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Cheetar Ki Naal, the isolated Rajasthan hamlet where villagers reluctantly vote in every election | Elections News

Sundar Devi, a resident of Cheetar Ki Naal, an isolated hamlet in Thoria village in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district, was hesitant to vote in Saturday’s Assembly polls but ended up changing her mind amid the persistent honking of a jeep featuring BJP candidate and MLA Surendra Singh Rathore’s photo.

“Politicians have never visited us in the last five years. Every time we met, they fooled us by giving different reasons. Now, they have sent their jeep with big posters, seeking our votes,” she said.

Cheetar Ki Naal falls under Gajjpur panchayat, which has seven villages. The name literally means the “valley of panthers,” as the wild animal is a common sight in the hamlet, according to the residents. Nestled in a mountainous terrain, it remains disconnected from the rest of the village. It lacks a road connecting it to nearby villages, schools, healthcare facilities and other essential amenities.

A3 A rough pathway heading towards Cheetar Ki Naal, covered with pebbles, stones, and rocks (Express photo)

The hamlet, with only 13 houses, is conveniently neglected by political leaders. The majority of the residents engage in MGNREGS work or other low-paying jobs such as vegetable vending and construction work. Most of them are Rajputs belonging to three castes—Kharwar, Kunwar and Parmaar.

Travelling about 6 km to vote in Thoria, the villagers navigate an impassable jungle road full of pebbles, stones and rocks. This road forms the crux of their challenges, hindering all opportunities and ensnaring them in a cycle of poverty. They are also wary of encounters with wild animals in the surrounding jungle.

Festive offer

The villagers say they have been reduced to mere statistics by political leaders who never visit them even to seek their votes. However, the whole village voted, as it has always done. It was a mere formality, something the villagers thought they ought to do, with almost no hope of things getting better anytime soon. It has been years since the hamlet saw any significant development.

D1 (2) The jeep transports villagers from the polling booth back to the village (Express photo)

Their refrain is “Har baar hum jhaanse mein aa jaate hain, har baar sochte hain nahi jaayenge vote dena, har baar chale jaate hain”.

Education is a luxury the hamlet seems unable to pursue. Shambhu Singh, a Class 9 student, said, “One reason I won’t study beyond Class 10 is the bad condition of the road. It is extremely hard to travel daily along the road. How can I stay back and be a burden on my family?”

Leher Singh (51), another resident, highlighted the difficulty in ensuring that their children go to school. “It is very difficult to convince autorickshaw drivers to come to our part of the village, even if they agree they refuse to come to the interior area. We have to look for a new driver every one or two months. The drivers ask for more money every now and then,” he added.

The villagers say they pay Rs 1,000 per month per student to the driver. Many of them have three or four children and sending all of them to school thus becomes infeasible. Around 5-6 children walk to school every day. It takes them one hour and a half-hour to reach there. Their journey back is a source of tension for their parents as sometimes they reach by 6 pm; the threat of panthers increases after sunset. “Until he returns from school, I am constantly stressed about him,” said Parbati Bai, whose son goes to school on foot.

The government school that the village kids go to is around 7 km away, over 2 km of which passes through mountainous terrain, and there is no public transport available

The narrow, perilous route, complicates daily life. Panther attacks on livestock often go uncompensated. “A bear attacked me a month ago. My limb became dysfunctional,” Jamku Bai, another villager, recounted.

The lack of connectivity has taken a toll on marriage prospects of the youth also. “Nobody is agreeing to marry their off daughters to the men of our village. They say this village does not have any road. Who will send their daughters to a jungle?” Kamla Devi said.

The lack of connectivity adversely affects children below six who are not enrolled in Anganwadis. The nearest anganwadi is 8-9 km away and going there involves travelling through rough terrain. Proper nutrition that pregnant women and lactating mothers ought to have is also hard to come by for the women of this hamlet.

The jungle route spells enormous troubles for pregnant women. As the villagers do not have a four-wheeler, when the delivery of a pregnant woman is near, they call an autorickshaw from nearby villages. It is especially worrisome if it happens at night as autorickshaw drivers refuse to come because of the risk involved, and pregnant woman, even in labour pain, has to walk up to the autorickshaw in order to go to the nearest health centre, around 8 km away. “Delivery ka samay aata hai tab sar pe leke jaaye kya? Home delivery kare ya toh? In sab mar jaaye toh bhi kya kare, kiski galti?” asked Sundar Devi, whose daughter is eight months pregnant.

Employment opportunities for women are close to none. Sometimes they take up work under the rural jobs guarantee scheme, but the long and arduous route makes that also a difficult proposition.

“The problem is that the route is so narrow and there is a trench on one side. If a panther or tiger comes, we do not have the option to turn back the vehicle,” said Bhanwar Singh (45), another resident.

The prospect of a getting concrete road remains bleak as government officials and political leaders, including the sarpanch, keep passing the buck to one another.

Surendra Singh Rathore, the local MLA, does not even acknowledge there is a connectivity problem. “Waha zyada kuch nahi, mamuli kaam bacha hai. Ho jaega. Is saal ban jaegi,” he said.

“I have talked to higher authorities. The onus is not just on me. I am doing my best to make this happen,” said sarpanch Kishan Lal Gameti.

As the jeep completes its last round, dropping off villagers back from the polling booth, Shyama Devi, another resident, remarked, “Now, we’ll see them after five years.”

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