Financial and Social Exclusion in Marhama

Dr. Mohinder Kumar
Marhama is located in Trehgam block, 15 km from Kupwara city. It is militancy affected poor village. Today Self Help Group (SHG) movement for livelihoods based on training in economic skills is making headways there though five youths from village joined militant movement to cross over to Pakistan for misguidance and training in 1990. When militancy started, literacy rate in Marhama was 20%. Youths who joined militancy were school dropouts. Even today literacy rate in new generation is only 50%.
Village has population of 2500 persons in 450 households. A majority (90%) belongs to Other Backward Class (OBC). All households are Muslims (Kashmiri, Pahari, Gurjari). Fifty households (11%) are Gurjar Muslims and Scheduled Tribe (ST). Remaining population similarly desires ST status and ST treatment for reservation in jobs and education. Total village area is 188 acres, of which common land is 63 acres (34%). Villagers cut natural grass and graze animals on common land situated on foot hills. Agricultural land is 125 acres, with average holding of 0.36 acre, barely adequate for family subsistence. Farming ensures survival for three months. On 37 acres they have walnut trees, income from which ensures survival for three months. Walnut is cash crop of Kupwara. Nonetheless 80% farmers in Marhama are marginal and subsistence-based. Walnut trees are planted on bunds, vacant land, sideways, etc.
Villagers hold that MNREGA can be a panacea for developmental problems of Marhama, provided wage rate is increased to match open market wage rate of Rs.350 to 400/-. Though pessimistic about “systems”, they have great regard for and expectations from Rural Development Department for MNREGA (for rural employment) and PMGSY (for roads).
Marhama has 800 youths, of which only 5-10% are skilled. A majority of youths is illiterate and unskilled for technical off-farm jobs. Those who are educated are simply perceived as “employable” in government service by villagers. With education up to 12th or graduation, youths are not willing to work for Rs.145/- wages under MNREGA. There are 60 persons employed in government service (teacher, army) in Marhama. But this is limited to few households.  7
During early 1990s, youths of Marhama mistakenly thought that joining militancy was for them akin to joining service or a paid job to get employment outside village. Militancy in initial phases was viewed as “economic opportunity” for youths as they were ignorant, illiterate, innocent and above all misguided. Literacy rate was low at that time. Militancy was, for them, a mental mode of enterprise or business venture or occupation/ livelihood wherein they could find employment opportunity. There was access to something called “training” and there was involvement of money. Psychoanalysis of latent layers of militant-mind would suggest that illiterate youths were essentially looking for free human resource development (training and employment). But they were misdirected. Formal organized “training” as oral technical education attracted them. They were told that religious instructions and religious sermons shall be imparted to them. Aim of training was not known to them clearly. They did not have inkling that “training” would be in military-type activities to render them “militants”, not entrepreneurs.  Word “training” caught their attention since they were too raw and young whose minds were ever ready to learn and imbibe whatever skills were offered. Since no other productive skills were available in market, they harped on training in militancy that was not only freely available but also offered them money, other promises and comforts. All sorts of instructions and education to vitiate their minds were freely available. Villagers opine that youths’ individual traits and personality also mattered in their decisions: they were least inclined to do hard work. It may not be overlooked that personalities and individual traits are nurtured in social atmosphere.
Villagers describe tragic fate of militant youths originating from Marhama in 1990: 50% of them fell in encounters or operations; 50% surrendered and survived –physically though not economically. They are again jobless and feel social alienation/ exclusion; very few people talk to them after they returned, surrendered and re-settled; there is social gap between villagers and ex-militants; even their parents do not stay with them though they needed them the most in old age; they are doing petty jobs like casual wage-labor, “khansama” (cook) or remain idlers. Some of them resorted to labor-migration or became hawkers selling “Amritsari Shawls” (purchased from Amritsar) camouflaged as “Kashmiri Shawls” in cities and towns all over India, particularly in Haryana districts in refugee colonies where Pakistani Multani refugees settled after the Partition (1947). Villagers feel that innovative business of deceptive products (“Amritsari Shawals”) appears to these youths of Marhama a better option than ruthless business of violence. This prevents recourse to poverty.
Major problems of Marhama are related to: (i) services expected from district offices but not delivered; and (ii) psycho-alienating impact of militancy. Villagers do not have individual coping mechanisms to fend themselves from these problems. Youth are still illiterate, jobless and ridden with poverty that in itself appears violent to their survival and existence. Recourse to the situation of 1990s must be avoided. Then even family-level efforts were not successful in preventing state of affairs that was then developing suddenly, spontaneously and instinctively.
Villagers’ common problem with district agencies is related to Agriculture and Horticulture Departments, besides bank branches on the question of financing. Financial assistance received by them was a petty sum of Rs.2500/- per ‘kanal’. Farmers on an average received not more than Rs.7000 to 8000 as they own 2-3 ‘kanals’ each. This amount is grossly insufficient. Walnut trees needing rejuvenation face diseases each year even as yield is declining. Shoots get dry; fruit is infested with pests and bears poor quality. Raw walnut fruit gets dry and falls premature in June, i.e. within two months of flowering in April. In May 2013, walnut crop was affected by hailstorm. Villagers expected that district departments concerned with agriculture/ horticulture should conduct survey each month –whether it is feasible or not. Field survey, according to villagers, should focus on actual status of crops and inquiry about problems of farmers through proper economic investigation. This may appear less feasible strategy but villagers do expect such measures to be taken. For crop loss, villagers complained to DDC office. Nevertheless Agriculture Department officials made a visit to the village though without outcome. A solution not yet popularized could be that if farmers get associated in cooperative/ producers’ group/ producers’ company type arrangement, then it would be more easy and feasible to investigate into their problems at group level by the agencies concerned.
Villagers’ other major problem is related to Public Health & Engineering (PHE) Department. Village having six wards uses unclean water for drinking purpose sourced from nallah, chashma and open dug-well (constructed under MNREGA primarily for irrigation purpose). This is causing stomach related ailments in villagers. There is as yet no strategy devised to address the problem. Except protesting on road or taking out demonstrations, villagers do not have coping mechanisms against this problem that requires filtered and piped Water Supply Scheme.
For the past 10 years (2003-2013), no road work of much significance is done in the village. Whatever work is done it bears poor quality. Villagers witness officials visiting after damage to road works and sometimes no visit is made. Villagers’ other major problem with district offices is related to PMGSY scheme. Although there is urgent demand for link road, no road work is taken up under this programmeg. The only exception is half km portion of road touching this village on Luddervaan – Marhama road. Villagers expressed dissatisfaction with all departments except Rural Development Department (RDD) owing to progress under MNREGA scheme. MNREGA has been instrumental in taking care of the question of survival of Marhama.
Impact of militancy has been adverse on this village even as eruption of militant politics with five militants misled from Marhama changed the social environment. There is a sense of social alienation and exclusion. Even family members do not maintain relation with them (50% surrendered and brought to the mainstream). Besides the sudden eruption of militants from this village, Marhama witnessed one whole family getting decimated and three relatives of Sarpanch getting killed after being abducted by outside/ unknown militants. Total 3-4 households in village were affected directly although entire village was under shock and fear for years to come. Land relations and land disputes were also a cause behind militant killings. Trend and pattern of militant fear got subsided by antagonism among militant groups and individual militants. After stoppage of funds across the border, they started loot, extortion, abduction, and eventually began killings. Youths who were misled to militancy and later surrendered (50%) have now started economic activities on their own.
Villagers wish for these industries and activities at district level or in village (Marhama) under off-farm/farm sectors based on potentials: (i) dry fruit (production, packaging of walnut); (ii) juice processing factory for apples; (iii) cement factory (on lines of factory at Khoru in Pulwama district); (iv) marble factory since this area has  query (earlier there was a marble factory at nearby village  Zurhama in private sector which is now closed since 1990 due to militancy, mismanagement, misuse of subsidy); (v) soap factory; and (vi) fish ponds. There is also good scope reported for cooperative marketing societies, as villagers faced problem in selling apples and walnuts. Villagers feel that no entity from outside but they themselves could solve the problem of agri-marketing, for which only guidance/ educational inputs from outside are needed.
Villagers and Sarpanch demanded full allocation of funds under Village Plan for MNREGA works each year. Although trend of allocation is increasing, it is still very low as compared to the requirement. In 2011, village was approved allocation of Rs.11 lakh; in 2012 it was Rs.22 lakh though plan submitted by Sarpanch was for Rs.40 lakh. In view of growing number of job cards and unemployed youth there is scope for greater allocation of funds for works under MNREGA. Panchayat is of view that MNREGA can be a panacea for removing ills of economic backwardness and usher in an era of real development if scheme was implemented properly e.g. wage rate may be increased from Rs.175/- per day and timely disbursement of wages was done. Entire Panchayat Halqa got limited and inadequate fund allocation under MNREGA, which should be revised and enhanced on realistic conditions.
Wooden electric poles in village are in dilapidated condition and a few have collapsed. Wires are tied with trees at some places. Moreover supply of power in village is also irregular and inadequate. In winter, power supply is negligible. Therefore, people needed strengthening of power supply infrastructure. Pahari community youths demanded ST status for benefit of reservation in education and government service just as Gurjars and Bakarwals of village were enjoying ST status. Rehabilitation and mainstreaming of ex-militants is major demand of the village youth. They were promised jobs or financial support, to start economic activities but all of them (2-3) were depending on casual wage labor. Entire village has 90% OBC population even though militancy has subsided as compared to its peak in 1990. Apart from poor financing support, these youths felt a deep sense of social alienation and exclusion –that no way served the cause of their complete graceful mainstreaming.
(Author works for NABARD. Views expressed are personal)