Beyond the pale of media

BY choudhury| IN Regional Media | 10/04/2004
In the immediate vicinity of the Power Minister’s constituency in Doda is a population of 6000 people who have never seen a television because there is no electricity..

Zafar Iqbal Choudhary


India shines elsewhere predominantly through the media campaigns, but for this piece of God’s own land even the sun appears to have refused to shine for long. For the 6000 odd population of the area the biggest exercise of democracy currently underway is as good as the anarchy they have been steeped in for fifty years now. Many of the sons of this soil are leading light of the present poll campaign but back home they are ignorant of the basic realities of a failed system.  

Trekking up the arduous mountains of Tanta area in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir -one of the five largest districts of the country in terms of area -one finds sign boards inscriptions in a difficult-to-read Urdu sending a chill down the spine. One of the signboards reads -"Zanpha died here of labor pain while being carried to the hospital". Another such signboard tells about the death of one Shakar Din, brother of an erstwhile Sarpanch who passed away after battling asthma for a long time. Zanpha and Shakar Din left the world without the basic healthcare they were supposed to get. A dozen odd signboards dotting the broken paths amidst shrubs and dense trees are the unique way of protest to remind the youngsters of the prevailing condition of the area. A dramatic story for journalists, except that they do not usually  come here. 

The Tanta area, which  is infamous for umpteen maternity deaths, juvenile deaths, and illiteracy is comprised of nearly 16 small villages and hamlets consisting a population of nearly 6000 souls in Bhaderwah tehsil of Doda district, bordering Chamba valley of Himachal Pradesh to West, and Anantnag district of South Kashmir in the North. Interestingly Tanta is part of same Bhaderwah, which has from time to time returned the sons of its soil to the top slots of national and state power structure. Some of the prominent faces belonging to this tehsil are senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, Jammu and Kashmir Power Minister Mohammad Sharief Niaz, eminent jurist and former Ambassador to Jordan Mr Goni (who has since died). A leading legal luminary and former Advocate General Mohammad Aslam Goni, former Member of Parliament and state president of Bahujan Samaj Party Sheikh Abdul Rehman, former state president of Bhartiya Janata Party Daya Kishan Kotwal and IAS officers Swami Ram Sharma and Pawan Kotwal are other shining sons of Bhaderwal, but all are apparently ignorant of the shoddy and inconsiderate realities of Tanta.   

55 years after ushering into an era of liberal democracy Tanta is yet to get a Primary Healthcare Center. A besmirched and shabby dispensary is manned by an ISM (Indian System of Medicines) Medical Assistant who turns up to the area once in a month to fill up his attendance register and draw the salary. He is assisted by a nursing orderly who for all reasons enjoys the reputation of a doctor sahib among the hapless Tanta villagers. If  one is looking for a picture of malnourishment, Tanta certainly becomes the best place to visit. A middle aged women was seen working in the fields. She got her wrist injured. Hardly a couple of drops of blood oozed out and there was no blood at all. And even she did not care either. When asked pat came the reply: "……there is not enough blood, I should care about it."  

 State health and medical education minister Choudhary Lal Singh is seeking a Lok Sabha seat from Kathua-Udhampur-Doda constituency of which Tanta is a part. Choudhary has recently concluded his election tour of the district but Tanta was not the visit wish list. Tanta forms the part of the same constituency from where the senior BJP leader and Union Minister of state for Defence Prof Chaman Lal Gupta is seeking election for third time in a row. He has won the election from this constituency earlier at two occasions but could not pay a single visit to the area.  

In 1950 the then government of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah has sanctioned a primary school for the area, which is yet waiting upgradation. Among the 6000 orphans of the system there are five individuals in the area who wield influence and are widely respected for their high social status. Actually these are the five brave and patient people who are considered as pride of Tanta. An interaction with the locals reveals that they persevered to attend the government middle school 14 kilometers away.  Their courage and determination did not end there. They traveled another five kilometers to reach a higher secondary school to become the uncommon school- educated citizens of the area. Now two of them are the teachers under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (the total literacy campaign of the Government of India). One is a guard in the  forest department, another one is a lineman in the public health engineering department, and the fifth is a chowkidar.  

Ask any of the villagers about the India Shining campaign on television and the print media and they would respond, "What is that? We don’t know". Tanta’s over 15 small villages and hamlets are roughly interspersed over the assembly constituencies of Bhaderwah and Inderwal. While Bhaderwah is currently represented by the Congress veteran and Jammu and Kashmir Power Minister Mohammad Sharief Niaz, Inderwal is represented by Vice Chairman of the State Social Welfare Advisory Board G M Saroori. Ironically, in the immediate vicinity of the Power Minister’s constituency is a population of 6000 people who have never seen a television because there is no electricity. Small sticks and logs of the resin rich pinewood is what people use for illuminating their houses in the evening. Of course, there are few hundred resourceful people who manage to get some kerosene.  

This is an area which yet to taste the fruits of democracy. Jammu and Kashmir has its own sorry tale of local self-governance. Even in a democratic structure, power is concentrated in few hands and is never allowed to be shared with people at grass root level through the Panchayats and local bodies. In 2001 the Panchayat elections were conducted in the state after a gap of 23 years. But this time again Tanta was left out of the purview of this exercise for "security reasons". Local people say the government is lying. There is no security threat as there are hardly any militants in the area. This argument seems true. When two third of the total defense force is deployed across the length and breadth of Jammu and Kashmir, there is hardly any presence of  police or security men in Tanta 

Tanta’s 6000 people are an easy to grab vote bank for any political party which could reach out to them. Reason is very simple. The media- powered political campaign is unknown to them. They don’t know the real faces of the leaders and parties. Their votes could be pocketed on first come first serve basis. If any one has the courage to reach out to Tanta, its vote bank is still intact. 


*The author is a journalist based at Jammu and can be reached at



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