After Class 8, Hajibal has only dropping out to offer its young
SOPORE: The small hill road from the old town of main Baramulla takes us to a large and scenic village, Hajibal, situated on the top of the hill in the midst of dense forests, exactly 14 kilometres from the main town and from modern civilisation. A cluster of houses both old and new shelters a population of around 150 families that lives what can only be called a primitive life, mostly dependent on labour and farming. Idyllic though its setting is, the village has come to be termed a ‘dropout factory’ in higher education, especially for girls. Many reasons can be enumerated for it but the main cause behind its increasing dropout rate is the unavailability of a high school facility in this beautiful but unlucky hamlet.
The villagers are mostly illiterate and very poor but when it comes to recounting the history of their village, they are keenly aware of it and are blunt about it too, which is unusual and quite impressive. The village was named when Syed Burhanaddin Bukhari, a popular saint, went on Haj by foot, taking a year to complete the pilgrimage. When he returned, the village was named Hajibal for the journey. At its centre there is also a two-hundred-year-old shrine of Syed Qalandar Shah, another popular saint. The village has attractive tourism potential but is so old and well-populated that the government has never shown any interest in developing it.
At a time when education is considered to be compulsory, the youth of this village, especially girls, are surely lagging in every aspect. The daily tall claims made by the Education department about improving literacy rates, especially for women, in Kashmir are trashed at Hajibal. Here, students study only up to 8th standard because there is no high school in the vicinity and they cannot afford to travel to Baramulla for further studies. This becomes the reason for their dropping out.
There are many elements that contribute towards the decline of education in Hajibal; one of them is its geographical location, situated as it is at the top of a hill and is hence difficult to reach or use to get to other places. This in itself is a hindrance for people of the area, particularly students and specifically girls. Travel to other places is always fraught with the risk of having to face wild animals, said Master Mohammad Yousuf Bukhari, a retired Hajibal teacher. Often no one takes the roads here, he said; students, especially girls, have no cause to feel safe about travelling to adjacent places and hence prefer to stay at home, leaving their education unfinished.
Another thing is the expense of transport, which students belonging to poor backgrounds cannot afford. Local Sumo drivers overcharge at their own whim. “Fares up to Baramulla are Rs 50, but when we book a Sumo from Baramulla to Hajibal in the afternoon, they charge us Rs 70,” local resident Mohammed Yousuf told Kashmir Reader. “We are unable to afford such a huge amount because most of our families are dependent on labour and farming. We can’t send our children for higher studies as it needs huge money.”
The dearth of educational institutions here is extreme. The village not only lacks high school facilities but has only two middle-level schools in which more than 100 students are enrolled. “The height of the irony is that this huge roll in two schools has only six teachers altogether to cater to it,” Yousuf said.
Nearby too circumstances are the same. The middle school of Reshipora has more than 50 students but only two teachers to teach and, more, the school has been without a headmaster for an entire year. Poshbagh school has more than 60 students enrolled but only four teachers to teach them. “The villagers know the fate of the majority of these students in advance – they will drop out because they cannot afford coming down to Baramulla for higher studies,” Yousuf added.
Sameena Bano, a girl living in Hajibal village, used to dream of doing her Master’s and becoming a teacher but now stays at home, helping her family in farming because she left her studies three years ago, just after passing her 8th standard as her family cannot afford sending her to Baramulla for higher education. “So I dropped out; how can anyone afford Rs 200 a day for travelling 14 kilometres? We at least can’t because we are poor and our resources are limited,” Sameena stated.
The village has been given only assurances and promises by many ministers in the past like the state’s former education minister, Nayeem Akthar, whose additional private secretary, Syed Shahnawaz Bukhari, is himself a Hajibal native. On a visit here last year, Akthar promised the villagers that a high school would be provided them, but that promise turned hollow as nothing has been given till date.
Senior PDP leader Muzaffar Baigh promised Hajibal a few years ago that two of its most beautiful spots, Bosnia Potato Farm and Gabwar, will be developed as tourist places. This promise too turned out to be empty.
Hajibal locals appeal to the education minister to look into the matter so that the youth of this village will not remain illiterate due to a minor step willingly or unwillingly not taken by the government.