SRINAGAR: From across the Pir Panjal and the arid land of Rajasthan they come, in summers, thirsting for water. In Kashmir they make brooms to earn a living, which is little more than a miserable life in filthy conditions; but at least there is water, and water is life.
Every summer these long-distance travellers from Rajasthan leave their villages and cross the towering mountains in the far north to secure access to water from municipal taps. In return they sell their humble ware, handmade brooms that they make in their makeshift homes on the outskirts of Srinagar.
These are people of the vagrant Bagariya community. Among them is Ganpat, who has come all the way from Bhilwara district. He says that even though the community makes a tool for cleaning, their own life remains mired in poverty.
“There are no schemes for providing finance or education to our community. We travel to Kashmir in summers with the belief that we will have access to potable water from nearby taps. In our region, people have to purchase water during summers,” Ganpat said of his distress-migration.
Krishna, who left his studies after the fourth standard, is among the most educated at this makeshift housing camp near Haj House in Bemina. He said that none of the children of the migrant workers go to school. Almost all the workers are illiterate.
The broom-makers practice the same profession back in Rajasthan. They make brooms from the date palm leaves that grow in their region. The leaves are bunched together before being beaten on a nailed plank to flatten them. Krishna says that the community inherited this profession from their fathers and their children will continue doing the same.
“We are always on the move. In summer our community prefers to come to Kashmir where we set up makeshift dwellings and make brooms there. A broom is sold for Rs 15 to Rs 20 in the market,” he said.
Krishna says that living in Srinagar provides better access to markets, but here they are constantly harassed by civic officials. Men from the Srinagar Development Authority are always after them to vacate the land they occupy on the city outskirts.
“SDA bulldozed most of our shanties near Haj House. They say we will occupy their land but we keep telling them that we are nomads, we don’t live in a fixed place,” Krishna said.
Guli, the wife of Ganpat, is least worried about the education of her three children. She may be living in misery but she has much to be grateful for. There is a tap nearby from where she gets the water to make chapattis for her children.
“At my place it is difficult for women to get water as there are long queues and fights for even a can of water. But here we get it easily from the tap across the road,” she said.
The community also laments the fact that many of them do not carry identity proofs. Most of them do not possess Aadhar or election card. They are, officially, neither citizens nor voters in either India or Kashmir.