|Schoolchildren cross the Godadhar river to reach home at Kuntirchar
in Dhubri. Picture by Sumir Karmakar
Ferrying children to and from school is the most difficult time of the day for boatman Samar Ali.
“Don’t jump. Get in carefully. And don’t sit on the sides,” shouts Ali, 35, who ferries people across the Godadhar that separates Kuntirchar and Majerchar (sandbars) from Dhubri town in lower Assam. Nearly 40 children, mostly girls of BC Memorial Lower Primary School in Dhubri, board the boat on their way home on the two sars (sandbars).
“I have to steer the boat and at the same time take care of their safety. Now the water is about 10 feet deep but it doubles during rains,” Ali, doing the job for about 10 years, said as he started the boat’s engine from the Dhubri end of the bank.
The Brahmaputra and two of its tributaries Godadhar and Tipkai meets about 200-metre away from where the boat starts. The two sars (sandbars) are just in front of the official bungalows of Dhubri deputy commissioner and superintendent of police. On the other bank at Kuntirchar, the same trouble waits for Ali. He jumped off the boat before it touches the bank and makes sure the children get off safely.
“During the monsoon, I have to take help of their parents as there is water everywhere here,” Ali said, as he helped Golapjaan Khatun, a Class II student, get off the boat. The scenes at Kuntirchar and Majerchar are similar to any other sar in Assam, mostly in lower Assam districts of Dhubri, Goalpara, Barpeta and Nalbari. There are no roads, no electricity connection, no drinking water supply and no hospital. The damaged houses here tell the devastation caused by floods, almost every year. People, mostly farmers living here, however, do not complain about the absence of the basic amenities. All they want is a primary school for their children who have to cross the river daily for classes.
“Election comes and goes, but nobody bothers to set up a school for our children. Hardly any top leader comes here for votes by crossing the river. It seems casting votes has become only a responsibility for us,” Makfer Ali Dewani, 52, said before he took a dip in the water at Kuntirchar.
Most villagers bathe in the river. “For drinking water, we depend on a few tubewells in the village,” Dewani said.
“He fell down one day,” said Banesa Khatoon, a Class III student, pointing to her friend Rahul Sheikh. There are around 600 households in Kuntirchar (part II) and Majerchar. “We have been living here for over 35 years,” said Sultan Ali, a rickshaw puller at Kuntirchar. Where did they live before?
“Many call us Bangladeshis. Let me show you my documents,” Ali hurriedly brought out his electoral photo identity card and his school certificate, which said he studied at Mahurichar, about 10km away, before settling here.
The village does not have a primary school although the Right to Education Act was passed in 2009. According to the act, there should be a primary school every 1km.
“Many children leave school mid-way. We are scared when our three grandchildren go to school. We voted for the Congress, AIUDF and the CPI in the past, but now we do not expect anything from them as they forget us soon after elections,” said Ainul Haque, 65, and his wife, Roshanra Bibi, 50, as they waited under a tin-roofed shed for the boat to visit a clinic in Dhubri town.