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A Pakistan no govt wants to showcase

When Nitish Kumar hosted a delegation from Pakistan in August 2012, he surprised them by telling them about a Pakistan in Bihar.

But Nitish couldn’t have taken the team to visit this Pakistan.

For one, it’s inaccessible. For another, it is not a good advertisement for governance.

If anything, Bihar’s Pakistan, a village in Shrinagar block of Purnea district, 30km east of the district headquarters and about 340km northeast of Patna, is an example of what has gone wrong in many parts of India since Independence.

Purnea’s Pakistan is home to 25 Santhal tribe families — indigent to the extent of being unable to keep their home fires burning.

One can reach it by trudging along a 3km brick soled stretch from Shrinagar to Singhiya panchayat and then 3km of earthen pathway — dusty, uneven and treacherous. One cannot even think of reaching the hamlet from June onwards when monsoon breaks out — Pakistan and the stretches leading up to it stay submerged in water for almost six months in a year.

Nitish had explained the origin of the name of the village to the 21-member delegation from the “other” Pakistan. “Almost all the Muslims of the village, then in Dinajpur district of Bengal, migrated to East Pakistan in the wake of Partition. It was a very emotional and peaceful parting. The people who stayed behind named their village Pakistan so they would not miss their brothers and sisters who had left them,” he had said.

Pakistan became a part of Purnea district of Bihar in 1956.

The delegation from Pakistan, which had 13 MPs led by Pakistan People’s Party general secretary Jahangir Badar, was overwhelmed by Nitish’s “revelation”. “Nitish Kumar behtarin saksh hain jinhone ideal society ka concept diya hai (Nitish Kumar is an ideal human being who harbours the concept of an ideal society),” Jahangir had gushed of his host. Nitish had also shown his guests a well-embellished map of Bihar’s Pakistan village.

That’s the most he could have done. Nitish in no way could have taken the Pakistanis to Pakistan — the monsoon was in full swing in August 2012 and the village and stretches leading to it were submerged under water from all around, as usual.

The village is a symbol of criminal neglect by successive governments. It has no road, no electricity, no school, no health centre, no TVs, no radios — virtually nothing that a human society needs to live. The village has 25 Santhal families with about 200 members and 70 voters. Neither Nitish nor any of his predecessors, nor the present MP from Purnea, Udai (Pappu) Singh, contesting the seat again on a BJP ticket, nor his predecessors has ever visited this Pakistan.

Guru Besra (55), the mararh (village headman elected through the Santhal custom), quoting ancestors, revealed that their forefathers originally belonged to neighbouring Dumka district in Santhal Paragana (now Jharkhand). They had come to Purnea as farm and sundry workers to earn a living. The then dispensation settled the Santhals at the settlement deserted by the original Muslim residents.

Purnea Lok Sabha constituency, bordering Bengal and Bangladesh, still accounts for 22 per cent of the Muslim electorate — numerically preponderant enough to tilt the electoral balance.

The Telegraph spotted four or five ruling JD(U) activists counselling the Pakistan residents to vote in favour of Nitish Kumar’s party. But the villagers were not impressed. “Shrinagar kaam karne jaate hain toh Narendra Modi ka hawa sunte hain. Hum log bhi badlao chahte hain. Is sarkar ne hamare liye kiya kya hai (When I go to Shrinagar to work I hear about a wave in Narendra Modi’s favour. We too want change. After all, what has the incumbent government done for us)?” says Besra.

But devoid of TVs, radios and other means of communication, the villagers are too backward, naive and primitive to talk much about politics. The settlement of 200 people has only two mobile phones — one owned by Guru Besra and another by Dinesh Tuddu. “My phone got discharged two days ago. I will charge it when I go to Shrinagar to work,” shrugged Dinesh.

Besra explained that it was hard to keep a mobile phone as the village has no electricity to charge it.

The villagers — all Santhal tribesmen and women — said their ancestors were allotted one acre to two acres of land in the 1950s. The land was abandoned by the Muslims who had migrated to East Pakistan. The Pakistan villagers grow wheat, maize and several other coarse grains on whatever land they have. “Ours is a flood-ravaged village. We don’t produce enough to sustain ourselves for an entire year,” Besra laments. “We work as farm hands in Purnea and Shrinagar to sustain ourselves.”

Six of the villagers — two women and three men — above the age of 60 get Rs 200 per month as old age pension. None of the houses — all made of hay, shrubs and bamboos — has cooking gas cylinders. The women were busy using tree trunks, cow dung and leaves as fuel to cook their food when this correspondent visited them on Sunday evening. Darkness was about to envelop the village, forcing us to hurriedly leave it.

 

Arjun Gupta of Purnea, around 330km northeast of Patna, has not been getting the best earnings off the three-wheeler he takes out every day in the town. But he is far from unhappy.

The 36-year-old has been taking out his autorickshaw to transport commuters and also campaign for the Aam Aadmi Party’s Purnea candidate, Sudip Rai alias Munna Rai, free of cost. But a public address system blaring slogans from the vehicle has turned away several people from taking the auto.

Arjun, who has also taken the party membership, has decorated the auto with posters of Arvind Kejriwal, Shazia Ilmi, Sudip and the party symbol.

“I allow people to board my vehicle if they don’t get disturbed by the public address system blaring the campaign slogans and songs. I charge for transporting people but none for the campaigning. My income has gone down because many commuters avoid my three-wheeler. I am only earning around Rs 500 a day against Rs 800 I earned earlier. Still, I am happy,” said Arjun, a matriculate who has a wife and three children to support.
Arjun does not even know Sudip, but is campaigning for him out of a sense of duty. What has overwhelmed him is calls from party chief Arvind Kejriwal. “Arvindji he has called me at least four times in the past month inquiring about the party’s condition in Purnea,” he claimed.

Nalin Verma

l Purnea votes on April 24