Villagers in a remote hilly corner of Assam have decided not to wait for the government but build a road themselves this December.
In a remote corner of the northeastern state of Assam, a 38-year-old social worker named Aching Zeme is helping villagers help themselves. Almost 70 years after India’s independence, their villages still do not have road connectivity.
“The youth in the villages say their previous generations have been wiped out just from walking,” Aching says. “They do not want to suffer the same fate.”
Without roads, everything is an ordeal for the villagers – be it getting to the market or to the hospital. The villagers have approached the government many times to construct a road but nothing has come of it, according to Aching. As a result, the villagers have decided to take matters into their own hands.
The villagers and Aching have pooled in money and the residents have volunteered to provide manpower to build a motorable dirt road connecting the villages of Boro Robi and Inchaikang, a 12-km stretch. The road will also pass through Raotilla settlement, which lies between the two villages.
The nearest big town is Haflong, about 5 km from Boro Robi. Haflong is the headquarters of the Dima Hasao district of Assam. The entire region is mountainous, which makes the construction of a road especially difficult.
The villages are remote and small. Boro Robi village has only about 40 houses, and nearby Raotilla has about two dozen households. Inchaikang village is relatively larger with about 56 houses. The three hamlets are home to different communities – the Rankhol tribe in Boro Robi, a Nepali community in Raotilla, and mostly Naga tribals in Inchaikang.
Most of the people here are involved in jhum cultivation, which refers to the slash-and-burn method of farming. Others are engaged in selling firewood, charcoal, or vegetables. “There are no other occupations,” Aching says.
The estimated cost of construction for the dirt road is about Rs. 1.5 lakh. A major part of that money will go towards operating an excavating machine, which is necessary for a project like this in a mountainous region. The road itself will be built using local materials.
The villagers have managed to put together about Rs. 90,000 to launch the project last week. Of this, about Rs. 60,000 came from Aching’s own pocket, Rs. 20,000 from the villagers, and the rest was contributed by friends and well wishers.
About 10 people have been working on the road every day since November 24. The villagers work on a rotation basis and no one is paid for their efforts. The hope is to finish the construction by December 10.
Once the road emerges, small motorized vehicles like autos, cars and two-wheelers will be able to ply on it. “It will make it easier for children in the village to get to school,” Aching says. The better-off villagers send their children away to private schools where they live in hostels.
For the poorer folk, the nearest school is almost 7 km away in Jatinga and their children walk almost one-and-a-half hours every day to get to it.
The nearest hospital is in Haflong town. A road would allow the villagers to get to the facility faster and more comfortably.
Aching has been a social worker in this region for almost 15 years. He reaches most of the villages where he holds awareness campaigns by walking. The new road would not only help villagers but also allow him to get to them faster.
He has received many requests from other villages in the area to build roads for them too. “We will try to minimize expenditure for this project,” he says. ”If we have money left over or if we get more donations we will definitely take up more road building projects.”
Aching and the villagers have started a campaign to crowdsource the funding for the current project.