Village Life: The “Real India”Delhi, Fall 2012
This weekend our socioeconomics class visited several small villages in the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh, just north of Delhi. Living in the bustling capital city, it is easy to lose touch with the fact that 75% of this country’s massive population reside in rural areas. For the first time here, my eyes were opened to what my professor dubbed the “real India.”
The average villager lives off less than $2 a day. Most are married by the time they reach my age, and many of them already have children. The lack of roads and proper infrastructure makes it so locals must often walk hours on end to school or work each day. Education is sparse, healthcare is even sparser, and malnutrition continues to be a huge problem.
Yet I saw no sense of despondency in the faces of these villagers. Away from the perpetual stimulation of an urban environment, the people of Chamba live much simpler lives which are quite literally engrained in their land. They were overly hospitable, proud of their hard work, and undeniably wise to the ways of everyday life.
For three days and two nights we went around meeting locals and talking with them about their experiences (our professor translated). We were housed by a local NGO in the village of Soho, our quarters consisting of six cots laid out in an old bookroom. Despite the freakishly large spiders that hung out in the shower stalls, the accommodations seemed far beyond adequate.
In the neighboring village of Protha we began by hiking up to the local primary and preschools to check out the educational conditions and, of course, play with the children. The ratio was 84 students to only 2 teachers.
Back in Soho we talked to two widowed women who began a self-help group, witnessed an oracle becoming possessed by the goddess Kali, and were treated to a traditional song and dance by two local Gujja herdsmen as the sun set (they had walked six hours down the mountain to come see us).
In the nearby village of Jedhera we spoke to local village leaders about a variety of topics, including the recently introduced National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (the subject of my own research). We were also fortunate enough to meet the local doctor, a young man who had recently attained his M.D and spoke perfect English. When asked why he decided to take on such an obscure position, he simply responded that not enough doctors were willing to do so, and he felt a sense of duty to the people.
This trip was shocking in many senses and refreshing in many others. We will be taking two more trips like this over the next couple of months, with the goal of understanding rural poverty and analyzing the steps currently being taken against it. Until then, it is back to the big city.
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