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RADHANAGAR REVISITED

November 19, 2009

THE SECOND REPORT ON RADHANAGAR

Quite sometime back  I wrote about our workshop at the village named Radhanagar in “Sandeshkhali” block in the Sunderbans area of West Bengal.  THE REPORT IS AVAILABLE IN THE FOLLOWING POST: RADHANAGAR FIRST REPORT

Joydhak re-visited the place again this month during the course of a blanket distribution programme to some of the cyclone affected persons in the village. A report:

The village

Radhanagar has faced “Aila”, the destructive cyclone that swept south Bengal five months back. Almost half of the local flora is gone—eaten away by corrosive saline water that cut in through the bunds and bund-like elevated roads of the village in eight places during the disaster. The salty water stayed for  a month and when it was finally gone, it took its toll.

The timber merchants are now the happy souls here. Their saw mills are happily slicing away the trees that either fell during the cyclone or still stand, dead, as an after effect of the prolonged saltwater-logging.

The school


The little school compound we visited for our first workshop still stands there, the school is still operational, but its mood has changed. All the merriment is gone now. One of its main teachers is already dead. The cyclone too did not spare the school. The desolate building stands alone there, with the memory of the destructive days of the cyclone written all over its compound. All its flowers are gone now. Here are the two snaps of the past and the present of the building:

The fields

The agricultural fields have got encrusted with a saline top layer. They will not be fit for the usual paddy farming for more than one season now. The area is a single crop area with everybody dependent on land for their livelihood. Barring that one main crop,

some vegetables including water melon and chilly are grown in small quantities. These are also not possible now due to increased salinity of the fields. The only possible alternative is catching of Tiger Pron hatchlings in the saline water of the now shallow local river,  Daansa, and making BIDI, a local form of tiny cheroot . Neither of them are financially rewarding.

The river

The river Daansa (remember our earlier report on Radhanagar workshop? The children defined  all other rivers of the country by that name..) has lost its depth due to silting during the ‘Ayla’-inducd flood. It lies there like a dead snake, with its shallow bed promising another flood in case of a heavy downpour.

The young folk, our main objective

However, we found enough display of optimism and courage. The place is far from dead. That’s the best part of it. Though riddled with infrastructure problems, neglect and shabby local politics, the young folk there are fighting back.

We interviewed some young girls here who are pursuing academic and professional courses successfully, albeit with some assistance. We shall report about them later in this post.

The very will to live and prosper reigns strong in those innocent faces, but the exposure level is pathetically low. There are some other problems also that are impairing the healthy growth of the younger people here. Some examples:

Excerpt 1

Here is an excerpt verbatim from our field report—

When asked about their application to some State Government courses for Nursing, they replied in affirmative. Where? They remained silent to that question. They did not keep the record of where they have applied, and had simply posted their application to some post office.

While coming back I overheard two local young boys of a nearby place named ‘Nyajat’, answering to a mobile phone call to one of their friend who lives in Barasat,( a place closer to Kolkata, the state capital ) “Oh God, we even didn’t know that we were eligible for the Banking  exam!! And the last date is gone.”

The starvation here is not only true in the literal sense for many, for many other slightly better off young people of Radhanagar there is another kind of starvation—that of information and exposure.

Some young people of this village have been able to scale the first wall. Despite all odds they have succeeded in assimilating formal education by the sheer force of will and determination, (and , sometimes, through a little financial assistance from some individuals). But then they are faced with the second wall now—the lack of information and exposure, the endemic disease of rural India. This second wall is tougher to climb. They need assistance.

Excerpt 2

Another problem area was brought out by Economist Sri Swapan Mondal who hails from this area and is actively involved in various activities here. Here’s the gist:

A couple of personal  computers were arranged by Mr. Biswas for one school here. An arrangement was made for a teacher to commute there once a week to impart training to the youth in computer application, for free. But the school authorities neither could provide a weather-safe room for the computers, nor did they even care to pay the traveling expenses of the trainer. The machines, kept in a leaky room got soaked in rainwater and soon they became defunct.

This story elicits a problem which is rooted deeper in the psyche of the local residents.

Why did this neglect happen?

Crucifying some individual for playing a traditional villain or spoilsport in this episode would be too simplistic an explanation. The real problem is that of  lack of a feeling of need. The above incident would go to show the non-appreciation of a pragmatic new concept by the dogmatic local INSTITUTION. They simply failed to understand the importance of the new concept or to foresee its effect.

Another possible explanation might be their lack of confidence on the local youth about their capability of  benefiting from this different concept.

The problem is not new in our Tradition dominated society where much more unquestioned reliance is put on time tested ways and means and any new thing that our forefathers did not know of is treated with suspicion and contempt.

A third possible reason for this neglect is that the machines were given free. Nobody respects a freebie. Doling makes a recipient feel like a beggar. Unless a person is in a dire existential need, he is bound to feel slighted if he is offered alms.

Whatever be the root cause, the net result was that the gift was treated as an unwarranted and unwanted piece of problem for the school authorities and got rid of through calculated neglect.

SUGGESTIONS

At the end of the interactions, the following suggestions emerged.

One of them is for our host Sri P.K. Biswas the enthusiastic septuagenarian youth from Radhanagar and

The other is rather a plea to the readers of the post:à

(A) ESTABLISHING A CAREER INFORMATION CENTRE in the village to be run by the local youngsters who have been lucky enough to get the requisite education.

Once such a center is created locally , and incumbents selected, Joydhak proposed to provide expert faculty support for the first orientation to the volunteers.

Once trained, the volunteers would collect information about VARIOUS CAREER OPPORTUNITIES IN SERVICE AND SELF EMPLOYMENT SECTORS. Various periodicals, journals, brochures, scopes of vocational trainings and other curriculum would be sent from Kolkata ,once such info center is created.

Once the center becomes operational, any interested aspirant of the locality would then be provided with information required by him/her by this center. The same model can then be replicated in other local villages.

Sri Swapan Mondal informed that efforts are already afoot to identify a location for the center and once such a location is established expert faculty will be provided whose traveling costs will be recouped by charging a monthly token fee from Rs.25 to Rs.50 from the aspirants (50 cnts to one USD).

The amount to be charged will be purposedly kept meager so that financially weak aspirants can afford it. At the same time, charging of a fee is essential, as, having to pay some amount for a benefit, (however meager may be the amount,) will help to boost the self respect in the educated beneficiary and also a sense of urge to get the best out of a facility. Nobody respects a freebie.

(B) ADOPTING A GIRL STUDENT

Sri P.K Biswas, the septuagenarian youth from Radhanagar and Sri Swapan Mondal, an Economist friend with Joydhak, who is also a son of the soil of the Sunderbans, brought up this issue during the interactions.

Sri Biswas informed that some individuals from different places have already  taken up the sponsorship for the education of three girls in Radhanagar. Sri Biswas acts as the co-ordinator for such efforts. He himself is assisting some needy but promising kids from this area. This is resulting into a successful experiment. Two such girls, who did not have any hope for further higher studies, have taken a course in nursing and are now pursuing graduation with this help. The third is still in school. Once this trio are thru the sponsorship is expected to continue with another set of three girls.

COULD YOU HELP????

However, three is not enough. Sri Biswas is also doing whatever possible within his own capacity, yet, more sponsorship is needed. Even a meager five hundred rupees (approx 10 USD) a month can change the life of a girl for ever in this back of the beyond land!

ON BEHALF OF THIS VILLAGE, JOYDHAK URGES FOR SUCH ASSISTANCE FROM THE MORE FORTUNATE INTERNET COMMUNITY WHOSE MEMBERS ARE READING THIS POST.

You can contact the followings:

Sri P.K Biswas at Radhanagar : 09433342558

Sri S.K Mondal at Kolkata at: 09874781962

EMAIL: swapan_ies@yahoo.co.in

Notes:

1. To read first hand description of the village just after the Aila cyclone read this blog post of June created by caritasinternationalis.

2. In case you are interested to make a trip to this village The village is locatable in this satellite map of Sandeshkhali.Magnify the map upto the middle of the slider and you will be able to see the village’s name and location.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 22, 2009 00:20

    পশ্চিমবঙ্গের বিভিন্ন প্রান্ত থেকে আজ অনেকেই যাচ্ছেন সুন্দরবনের মানুষের পাশে দাঁড়ানোর জন্য। কিন্তু সেটা সংখ্যায় নিতান্ত কম। ওখানকার মানুষদের অসহায়তাটা আরো বেশি। সেটা চোখে না দেখলে হয়তো কল্পনাও করা যায় না। আপনাদের এই উদ্যোগ সফল হোক। শুভেচ্ছা রইলো।

    Free Translation of the above comment:

    These days, help is being mobilised from various corners of West Bengal for the suffering people of Sunderbans. But its quantum is negligible compared to the quantum of requirement. The level of helplessness of the people in those areas is to be seen to be believed. Best wishes for the success of your endeavours.

  2. Sanhita Mukherjee permalink
    November 22, 2009 05:12

    The Climate and present infrastructural facilities in the Sunderbans are not conducive to information penetration by OFCs and modern electronic gadgets, viz, computers, internet.
    Till computers and internet penetrate the remote villages, the educated youths and other aspirants can be encouraged to travel to nearby towns, viz, Barasat for Radhanagar, Baruipur for some other parts of Sunderbans, to gather information using internet, magazines on current affairs , district and/or subdivisional information centres.
    The said educated young aspirants can also be sponsored initially, and if possible conditionally ,by engaging them in part time jobs , e.g., of DTP for lawyears around the Court of Laws, after a week long training in printing photo, documents, typing, photocopying. That way information can be disseminated faster. More the people from villages comes to towns , sooner the remoteness of Sundarbans will be bridged.
    with best wishes and regrds.

    • November 22, 2009 11:20

      This is in reference to Sanhita’s comment below:
      1. The computer example was provided just as an example and was not meant to be a prescription for the ailment. An example of a failed attempt by a socio-religious organisation to introduce high yielding cloned banana trees in a south 24 pgs village due to the same attitude of the residents would have been equally apt to highlight the point in question. Also, contrary to your view, its not difficult to inject modern technology at low cost to any remote area through VSAT connectivity. This is being done repeatedly in our country. The CIC’s run by NIC in NE states is a good example, with IT benefits reaching the common folks in the remotest areas of the North East. But that has not been able to solve the common people’s problems there. The writer of this blog has set up one such large network in a very primitive area of the country in his professional capacity, and is speaking from his personal experience. But then OFC, computers and internet donot provide a panacea. It cannot stop a saltwater river from drowning a village, a properly built and maintained bund can.

      2. Travelling is a costly solution both in respect of money and time (read man hour) given the socio-economic fabric there.
      3. Exodus from village to town is a temporary remedy but is unviable in the long run as it results in either a cancerous expansion of the city to accommodate the immigrants from village or a tremendous resource crunch in the city breaking down its infrastructure. (Both symptoms are visible in Kolkata, isn’t it?)
      4. We require such academic discussion to improve the understanding but what the village (and so many villages like this) really needs is tangible assistance.

  3. November 22, 2009 11:23

    apnader ei udyam prashangshonio. asole, prayojan eto beshi ar sansthan etoi kom je ei dharoner kaj korte giye ekta dando uposthit hoi.

    bhalo thakun

    Free translation of the above comment:
    The effort is creditable. However the substantial gap between the quantum of need and the capacity to address that need is bound to erode the confidence of any effort to assist.

  4. pradeep dewanjee permalink
    December 25, 2009 10:24

    good move

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