ASER 2006 was the first ASER for me and for my district in Assam. During that ASER I was part of the ASER process as a volunteer from a local NGO, Barluit Foundation. After 2 days of district level orientation and field pilot, I was assigned to a village called Umsur NC. The extension after the village Name ‘NC’ stands for Non Census. In Assam this category is villages are those that are situated mainly in a border area between two states. Basically these are border disputed areas. This village is situated 50 km from the district headquarters and about 30 km from my local town, Mirza.
The day of the survey I and my co-surveyor started our journey very early in the morning as directed by the Pratham personnel Mr Indrajit Deka. Those days, I had a scooter and it was really troublesome to run on the hilly semi pucca narrow zigzag road. The road was very lonely, with dense forest on both sides. We did not meet any vehicle or any person on the way.
After an hour’s travel we reached a signboard marking the village entrance road (a small rectangular roof tin piece only) where the name of the village written with the burn Mobil (black colour) in a very casual way. We entered a nearby timber mill to ask for directions. But what they told us made us very nervous as we learned that the village was far from the timber mill and we would have to travel on foot. The next information that they shared was even more horrible. They said that the only way to reach the village was by a narrow road through the dense forest, where it was quite common to encounter wild animals like elephants and tigers. They told us that every year one or two wild animal attack incidents occurred on that road.
During the conversation the labourers at the mill offer us Sira (poheh) and banana. We ate breakfast most eagerly as we were very hungry and had started our travel early in the morning with an empty stomach. Finally we decided to keep my scooter in the mill and started the journey to village on foot, carrying a branch of a tree for safety. Thankfully we encountered only a herd of wild fowl and monkeys, although we observed fresh litter of elephant and fallen trees on the elephant corridors.
As the village is under N.C category we faced many problems during village mapping. This village is situated on the border of Assam and Meghalaya and for socio-political reasons many people are biased about the actual village area. Some people told us that they cast their vote in both state elections but due to lack of time we could not enquire further.
Though the village is under Assam, it had not seen any development work under Assam administration except the village primary school –which was in very poor shape on both academic and infrastructural side. But we found a private school under Meghalaya Authority and a Church in good condition. Villagers repeatedly asked us about road, water and other government schemes and facilities. Because the government authority rarely visited the village, they thought we were government representatives and wanted us to take note of their problems.
After that year I continued my work for Read India Campaign. I had an opportunity to visit the neighboring village of that first ASER village and was very happy to hear that lots of changes had taken place.
By Pranab Baruah, ASER Associate, Assam