Skip to main content

Golden City of India? 40% migration, no jobs, school dropouts, social backwardness

A typical house in Jaisalmer
By Rajiv Shah 
It is called the Golden City of India. The raison d'ĂȘtre is simple: Virtually no houses in the 70,000-odd population of the small township are made of red bricks reinforced with cement. They are all constructed with yellow sandstone found in the nearby hilly tracks. One can go atop any house, not to talk of the hilltop fort, to fathom that it’s all yellow all the way, everywhere, including the beautiful hilltop Jain temples in the fort premises. Jain temples, we were told, aren’t coloured yellow anywhere, except here.
Jaisalmer becomes a tourist attraction, starting November and ending mid-March, attracting foreigners and industrialists like Arvind Dubash, who celebrated his 50th “destination birthday” here with top Bollywood personalities such as Karan Johar. As part of a small family group, we also visited the city in the third week of January in a Rajasthan trip organized by one of the best known online agencies MakeMyTrip – a city about which I vaguely knew anything other than it has possibly some lovely “sand dunes”, and there was campfire to enjoy in its tent hotels.
We spent two nights there, the first one in the town itself, at Marina Mahal. I didn’t care to inquire, but it seems it was a small two-storey haveli, renovated and converted into a hotel. We preferred to stay on the ground floor, as we did not want to trouble our legs to climb the stairs. The hotel has no lift, which seemed its minus point.
One of the Patwa havelis
We took our lunch in a nearby dhaba-type restaurant. As we had come all the way from Jodhpur following a six-hour cab ride, with a stopovers in between to see places (including a defence museum), it was already late afternoon, and the restaurant owner was about to close shop. Yet, he was kind enough to serve us with tasty Rajasthani dal bati. Thereafter, we decided to proceed to Marina Mahal, where we did nothing but relax.
Peeping through the window of the hotel room, which opened on a small street, I could see three women, with ghunghat on their head, sitting on the a small chabutara outside their small yellow house in the evening sunlight, peeling vegetables. I snapped a few photographs. We chatted for the rest of the evening. On the next day we were to visit the city and the hilltop fort, and then move over to the desert, supposedly the main attraction of Jaisalmer.
After taking breakfast on the hotel terrace, where it was very cold, we were taken by our excellent driver, Gopal Singh, to see five havelis of Jaisalmer, built by Jain merchants in the 19th century. Gopal Singh got hired for us a young and energetic guide, whose surname, I recall, is Charan, a community whose traditional job was to sing songs in praise of gods and goddesses, and of course Rajput rulers, even as chronicling events.
The hill-top fort
Called Patwa havelis, even as Charan took us inside one of them, which has been converted into a museum, I decided to explore how rich is this “golden” town. I asked him: “What is the population of the town? Do all of you live only on tourism?” Charan was quick to respond: “Yes, on tourism, which lasts for less than five months, all around winter. Of the 70,000 people living here, nearly 40% migrate in search of jobs, as there are there are none here for seven to eight months a year.”
Intricately carved exterior, decorated walls, Marwari style miniature paintings, mirror work, merchants’ and their wives’ clothes, the utensils they would use -- we saw all of it for about an hour. Charan also showed us the pagdis different communities would wear to identify their castes and sub-castes. Surely, I thought, there was no place for “outcastes” or “untouchables” -- they dared not wear any pagdi. For, their only job was to clean streets and, of course, human excreta.
All through Charan tried to tell us how the rich Jain merchants, when they lived here, turned Jaisalmer into a major trading centre. They would trade in gold, silver, opium, jewellery, etc., as it was part of the Silk Route, which passed through today’s Pakistan, via Afghanistan, into Iran, Iraq and beyond, he said, regretting, the merchants left this place in a lurch after India was divided. Many of them shifted to Mumbai.
Inside the hill-top museum
The Silk Route collapsed, and the once rich city today is part of one of the most backward areas of Rajasthan and India -- Marwar. Water scarcity is a common feature here, there is very little agriculture, it’s in the midst of Thar desert, there is no industry around, droughts are common, and things would become worse during summer.
And, of course, less said the better about power. Even the two "high-profile" hotels where we stayed didn’t have power for an hour each. In the tent hotel, where we stayed next, the generator didn't work for quite a while, and we were told to make do with our mobile torch!
We were taken to the Hill Fort of Jaisal, named after the 12th century king, Maharawal Jaisal Singh. Charan told us, around 3,000 people lived within the fort premises, with many of the houses turning into handicraft shops, guest houses and restaurants. We could see many foreigners coming out of the houses, converted into small little fancy hotels.
Of the 70,000 people living in Jaisalmer, nearly 40% migrate in search of jobs, as there are none here for seven to eight months a year
The main part of the fort has been converted into a museum. Here, apart from the display of the valour of Rajput descendants of the 12th century king, we were also apprised of their daily life. “They would eat in silver utensils, as they knew, the utensils’ colour would change if poison was mixed into their food”, Charan told us.
Then, Charan took us to the bedroom of a king, where, we were told, he would sleep on a low height bed, especially designed in a way that his legs could immediately touch the floor. “He was trained to stand up in an upright position from this bed to fight back, taking weapon lying next to him, if attacked at night”, he added.
The Jain temples
“What a life!”, commented one of us. “They couldn’t even have a peaceful sleep!” We saw pagdis different communities would wear on different occasions, utensils used for cooking food, the royal dress, weapons the kings would use, and all that. We were also told how the queens would observe purdah – they had separate rooms from where they would observe the king’s durbar through an intricate stone carving.
After spending a couple of hours in the fort, we parted company of Charan. Driver Gopal Singh took us down to the town to another dhaba to have traditional food – a barja roti with tasty mixed vegetable sabzi. Following the lunch, we were taken more than 30 plus kilometres away, to a tent hotel, Sand Voyages Camp.
On reaching there, we hired a jeep, which took us on a bumpy ride to the sand dunes, which is what I wanted to see and experience the most. We were dropped at a make-shift tea stall, next to one of the sand dunes, sat on the charpoi till the camels were brought in to take us on another ride. A young boy, still in his early teens, accompanied one of the two camels we had hired, walking for about 40 minutes. He took our photographs as we rode on.
Back to the make-shift tea stall, I asked the boy, who was the elderly person accompanying the other camel. “My uncle”, he replied. “We live a village not very far away”, he said, showing us the direction where his helmet was situated. “It’s some distance, though... We come here to earn a living.” I got curious.
The teenage boy and girl: Both school dropouts
I asked the boy whether he went to school. “No I don’t. I have stopped going to school”, he replied. “Why?”, I queried. “The teacher doesn’t come to the school. Who would teach us?” I paid him a tip and we parted company. We again went and sat on the charpoi at the tea stall, where a young rural family, consisting of a girl and a boy, both in early teens, and a young village couple, all with costumes on their face, requested us to listen to their song.
They sang a popular Rajasthani song, we paid them the agreed amount, and went up on the nearest sand dune to sit in the bright sun to wait for the sunset, when the jeep was to come to pick us up. The girl came up to us, demanding chocolates. We didn’t have any, I told her. She hung around, starting to play with the sand. As she was playing, I asked her where she lived, and whether she went to school. “No I don’t”, she replied. “There is no school in our village.”
Following the sunset, we rode the jeep again on a bumpy ride, reached the Sand Voyages Camp, were taken to a cultural programme, performed around campfire in the neighbourhood, returned to the hotel, took dinner especially prepared for us, slept in the cold wintry night in the tent.
Next day morning, following breakfast, we began our long journey – about 550 km – to Udaipur, wondering all the while why was this city called “golden” even though it has all the characteristics of backwardness. As I was sitting next to the driver, he began talking about the Marwar region, often dropping hints about the harsh rural life.
A bumpy ride on the jeep
Himself a Rajput, Gopal Singh admitted untouchability and discrimination are rampant in the rural areas. “Dalits are not allowed to enter temples. They dare not. They are treated as untouchables almost everywhere”, he said. And what do they do? “Cleaning job in the village, and agricultural labour as and when there is farming.”
As for women, he said, “Girls do not study much, they are married off at an early age, which is a norm here. And women-folk must observe purdah after marriage...” Gopal Singh comes from a village near Jodhpur, about 300 km off Jaisalmer, part of the Marwar region. He has a farm land, but it's rainfed agriculture. He added, it’s not enough to feed his family, one reason why he must drive taxi to take tourists around.
Social backward and oppression, clearly, characterized Jaisalmer, which is situated 121 kilometres from Pakistan border. Bollywood bigwigs Gauri Khan, Maheep Kapoor, Sandeep Khosla and the “girls’ gang” may have taken an auto ride around the golden city in order to get media publicity, even as attending destination birthday bash of industrialist Arvind Dubash.
However, Jaisalmer, and the entire Marwar region, of which it is part, clearly isn’t a romantic destination if seen from a close quarters. Surely, behind the golden colour lies the dark, dense social and economic backwardness, a very harsh life, which few wish to notice.

Comments

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

World Bank proved right, Narmada is already a destructive project: Medha Patkar

By Rajiv Shah  Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar has said that the World Bank’s independent review mission, which brought out the Morse Commission report , has been proved right: The Sardar Sarovar dam has not only failed to live up to the loud promises made for irrigating large arid areas of Saurashtra and Kutch in Gujarat, those who were displaced and resettled in Gujarat are getting increasingly restive as many of them are unable to get the promised water for irrigation and some for drinking water too. While 50,000 families have been resettled in three states and 20,000 have received land rights as land or cash, the authorities have not calculated what should be done with 15,000 families, whose houses are acquired for Sardar Sarovar but following changing backwater levels of the Sardar Sarovar dam, they are denied rehabilitation, Patkar tells Counterview in an interview (part1*): *** Q: What is the latest position in your view as far as the Sardar Sarovar dam is concerned?

Upholding labour rights, Nehruvian scientific temper, Rajni Patel opposed Emergency

By Harsh Thakor*  Rajni Patel, who died 40 years ago, whatever his flaws, had one great quality: his human touch to offer selfless service and ability to galvanise or influence human beings from all walks of life. Few people would ever go out of the way to help someone or serve as selflessly without aim of personal gain. Rajni championed Nehruvian secular ideas and scientific temper. As a master in public relations he revealed utmost humility. As a barrister, he never appeared against the trade unions or workers. A Fabien Socialist he opposed liberal capitalism and radical socialism. Unlike most lawyers, he did not succumb to the lure of amassing wealth. Rajni was born in Sirsa, in Gujarat, on the very day Gandhi set foot on Indian soil, on 9th January, 1915. He gained his baptism through one of Gandhi's speeches calling for the boycott of foreign goods, which was the virtual turning point of his life. Rajni toed Gandhi to organise boycott of foreign goods. Rajni was able to cros

Vadodara violence: Fine Arts Faculty alumni raise fingers at Varsity's political appointee

Hasmukh Vaghela with PM Counterview Desk  In a statement, alumni of the Faculty of Fine Arts (FoFA), Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU), Baroda, Gujarat, referring to the “violence” by right-wing groups for displaying “objectionable” paintings that “hurt religious sentiments” at the one of India’s top fine arts institute May 5, have taken strong exception to “the assault and rustication” of one of the students, and lack of action taken against those who “violated” the institution and committed the act. Floated as an online petition seeking wider support, the FoFA alumni, in their statement, addressed to the vice chancellor, MSU, said, there should be “thorough” investigation in the whole incident and “immediate action” should be taken against syndicate member Hasmukh Vaghela, MSU, who sparked the assault, and “other co-conspirators” for breaching “university code of conduct and unlawful activities committed in broad daylight”. While the alumni statement doesn't say so, Vaghela

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

UK leader cites Indian farmers' struggle one of top global fights against neoliberal order

Counterview Desk  Jeremy Corbyn, member of the UK Parliament, former leader of the UK Labour Party and founder of the  Peace and Justice Project , in his  inaugural speech to the  Progressive International’s  Summit at the End of the World on May 12, 2022, has said, what is happening across globe suggests that "image of apocalypse -- bombs and raids, oil spills and wildfires, disease and contagion -- is a reality for people across the planet." In an adaptation of his speech, distributed by  Globetrotter , Corbyn, however, said, there are fresh examples action, too -- by Indian farmers forcing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to withdraw three neo-liberal laws;  by workers, communities and activists against the top giant multinational Amazon's "greed and exploitation"; and by Latin American people's struggle to say "no more to the domination by imperialism, the destruction of their communities and the abuse of their environments." Stating that this is n

Why is NIOH-ICMR 'official' making false claims on silicosis?: Health rights NGO

Counterview Desk In a letter to the Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), New Delhi, Dr Jagdish Parikh, trustee, health rights NGO People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC), Vadodara, and Jagdish Patel, director, PTRC, have said that the claim being made for the use of biomarker for detection of silicosis raises concern about scientific tenacity of the diagnosis of the deadly occupational disease. The letter also objects to the reported claim by a top health official that it is possible to detect silicosis at the sub-radiological stage. It asks, “What is this subradiological stage of silicosis? We have not heard any such scientific term being used. Again, the report is using a term which is not found in any scientific literature so far. Is this term acceptable by ICMR? Is ICMR thinking of any explanation?” Text : This is with reference to our letter dated November 28, 2021. In our communication we had raised our concern about the scientific tena

Welfare? Govt of India spends just 19% of manual scavengers' rehabilitation budget

By Bharat Dogra*  While the Dalit community has been always known for higher levels of poverty as well as social discrimination, even within the Dalits there is a sub-section known for even worse levels of poverty as well as social discrimination. This is the section which was traditionally involved in manual scavenging. The shocking injustice they have suffered from over the years has been widely recognized leading to a ban on manual scavenging. At the same time there is urgent need for the rehabilitation of those engaged in manual scavenging. Hence a self-employment scheme for the rehabilitation of those engaged in manual scavenging was drawn up. The allocations and the expenditure for this scheme for the last eight years are shown in the Table below: Union Budget for Self-Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of  Manual Scavengers (in Rs crore) By Budget Estimate we mean the original allocation made when the budget is presented. It is clear from this table that the actual expenditure

Custodial death of Muslim youth: Govt of India told to ratify UN convention on torture

Counterview Desk  Kirity Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), and national convenor, Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI), Hooghly, West Bengal, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), has drawn to the custodial death of a Muslim youth following his torture in police custody after registering a "false case" based on manufactured records. Seeking "proper investigation" the whole incident, Roy in his plea insists, the incident legitimizes his organisations' long-standing demand "for immediate ratification of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment." Text : Here I want to draw your kind attention to one incident of custodial torture by the Deganga police personnel and the subsequent custodial death of one Muslim man from the Other Backward Class community in Dum Dum Central Correctional Home. The name o

This Maoist justified US, western Europe's anti-Soviet stance, even Bhindranwale

By Harsh Thakor*  A glaring example of the extent to which those seeking to identify themselves as revolutionaries can go in making odd compromises with those normally considered as “class enemies” in Marxist jargon is late Kondapalli Seetharamiah. Few know that this Maoist organiser two decades ago was so enamoured by the Chinese three worlds theory that he called for a united front with the United States and other western countries against what he considered Soviet social imperialism! This wasn’t the only “compromise” Seetharamiah made during his career as a revolutionary. On Punjab he took a most eclectical stand of supporting Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, thus soft-pedalling the terrorist Khalistani movement. Among his other opportunist alliances, about which few are aware of, include support to the Akalis in Punjab, on one hand, and the NTR Telugu Desam regime in Andhra Pradesh, on the other – all part of his anti-Congress thrust. Also known as KS, this Maoist started his career as