The best and the worst of times in Namsuru

Dr. Mohinder Kumar
Namsuru is located on the way to Zanskar Valley in Taisuru block of Kargil district. Village is situated amid nallahs near river Suru, 30 km from Taisuru and 70 km from Kargil city. It is partly plain, partly hilly. It is a small village with population of 750 persons and 130 households, of which 100 houses are kutcha. It has 6 mohallas. Entire population is Muslim and Scheduled Tribe (ST), who speak Balti language.
Of total 750 acres village land, 50% is pastures for grazing cattle. The remaining 50% land is agricultural, with average holding of 2.88 acres per farm household. Yield of wheat in Namsuru is 1 quintal per kanal (8 quintal per acre or 20 quintal per hectare), which is close to the State average but not as high as compared to other villages -some of which produced 2 quintal per kanal (40 quintal/hectare). Farmers use variety of wheat with long stalk and long plant as they need “bhoosa” for fodder. Land in Taisuru block is less fertile as compared to land in other blocks. Namsuru farmers cultivate late variety of wheat harvested in late August though other villages of Kargil harvest in July when wheat plants in Namsuru fields can be seen still green. Farmers also cultivate barley, vegetables (potato, pea) and Alfa-Alfa grass. Women are engaged in all farm operations. Though there is economic differentiation in holding size, villagers make no difference in reaching out for help to others. Custom of land-leasing is popular and small holders lease-in land @Rs.500 per kanal (Rs.4000 per acre) or one quintal wheat/kanal or paid land rent in fixed quantity of grass or “bhoosa”.
Villagers reported performance of Panchayat as satisfactory. Sarpanch provided all information. Households got help in getting ration card. Kisan Credit Card (KCC) is issued to 70% farm households by J&K Bank. A fixed lump sum limit of Rs.25000 is sanctioned under KCC to all farmers irrespective of land owned and crops cultivated. Servicemen in village are easily sanctioned loan Rs.1 lakh and above. Farmers do not get bank loan that easily as they depend on servicemen. Out of 130 households, 109 persons are MNREGA job card holders. Each household has one job card holder. Wages are paid as soon as project is completed. Wage rate increased from Rs.121 initially to Rs.145 during 2013. Villagers find wages too low despite that they’ve come a long way from the early 1950s when none of them had seen currency note/coins and were happy with barter system due to lack of monetization of rural economy; today, philosophy of Monetization has been taken over by the idea of Financial Inclusion.
Out of 250 youths in village, 50-60 youths are B.A., B.Ed. and employed as teachers; 25 youths have migrated to Leh and Kargil cities in search of wage-labor and paid service in shops, hotels, restaurants, establishments, construction sites, etc. Occupational pattern in village is changing from agriculture to service & wage labor. People prefer wage-employment to self-employment. This pattern is restricted to few households. Main occupation (for survival, not money income) is still agriculture though it could change in near future. Since farming is subsistence-based, villagers do not feel requirement of agricultural market. J&K Bank branch is situated 3 km from Namsuru. Road and bridge condition is reported as good though water-logging and damage to road can be seen due to water from nallah draining on road surface. Fertilizers are purchased from Taisuru Cooperative Society in which Namsuru has three members. Seeds are supplied by Agriculture Department, Taisuru, in village itself. Villagers and Sarpanch make rounds of BDO and district headquarter offices for public works such as canal, slide (doubling) on road, education (no teachers in school), road, etc. They demand early release of funds.
Students go to school daily walking two hours from 8-10 AM even as road condition is not good and there is no transport facility for school. They walk up to four hours daily. Basic amenities are average/ not so good in Namsuru. Village has veterinary center and cooperative society at Taisuru and Panikhar. Two Self Help Groups (SHGs) of poor women have been formed in Namsuru. MNREGA and Indira Awas Yojna (IAY) schemes are implemented; 18 houses were covered for repair under IAY. Houses have electricity connection but streetlights are not installed. Streets and drains are pucca though water overflows. There is no piped drinking water scheme installed in Namsuru. Drinking water is a major problem. Village has one dispensary but there is no private doctor or medical shop. It has 3-4 grocery shops and one fair price ration shop. Transport connectivity is very poor. Village has access to post-office.
Private economic assets in village include two tractors, 600 cows and 3000 goats-sheep. Tractor is hired for cultivation from nearby villages also @Rs.8/minute. Two village youths (shepherds) act as shepherds and go to mountain pastures on rotation basis for cattle grazing. A majority of the households (80%) are poor even as BPL list does not exist since no survey was done. Though financial poverty is pervasive (80%) no household faces problems on account of food inadequacy/ deprivation, warm-clothing or firewood/fuel. However, 50% households face problem of lack of cash and finance. Bank loan is desired by all households, which is exceptional though only 30 households actually got bank loan. The remaining households keep searching “guarantor” for bank loan, which has to be a permanent serviceman only. This arrangement creates ruthless over-dependence of prospective borrower on serviceman, acting as intermediary. Villagers renew credit from shopkeepers (grocery, cloth, wood, etc. goods) each year. Economic inequality exists in village. Permanent service differentiates the rich and the poor.
Villagers informed that Namsuru (Taisuru block) has unique climate. Snowfall starts in August. Even July month witnessed record snowfall in Namsuru, and up to Zanskar valley. As a result, soil moisture is very high in this area. No farmer has installed pump-set on nallah or river. They want to raise apricot plantation but climate is too cold. Villagers sum up their responses to say: “People are hard working, but do not get results”. Villagers stay inside house (5-6 months) as roads are closed in this most difficult terrain. Like Drass snowfall here is 8-9 feet. Proper working season is for 3-4 months.
Villagers, in reminiscences, compare the eras of pre-1950s with 2013-14. Decade of 1950s too saw flourishing of barter trade. As economic history of the world tells, barter system started with the tribes bordering on village boundaries. Namsuru bartered goods with Pahalgam located 80 km from Namsuru. Three-four people used to join and go to Pahalgam by walking all the way for barter trade. Goods were loaded on donkeys. Some people would go by horses. Namsuru exported wheat, goats, sheep and horses; Pahalgam exported almonds, walnut, honey, salt, etc. Apple was not yet planted in Kashmir. Pahalgam procured salt by purchasing it through Srinagar, from Lahore. Salt used to be a hot commodity in Kashmir valley including Ladakh in 1950s. Barter exchange rate in Namsuru was: 2 ‘ser’ wheat = 1 ‘ser’ walnut (One ‘ser’ weight is slightly less than one kg). Namsuru people saw currency note first time in 1950. They saw ‘silver’ and brass coins of denomination 20 Paisa in 1950 only. Later they started using copper coins to buy-sell goods. During 1950, in Namsuru, 5 ‘ser’ salt or tobacco cost 25 Paisa. Villagers of Kargil area were fond of using hookah pipe in those days for refreshment; so they bought raw tobacco. Four Rupees were sufficient to buy ration for household for full month, recalled villagers. Even villagers from far beyond Kargil would take risk passing through mountains, forests amid wild animals, and walk down or use horses or donkeys, to load carriage purchased from Srinagar, and come back home after a month or so. Buying goods was adventure.
Villagers today cannot decide, in retrospect, whether 1950s or current period is better: “That period was also good, current period is also good”, Sarpanch sitting amid villagers affirmed; saying further that “we cannot decide”. Remark by Sarpanch reminds what Charles Dickens wrote about feudal period of the late 18th century France and England (1775) in his famous novel “A Tale of Two Cities” in 1859: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the age of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way -in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” This account serves as prophetic pointer to the difficulties that lied ahead.
“During past 30-40 years there has been progress. In 2008 came roads, schools, pucca houses, etc. There are a few households (10-20%) which are very poor and have kutcha houses. They won’t be able to change in next 5 years”. It is a debatable statement with implicit question on paradigm of development which invites reasonable reply as to why they won’t be “able to change” present state of kutcha house, leave side attaining any landmark of household development. Schemes face shortage of money and capital. Villagers and Sarpanch elaborated by clarifying that under IAY 18 houses got assistance (Rs.15000 each) for repair though houses deserved new construction. The RDD, with due concern, expressed “shortage of funds” for construction of pucca houses @Rs.50000 per unit. Villagers said there are around 20 other houses in the list, not considered even for repair, under IAY. Villagers speculated it shall take five-ten years to see repair/construction of those 20 kutcha houses. This is like experiencing Dicken’s “worst of times” amid snow and cold in kutcha house that cannot give warmth.
This is like “best of times”: Villagers have no complaint on MNREGA implementation. All Job Card holders get 100 days’ work as per norm and full/equal wages of Rs.12000 each (100 days x Rs.120). After 15 days muster sheet from village is sent to BDO. Around 15 days are taken in processing at district level to credit the amount in job-card holders’ bank accounts. Villagers are enthusiastic about the ongoing construction of Zanskar Road (Kargil-Zanskar Road) under PMGSY which passes through Namsuru. Namsuru villagers as part of Ladakh wished Old Namsuru-Pahalgam Road (80 km) were to be reconstructed any time so that their traditional link with Pahalgam through this old route is revived to re-establish not only its economic value but also to reaffirm their sentimental link with Kashmir Valley. Villagers recall with joy “best of times” nestled in old idyllic world that is lost amid today’s world of exchange where money and exchange-value counts to the detriment of all other values, including use-values and human values.
(Author works for NABARD. Views expressed are personal)