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In this remote UP village, landowners 'stop' school going children, put them to work

By Bharat Dogra* 

Baurapurva village, located in Naraini block of Banda district, is inhabited by the people of Kevat community known for their close association with rivers and inland water sources. This village was earlier located very close to the Ken river but it was devastated in the floods of 1978 caused by sudden and excess release of dam water. Then it was relocated at the present site. 
This site is caught between the two States of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. This as well as the absence of a proper path have led to the denial of several development benefits which this neglected village certainly needs.
I tried to approach this village in a sturdy vehicle which was caught so badly in mud and slush that we had to retreat. Then leaving the vehicle we had to enter a house in Madhya Pradesh and after crossing its courtyard we walked through fields to finally reach this village. A villager greeted us, saying – sorry, but this is the daily reality we live with.
Most of the houses in this village are very cramped. New housing space exists but this has been encroached upon by powerful persons of another village.
Most children of this village are unable to go to school, or else drop out at an early stage. Distance as well as safety are important factors in this. Some children are stopped while going to their school and asked by big landowners to do their work. When children from here go to a school in Madhya Pradesh, they are told that you cannot get mid-day meals or free uniform or some other benefits here as you are from Uttar Pradesh.
Some villagers emphasize these three priorities of a proper path, school education and housing space, but in addition there is also the grim reality of a serious livelihood crisis. The households here have very little farmland or else they are entirely landless. Earlier due to their special skills in growing vegetables and fruits closer to river, they were able to get some reasonable income even from small farms. 
Due to adverse situation in local as well as migrant earnings, livelihood crisis has deepened, with most households getting indebted
However ever since sand mining in the Ken river increased, the crops are increasingly destroyed by all the dust and the coming and going of big vehicles and machines as well as other aspects of sand mining. As a result the yields and income from farming has decreased significantly. 
If water from Ken river is withdrawn under the Ken-Betwa link scheme, then their problems will increase further while the livelihood of other farmers in nearby villages engaged in similar cultivation near the river will also be adversely affected.
Due to low income and difficulty in sustenance, several youths from here have been going to distant places in search of livelihood and their earnings have helped in the survival of people here. However after the lockdowns related to the pandemic, many migrant workers had to return here in very desperate conditions, several of them walking very long distances and reaching here with swollen feet and blisters. Due to this the prospects of income from migrant labor also suffered in recent times.
Due to adverse situation in local as well as migrant earnings, the livelihood crisis has deepened, with most households getting indebted. As one elderly villager said – no matter what the time of year or what the season, we always seem to be struggling for survival and growing from one crisis to another.
The government must therefore give special attention to ensuring that the benefits of its various schemes can reach such villages which are caught in exceptionally difficult circumstances due to a number of factors.
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*Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include “Planet in Peril”, “Protecting Earth for Children” and “India’s Quest for Sustainable Farming and Healthy Food”

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