Ground Report: Bihar: Is This ‘Pakistan’ in Purnia Paying The Price for its Name?
No road, no school, no hospital and no toilets. The Pakistan Tola lies in utter neglect.
Don’t the girls in here speak? Sita Devi raised her eyebrows in response to this question. Visibly agitated, she said, “There is no school, what would the girls know, eh? There is no road, where will a school be made? The government doesn’t make one, so where do you think they will learn to speak?”
Sita Devi (45), is a Santhali tribal. In her broken Hindi, she slams the government and the media. “Pakistanis lived here even before the partition happened. Media-persons intrigued by the name of the village visit often, but cannot not do as much as getting a school built here by the government. Where should our children study? Does even a single concrete road reach our basti? To this Pakistan? We don’t want to have any conversation with you people.”
Which ‘Pakistan’ is Sita Devi talking about?
Thirty kilometres from Purnia city, close to the Araria border, there is a Pakistan within India — the Pakistan Tola. This village of Singhiya Panchayat in the Srinagar block, houses over a thousand people of the Santhal tribe, and has been in news for its controversial name. It gets covered by regional and Bihari media during elections for its name. Despite this, there is not a single hospital in the village, neither a school, nor any pucca road reaching the village.
The residents of the village are unaware how it came to be known as Pakistan Tola. They don’t mind the name either. They tell NewsCentral24x7 that people now know that there is Pakistan Tola in Purnia, earlier they did not.
Guru Basera (50), who works as a labourer in Purnia, narrated in anecdote about the name. “Around twenty-fifty years ago, a CO sahib from Srinagar was directed to inspect Pakistan Tola. He saw that the paper said ‘Pakistan Tola.’ He was curious to see who resided in the village. At that time, there was no bridge reaching the village. Amidst heavy rains, he reached the village after crossing the river. He was surprised to find people belonging to the Santhal tribe there. There were no other communities. CO sahib asked why the village was named ‘Pakistan.’ We did not know what to say… the name had been the same for decades then. He changed the name of the village right then, but none of us remember what it was. The name Pakistan Tola remains.”
A Victim of Neglect by Successive Governments
While a pucca road — the symbol of development per the Bihar government — reaches Singhiya Panchayat, it ends way before Pakistan Tola begins. A kaccha road, ridden with dangers of an accident, is what one has to take to reach the village. Minor negligence could lead to a serious accident.
The people in Pakistan Tola expressed their angst about the fact that none of the different political regimes that came to power bothered to build a road to this village. Slamming the Narendra Modi government, Dulla Mudmud tells NewsCentral24x7, “He delivers speeches… Bhashan dene se hoga, ya kaam karne se hoga? (How will work be done, through his speeches or by actually working?) Nothing happened, no road got made. While we have electricity, we have no motor. Go and see villages in Punjab, every house has electricity supply and a motor.”
Most villagers at Pakistan Tola are farmers. They farm rice and corn in their own fields. The remaining set off to Purnia, or even Kolkata, Delhi and Punjab to work as agricultural labourers., Dulla Mudmud, who owns two acres of land says, “Whatever we sow, we are forced to sell it to the tradesman. We don’t get the rates prescribed by the government here. Tradesmen come here with their horses, and take back our produce. They sell it off in the mandi. We can’t even think of reaching Gulab Bagh Mandi (Purnia’s popular wholesale market).
Was a road not built because of the name of the village? To this, Guru Basera says, “I know that Pakistan Tola is in Purnia only. What do I say about development? The village chief Ganga Ram Tudu is from our community but whatever it be, people forget you after winning the elections.”
Lalji Marandi from the neighbouring village is giving company to Guru Basera. In his broken Hindi, Marandi said, “Modi ji is doing it (work), but not for villages. We are struggling. We cannot even comprehend who will do what.”
No School, Hospital
A majority of the population in Pakistan Tola is illiterate. The reason is simple — there is no school. The secondary school at Singhiya Panchayat is approximately two and a half kilometres away from here. The condition of the connecting road is terrible, and during rains, the village is completely cut-off. The children cannot go to school.
Guru Basera says, “You will not believe this—but even newspapers don’t reach Pakistan Tola. We don’t have television sets either. No one can read, who will buy a newspaper? Who will use a mobile, sir?”
Even the school at Singhiya Panchayat is upto class eight only. To study further, one has to travel twelve kilometres ahead to Srinagar town. For this reason, most of the girls have not studied beyond class 8. Dulla Tudu’s daughter studies in class five. “She can go to school till it is possible for her to. There is no school close by. Girls cannot travel till Srinagar… the boys do,” he said.
There is no hospital in the village either. In case of emergencies, people of Pakistan Tola have to rush to Srinagar. Vinod Basera tells NewsCentral24x7, “If someone is too sick, then we take them in an auto. The problem is that even auto-wallahs are reluctant to come here because there is no road.”
Purnia’s Srinagar town is not very old. It was founded in 1994. Per the 2011 census, the block has a population of a little over a lakh. But there is only one government hospital in the entire block. People often protest against the lack of services in the hospital.
Swachh Bharat, PM Awas Yojana, Ujjwala Scheme: A Grand Failure
All one can see in the name of ‘development’ in Pakistan Tola are electricity wires. Beyond this, every government scheme has been a failure here. On being asked about them, Guru Basera answered in negative in a single breath. We asked him if the villagers got funds to build homes under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana, he says, “Neither is there a road, nor a home or a toilet. We have got nothing. Absolutely nothing.” While the PM has been touting the Ujjwala scheme as a massive success, Guru Basera of Pakistan Tola tells NewsCentral, “We cook on earthen stoves (chulhas). We collect wooden sticks from here and there, and cook using them.”
The media’s curiosity begins and ends at the name of the village. But this is not an issue for the villagers. They are furious about the fact that whoever visits from outside only asks them only about the origins of the village’s name. They tell NewsCentral24x7, “We don’t know why the village was named Pakistan. There is no school, no road. Media persons visit two times in a year, but we get nothing. We will not keep discussing why it is named Pakistan.”
On being contacted, the Srinagar Block Development Officer told NewsCentral24x7 that Pakistan Tola is connected to the city. “You visit the village and call me from there.” The officer mumbled something irrelevant and hung the phone when NewsCentral24x7 told him that a team had already visited the village.
Purnia is set to vote on April 18 for the Lok Sabha elections. Santosh Kushwaha, nominated by the NDA, has been an MP from here. Congress’ Uday Singh will fight for the Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) from the seat. The Santhali families told us that they have been voting in the past. “But politicians reach us only during elections. At other times, the village is like an island for them. It is truly like Pakistan. Maybe they don’t visit us for this reason. But we add Purnia (Bihar) after this Pakistan.”
This report was written in Hindi and has been translated to English by Ikshula. You can read the original report here.