GOGALDARA: One has to travel a long and rocky road to reach Gogaldara, a remote village in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district. It is nestled in the foothills of the famous Pir Panchal forest range, and has almost no modern amenities.
There is no mobile network here, for example. Yet, some of the residents keep cellphones, for use as camera or flashlight.
There is no internet as well. That, says school teacher Muzaffar Ahmad, “is still a dream in this village”.
“It is pathetic that we are yet to get connected to cellular phones when the world is moving beyond 3G and 4G,” he added.
Muzaffar said that whenever he visits other places in the Valley and returns home, “it feels like I am in jail.”
“Whenever any kind of order or notice is issued by the government via social media or in newspapers, we never get to know. We are supposed to get such information but we don’t even have access to the newspapers here,” he said.
“We always miss good job opportunities not because we lack interest but because we don’t get the information. We are totally disconnected from the rest of the world,” he said.
The village has almost 400 households with most people working as labourers, shawl-weavers or busy at their small farmlands.
“We bought smart-phones and 4G SIM cards for nothing. We can’t even make an emergency call,” rued a student, Hilal Ahmad.
He said that taking part in a competitive exam is impossible now without the internet. “It is our fate,” he rued.
Schools here have students enrolled but not much else. There is no library, no laboratory, not even enough teachers.
Despite the odds, most children are enthusiastic about learning. It was heartening to meet a Class 10 student who was doing well in all subjects.
“Education is the primary need in the modern era, so I encourage my children to go to school,” said village elder Ghulam Ahmad Mir. “But the schools here lack all basic facilities. How can students here compete with their counterparts in the rest of the Valley, especially those who come from missionary schools?”
Abdul Satar Mir said he sends his children to a school that is 14 kilometres away. “But a poor father cannot afford the Rs 100 taxi fare each day,” he said. ““There have been times when one of my girls had swellings on her feet and could not go. During the occasional days of harsh rains, we simply have to sit indoors, which further hampers their studies. What is their future?”
Electricity is a two-hour affair in the evenings. Roads can be described as dirt tracks. Cab drivers refuse to ply on the rocky roads as their vehicles are put at risk. People either walk or stay indoors most of the time.
There is just one health sub-centre to tend to patients in the village. Another one is a bumpy ride to Khag or Tangmarg, some 20 kilometres away.
Government jobs in places like Gogaldara are considered punishment postings.
The Ujjwala scheme of LPG cylinders has totally failed here. The dependence on firewood has taken its toll on the forests; it is not unusual to see barren slopes behind villages.
“As December sets in, life comes to a standstill. People spend most days trying to keep warm by their kangris (heating pots),” said local resident Nazir Ahmad Lone. “The only time one steps out is to clear the snow – it piles up over six feet at times.”
Many of the local youth have moved to other parts of the state. “A lot of the youngsters have moved to other towns,” said Abdul Hamid Lone.
“There’s little that has changed since when I was growing up here. What is the motivation for me to return home?” asked an employee whose posting is at Srinagar.
“Politicians have always betrayed us with false promises and duped us completely. They never bothered to visit the village and take stock of our problems,” alleged halqa president of a political party, Mohammad Akbar Mir.
“The district officials never bothered to visit this forgotten village. It has perhaps been rubbed off from their record list,” he added.
Deputy Commissioner Baramulla and Sub-District Magistrate Tangmarg did not respond to repeated calls from this reporter.