Lucknow: For decades after independence, villagers in Chopaniya, in a remote part of eastern Uttar Pradesh’s impoverished Sonbhadra district, did not have a hospital or elementary facilities a government is expected to provide, much less a school.
Then in 2014, the state government constructed a building, and a primary school with a single teacher was started so that children from the 40-odd families in the village would not have to walk around 7 km to the nearest school.
But the problems for villagers did not end. Because there was no road to the village, the newly-appointed teacher-in-charge stopped coming after a few days, unable to navigate his bike every day on the jungle path.
That is when villagers decided they had enough. For three years, every Sunday, members from each family worked for an hour, chipping away at the hills on both sides of the jungle path, widening the road and levelling it, till a 6.5 km long path was finally ready this year.
The new road is good enough for even four-wheelers to pass through. The villagers used axes, and sometimes even their hands to move the stones and to level the path.
It’s a remarkable achievement, says 40-year-old Banfal, one of the villagers, who was among those who came up with the idea and then a regular volunteer every Sunday for all three years.
“We used to go to the local government official. He used to say there is a jungle all around. We can do nothing. So I got everyone together, and we decided we would build the road ourselves if the government wouldn’t do it,” he said.
Last week, the feat got about 15 villagers from Chopaniya an audience with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav. “I met him for the first time. It was good, I felt happy. He made us sit with him. We invited him to come here and see for himself how under-developed the area is. He has promised more roads, housing and much more. Let’s see if he lives up to them,” said 45-year-old Inarmati Devi.
The happiest though is school master Gopal Das who says he initially tried to make the daily trip to his school every day with his bike, but gave up eventually. “You see it’s not only about the school. Now that the road is built, I think much more will happen here. And the chief minister has also noticed.”