Along the Betwa – Part 10: Jamouri to Korona

In late 2018, along with our partners – Out of Eden Walk, we floated a call for applications to Veditum’s first Moving Upstream fellowship programme focussed on River Betwa. The objective: to walk along stretches of the Betwa and document the river and life around it. Radhika Singh and Shail Joshi were two of the four fellows selected for the program.

They started from Hamirpur, a city in Uttar Pradesh, where the Betwa merges with the Yamuna. Then, they traveled onwards to Bandhouli, close to the confluence of the Betwa and Dhasan rivers. The entire journey, around 130 kilometers, was carried out on foot. Joshi and Singh depended on villages along the way for food and accommodation.


Walking Route for Day 9. J: Jamouri, K: Korona. Map designed by Shail Joshi

The next morning, we woke up early. We wanted to avoid more of the sandy area, and decided to cross the river. We went down to the bank and found a boatman who agreed to take us to the other side.

It was extremely misty that morning, and there was not another person in sight. The river appeared and withdrew like the memory of a dream, and we ran our fingertips across the water to remind us where we were. The sun was rising languorously. The only sound we heard was the striking of oars and the swish of water passing us by. When we reached the opposite bank, we paid the boatman and thanked him, and then continued on.

Our next destination was a village called Korona. There was no clear path, and no one to ask. We tried to follow Google Maps the best we could, heading in the general direction of the village and trying to stay as close to the bank of the river as possible. The walk was arduous. Our feet sunk deeper into the sandy ground with each step we took. Constant undulations in the ground, many of which were at least four feet high, hampered our progress.

The sun had yet to rise, and the landscape was bathed in mist on our last river crossing.

We passed dozens of concrete pipes that lay abandoned along the riverbank. When we thought we were close to Korona we turned away from the river and started walking towards the few houses we saw in the distance. Much of the path was fenced off, but we found holes in the fence and slithered through them, marching through fields towards the village.

When we thought we were at the outskirts of the village, we stopped to ask for directions. An old, stooped man invited us in for tea. He shyly asked us if we were alright with them making the tea for us, being scheduled caste. We were simultaneously touched by his kindness and saddened by the fact that he felt lower than us by the structures of caste. We assured him that it did not matter to us – that we did not believe in caste – and that we would be happy to have chai made by him.

Chulha cooking: Kamata’s daughter-in-law makes chai for us and cooks chapatis to be taken to the field.

The family owned fields by the river, and five buffaloes. They did not have their own hand pump, and had to walk to the river to collect water for everyday use. In many areas in Bundelkhand, access to water is much more limited for lower- caste communities. Borewells are usually controlled by upper castes- a huge problem as the vast majority of cropped area in Bundelkhand is irrigated by groundwater. Sometimes, they are denied the use of handpumps or wells and have to travel much further to find water sources they are allowed to use. When the government sends water tanks to places suffering from drought, Dalit villages are often the last to receive them.

We met the owner of the house, Kamata, who talked to us more about the issues of caste in the area. “Akhilesh was very casteist”, he said, “but Yogi’s government is no better. If this cow-saving nonsense did not exist and slaughterhouses were not banned then the cattle situation here would be much better”. We told him about how the problem was being tackled in Jamouri, and asked him whether he thought it might work in Korona, too. Kamata did not think so. “We do not have the population we need for that”? he said. “Half of the village is gone, mostly to work in brick kilns”. We talked to the man’s daughter- a sixteen year old with bright and clever eyes- who told us that she had recently dropped out of school and would get married next month.

“Studies have shown that most districts within Bundelkhand are in the most backward or low/medium developed category, which is determined by a region’s resource base, levels of technological applications, and economic relations. The region’s Gini coefficient shows that Bundelkhand is also more economically unequal as compared to the rest of Uttar Pradesh. People from lower castes and scheduled tribes face higher incidences of poverty. Food insecurity also plagues people from lower-income groups, leading to high rates of migration for employment.”

House on the edge: This house was located at the edge of Korona village, where water was hard to find.

It seemed clear to us, however, that pockets of wealth and privilege existed in the region. The pradhans that we had come across were generally wealthier and more privileged than most other people. They were also largely upper-caste. We speculated that positions of influence were, more often than not, granted to those who already had the most power. This served to reinforce existing hierarchies within the structure of society. The members of this household, being lower-caste, would find it much more difficult to find places in the village?s panchayat.

Kamata’s wife and the other women in the house were fascinated by our sleeping bags. We unrolled one of them and showed them how to use it. “How much are they”, they asked us. We told them it would cost around Rs 5,000. They shook their heads. “We cannot afford that,” they told us, “but it would come in use for the men who have to sleep in the fields at night”. When we departed, we left one of our sleeping bags with them.

Empty River: A panoramic view of the dried up Betwa River during the winter months, with some glimpses of farming and vegetation.

This article is part of a series, describing the journey and observations from the walk undertaken by Radhika Singh & Shail Joshi. New parts of the series will be published on www.veditum.org every Sunday. Series editor: Rathnavel Pandian

This series is also available in a book format. Interested readers/book reviewers/publishers may write to contact@veditum.org for access.

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