but also so that he may not have to leave the village out of insecurity. “What can I say? The people showered my father with faith and love,” acknowledges his son, Suresh Mishra.

Goyara Mugali also faces basic sustenance problems, as it falls in the drought-prone zone. The fact that Daddu Prasad, who was village development minister in the BSP government of 2012-17, hailed from Goyara Mugali, seems to have done nothing to alter its fortune. Last summer, its main water source, the two big lakes, were bone-dry. Things are not so bad this year, even as farmers continue to reel under debt, unpaid compensation for crop damage and poor irrigation. Water-boring has proved difficult due to the rough terrain, and there is not a single government tube well, canal or pipeline close to the village. The industrial area of Banda is a few kilometres away but it isn’t exactly a hub of activity. Around 3,000 men from the village work as migrants in cities such as Surat, Mumbai and Delhi, says Mubarak Pehalwan, who himself spent time working in Meerut for a few years. A major problem is the village’s minimal educational facilities. It has a high school for boys whereas the girls can only study till Class VIII. According to the 2011 Census, the female literacy rate in the village was a dismal 50.86%, while the average was 60.48%, still less than the State average. “We submitted many memorandums to the administration over the years demanding an inter college [classes up to twelfth standard] but they did not act. If our boys and girls won’t study, how will we develop,” asks Asif Khan.

Aftab believes that given its rich pool of talent and culture of volleyball, Goyara Mugali could be developed as a local hub for the sport. “If coaching facilities and proper equipment are provided to the boys, imagine what a resource they will be for the State,” he says. Among those he trained is Inayat, 21, who dropped out of college in first year due to financial constraints. Unemployed, he is inspired by success stories like Rizwan and Sharafat. But training costs money. “Our coach keeps our morale high. But it would have been so much better if the government provided us some facilities. That would also encourage our parents to allow us to train,” says Inayat.

But a job is not always guaranteed. Arif, who stays at the Rae Bareli sports hostel, represented Uttar Pradesh in the national championship seven times but is still without a job. Numann, who was trained by the Sports Authority of India in Gorakhpur, is in the same boat. “I request the government to select these meritorious boys as coaches and also provide jobs to those with gold medals. There is also plenty of land in the village for setting up a training institute or coaching centre. It used to be a village of ladai-jhagda (quarrels and fights), but look at the talent. If only all this potential could be channelised,” says Aftab.

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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 2:13:56 AM |

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