Tamil Nadu

The river as the only road to education for a Vepanapalli village

Treacherous crossing: Students cross Vepanapalli river at Imam Guttupalli village in Vepanapalli. File   | Photo Credit: N. Bashkaran

Every evening, K.Ajith rushes down to Vepanapalli river just in time, when school students in uniform trudge down the dirt track from Vepanapalli main road and gather by the river bank, back from school. Ajith (25), runs his own tipper that ferries M sand from a quarry. But in the evenings, he drops everything to be at the river to help the students of Inam Guttupalli village cross the river.

Inam Guttupalli in Naaduvanapalli panchayat in Kundaparalli is nestled in the middle of farm lands, flanked by Thalli Kottur lake on the one side, and the meandering Vepanapalli river on the other.

In the mornings and evenings, the youth and any available men wait by the river to help students wade through the waters. The girls are slowly guided through the treacherous river bed rocks, sometimes in knee-deep and sometimes in thigh high waters.

“It is risky, we know that. But, there is no other way,” says 54-year-old Narayanan. As he spoke, N.Murali, a class 10 student at the Government Boys Higher Secondary School cycled up to the river, lifted up his cycle to rest on his shoulder and slowly crossed the river balancing the cycle, and his school bag.

For Inam Guttupalli’s residents, crossing the river would mean less than 300 meter long access to Vepanapalli main road, its bus stand and the government primary and secondary schools. The other alternative is the foot wide unmotorable bunds on the vast fields, which distances anywhere from 4 kms to 6 kms by foot to the same main road and the bus stand. For the girls to walk by foot several kms through the desolate fields after twilight is unsafe.

“When there is no adult in sight, we wait, sometime for half an hour or more, till someone comes,” says M.Srisha in Clsas XII. “Our parents are wage workers, they cannot always be in the village to come and fetch us from across the river,” says S.Shyamala, a class 11 student.

The girls had missed school the whole of last of week, when the river raged several meters high, unseen since the 2017 floods here. “This week we are struggling to catch up. There is unfinished classwork,” say S.Sneha, who studies in class 12.

When the river flows high and the girls are menstruating, it is a double whammy. It’s no school for the girls. “We simply can’t cross the river,” says Sneha.

Inside the village, some 10 children between classes 1 and 4 aimlessly flitted about after being repeatedly shooed away by the adults from near the river. All were students at the primary school on Vepanapalli main road, but none were at school. “Thanni odudhu (river is flowing),” says Rahul, in class 3.

“The high school students will wait by the river even if we adults are little late. But it’s worrying to send the younger ones to school,” says Narayanan. “We need a bridge,” says Ajith.

Over the years, Inam Guttupalli residents had made ad hoc arrangements to cross the river. It was part leveled with the bedsand to make a makeshift pathway cutting through the river. Everytime, the river was in spate, the sand bridge got washed away.

The village of 42 families had pooled in few lakhs of rupees and purchased land parcels and paved a narrow strip of running through the patta lands from the river to the main road. They paved their own dirt track wide enough for two cars to pass through. “All we need is a bridge across the river, an iron bridge is what we need,” says Ajith, mentioning the futile petitions made to the local officials and political parties.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2022 10:12:17 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/the-river-as-the-only-road-to-education-for-a-vepanapalli-village/article37836671.ece

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