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A village near SEZ stays in most backward list

A. Roy Chowdhury | | Updated on: Aug 11, 2011
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A thatched rickety structure housing just an open veranda and partly covered with tarpaulin is home to 62-year-old Hamja Sanphui's 12-member-family. Heavy rains have made the mud floor of the veranda slushy and one has to duck under its low roof to get in.

Clothes were hanging from the ropes tied to the roof. A door at the end of the veranda leads to a tiny room in which all the family's ‘valuables' are stored. Hamja lives in this house with his wife, three sons and their families at Haterdanga hamlet in Satole village of Falta block in West Bengal's South-24 Parganas district. The village is located just 35km away from Kolkata.

Responding to my astounded question as to how they live here, Hamja casually replied: “We make partitions of the veranda with sarees at night.”

Angura Bibi, wife of Hmja's second son, was busy at the ‘kitchen' – a clay oven set up in the common passage between two huts at one end of the veranda. Dipa Bibi, wife of Hamja's eldest son, was reluctant to speak about their lives' hard and grim truth.

Hamja's wife Mashiton Bibi, who had gone to fetch drinking water, returned and took over the charge of the ‘kitchen'. “We have never got anything and will not get in future also. There is nothing to say about our lives' hardship as we have to continue with it,” Moshiton lamented with a deep breathe.

An agriculture labourer all his life, Hamja never had an opportunity to improve the situation. Unemployment, illiteracy and inadequacy have enveloped their lives for years now. His elder son works in a small-scale garment manufacturing unit. The other two sons are farm labourers as well and support the family with a bare-minimum income. In all, the family survives on a monthly income of hardly Rs.2500 to 3000.

Ironically, the village is located hardly few kilometres from the Falta Special Economic Zone - the first SEZ in the state that houses various industries. Moreover, following an inspection of the economical, educational and health situation of the residents of Satole, it was identified as one of the most backward villages in the State a few years ago.

Unfortunately, that has not changed things much. Not only at Hamja's, poverty has firmly anchored itself in each of the 400-odd households of the village. Seventy-year-old Noor Ali Sheikh was trying to look closer with his broken glass. He came forward and complained in a low voice that he does not get old-age pension and with an ailing wife at home, he struggles to make ends meet since they are not on the BPL list.

“We also live in a very wretched condition; will you not listen to us?” Hasina Bibi led the correspondent to a home which looked similar to that of Hamja's. Her husband Rohit Sheikh also fights all odds to feed the family of eight, including five children.

A recently-laid brick road suddenly vanished at a turn after a few yards in the village. Local panchayat-worker Abdul showed the stack of bricks that were yet to be laid. The Madrassa high school located at the village's centre helps the youth to study. Dropout rate, however, is quite high as families reeling under low income, poor health and government apathy fail to support the education of their wards.

Elections come and go; candidates promise ‘change' – but ‘the change for the better' is not visible yet. Joining at an “adda” at the village's only tea shop owned by Shahaton Bibi, villagers chatted sarcastically about the hopeless situation of the village.

“We are poor but can at least offer a cup of tea,” an old man said while laughing out loudly. It echoed in the air of Satole with pride and love that never had any economical value.

Published on August 04, 2011
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