‘Change On Its Own’

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Ilhaq Tantry 

Known as the Kashmir’s ‘volatile village’, Palhallan is depiction of its unending turbulence.

Graffiti and slogans dotting the lanes and by lanes of this picturesque village portrays the extent to which secessionist belief runs deep here. For this belief villagers say they had to face discrimination from all government quarters.

Though villagers say they stood determined for everything, but one thing became unbearable and too nauseating; accumulation of tons of garbage and polythene lying on the lanes and by lanes of this village that is Valley’s second largest village.

With no help expected from government to save the Palhallan from disaster, its youth came forward to save their native place. Then cometh the change in May 2017; during a cricket match when entire village was enjoying some moments of joy, a commentator in his unique voice made a fervent appeal. “Boys get ready to save your village,” sounded commentator through tweaking public address system. The moment commentator Asif Shahbaz made the announcement, 30 boys without a second and any hesitation raised their hands in agreement.

But first things are to be done first. Boys knew their task was cut out. Accumulated garbage was scattered in every nook and corner of Palhallan. It needed comprehensive strategy and plan to clean Palhallan. So, “Palhallan Volunteer Youth” (PVY) took the birth from the lush green cricket field.

Then started door to door campaign of PVY motivating people to come and join the cleanliness drive in their village.

Shahbaz, sitting at a spot in village which once was full of garbage, now with his group’s assistance has become a replenished green space, says: “We made this group to work for a social change. At that point of time pollution was at its peak in our village”.

He says that there were times when their relatives and friends from other villages used to tuant them for the cleanliness and garbage. “On seeing our lush green surroundings getting polluted, we not only were disappointed, but we were embarrassed whenever any guest used to visit our village. Instead of greenery there were only piles of stinking garbage.”

Another volunteer from PVY, Sujeel Ahmad Tantray describes this transformation of village to sense deep attachment towards motherland. “Everyone is identified by his/her roots. It becomes more important for you as a person, when you are from village like Palhallan which has great legacy. That legacy was slowly dying its death to the stink from garbage. We ensured our legacy is not over,” he says while showing a small pond that was cleared by volunteers from filth and garbage. “Look, how clean this looks now.”

Earlier, Tantray says dogs used to roam over the leftover garbage. “It was not only scary to move in the village. But many people were also bitten by canines. Canine terror used to rule our village. But now things have changed to some extent.”

Palhallan 30 kilometers from Srinagar is situated along Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway. With over 40,000 souls with 64 percent literacy rate including women and men literacy rate of 54 percent and 12 percent respectively as per 2011 census, this place looks like a mini town but in disarray. Though government has named this village as the model village a big rusted sign board and a broken illuminating light is the only testimony of the village being a model developed village. “Look at the facilities; it doesn’t look like a model village despite being right on the national highway and close to three towns. The village has been ignored and its youth have been pushed to wall.’’

In this village where mourning has been echoing in air since 90’s, ‘Band Pather’ (Kashmir’s traditional folk dance) soothes people visiting here. Village is also known for its scented apple orchards that provide employment to most of the villagers.

To safeguard village’s historic past, day by day many boys began to join the cause. Presently, PVY has 60 volunteers constantly working to replenish its lush green environs again.

“We started this mission when we knew government in no way will pay any attention towards us. That’s why we started this mission on our own. Our aim is to make Palhallan Green Town and also to make it developed in every aspect,” says Shahbaz, while cleaning piles of unattended garbage with his two group men at by lane in Palhallan.

PVY has now other plans in store for the beautification and welfare of the village.

“Besides, bringing serenity into the environs of village, PVY now plans to launch education initiatives for needy children and also has plan to start health center in the village,’’ says another young volunteer who is studying at Degree College Baramulla.

“We have requested politicians many a times for resolving the issue, but they never took us seriously, as villagers always stay away from voting. We government started ignoring us there was no option left with us but to initiate a process were our youths will become our strength. So far we have been successful in our mission,’’ says Abdul Majeed, an elderly villager who has been helping these young volunteers.

The village and its youth have shown that “If you want a change, be a change”.

(ILHAQ TANTRAY IS STUDYING JOURNALISM AT DEGREE COLLEGE BARAMULLA)

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