What Ails Bhaderwah?
_By Touqeer Nazir and Usman Ali_
The princely state of Jammu & Kashmir was formed in 1846 via Treaty of Amritsar signed between East India Company and Gulab Singh. Bhaderwah was then under the Jurisdiction of Chamba and ruled by the Maharaja of Chamba. It was only in 1854 that Bhaderwah was annexed to the princely state of J&K. In 1901, when Jammu province was administratively divided into four districts- Jammu, Jasrota, Udhampur and Bhimber, Bhaderwah was not merged into any of the four districts. It enjoyed the status of quasi-independent Jagir and its relation with Dogra kingdom was defined under the Ranbir family code. In 1920, this Jagir was abolished and merged in Udhampur district. With the creation of District Doda in 1948 that was itself carved out of Udhampur District, Bhaderwah became a part of District Doda. Bhaderwah, a beautiful town in Chenab Valley of J&K, has been a “place of firsts” for various reasons. The first college in erstwhile district Doda was established in Bhaderwah in 1955. The first ever offsite campus of Jammu University was established in Bhaderwah in 2006, followed by Udhampur (2007). In 2005, Bhaderwah gave J&K its first ever non-Kashmiri Chief Minister- Gh Nabi Azad who won by a huge margin. He recently retired as the leader of opposition from the upper house of Indian parliament. Bhaderwah College did help the people of Chenab valley to pursue higher education and make it to the citadel of learning like Aligarh Muslim University besides the colleges of Jammu and Kashmir. Bhaderwah was once a hub of learning and the locals have served the state of J&K in various fields- be it education sector, health sector or bureaucracy for that matter. But these signifiers are now about to peter out. In this article we will touch upon different themes which we think are the core issues responsible for the current dismal state of our town.
Let us talk about the *education* first. With the coming up of new private schools, lately, the primary education has shown some positive developments. The gradual shift from ‘rote learning’ to ‘understanding’ is appreciable. Some schools working upon bringing creativity in a child through various innovative techniques is a good gesture. But we still lag behind as far as overall development of primary level education in concerned. Here it is pertinent to note that government schools at primary and middle level are bereft of teaching-learning process. They have kind of outsourced their work to private schools. Grapevine is that during Covid-19 induced lockdown when schools shifted to online mode of teaching, the WhatsApp groups created by some primary schools supposedly to provide students with study material had no students added in those groups. The primary and middle level is the building block and must be made strong enough so that students inculcate learning skills right from the beginning. Primary education should look after all-round development of a child. It should not just be about preparing children for secondary school.
Despite being one among the oldest colleges affiliated to Jammu University the things are not hunky-dory with GDC Bhaderwah. There is a serious dearth of professors at the undergrad level. Philosophy subject is without professors. Geography subject has no permanent faculty. There is only one professor for Mathematics. 66 years down the line, the college offers PG courses in Chemistry and Urdu subject only. Without wishing to be named, a college student who happens to be a localite revealed that the majority of the professors especially those engaged on ad hoc basis show a very low interest in teaching. They either keep playing cricket or loiter the campus, gossiping. The “Skill Subjects” are not taught at all. The college is lacking Infrastructure as well- library has a limited number of books, washrooms and water coolers are nowhere in sight, college canteen is synonymous to ruins. Even the classrooms are limited in number, if even-semester is into examination; the odd has to sit home and vice-versa. Students are not even familiar with things like extracurricular and co-curricular activities or career counseling cell.
One important reason behind this scenario is that the majority of local students after passing 12th standard either pursue engineering and other technical courses or MBBs/BDS. The question why they choose these courses, what is the output and are we as a society facing the issue of brain drain is a different debate altogether but a healthy presence of local students at GDC might change things. The issue of shortage of faculty members should be dealt with at local level. If the Higher Education Department is not recruiting professors or contractual lecturers are not joining in far off places like ours, the college principal can engage locals from the town itself. This is not a case of bending of norms; it was a practice before as well. Recently GDC Kastigarh (a village in Doda) did something similar by engaging professors on ad hoc basis keeping the applicant’s merit in view. The list of books in the library needs to be augmented. The college infrastructure must be upgraded. Since GDC Bhaderwah has a good number of non-locals students, the newly built hostel must be made operational. No doubt it is our collective responsibility to keep things in check but it is incumbent upon those professors who are the local residents to make sure that things at GDC don’t go awry. We could have put these suggestions in the ‘suggestion box’ at GDC Bhaderwah but unfortunately that is broken.
The town has two higher secondary schools. We talked to some of the students regarding the working of these schools. The grievances related to infrastructure and callousness of teachers is same as that of GDC Bhaderwah. But what is more problematic is that if a girl student wants to study Economics or Commerce at HSS level she simply can’t because we don’t have these subjects in Hr. Sec School Girls. What is most dangerous, vicious and worrisome trend, as narrated by these students, is that the teachers have become brand ambassadors for their own tuition institutes. They openly ask students for joining their tuition classes and if students do otherwise they have to face the consequences- they’re either deliberately put under shortage of attendance or end up losing practical marks (we are not making a sweeping generalization, exceptions are always there). There is only one solution to this problem, that is, we must hang our heads in shame. Bhaderwah Campus of Jammu University was established by acquiring a huge agricultural land but the present constructed buildings stand nowhere in proportion to the area acquired. Hostel buildings are incomplete and no work has been done on this project from last so many years. Campus has rented two private buildings for boys and girls hostel. There is no optimum utilization of funds. There is lack of sanitation within the campus. Courses are offered only in few subjects and students are left with limited options. The B.Ed course which has a good number of students as compared to other subjects has all the seats in self-finance category. As far as the academic performance of B.Ed is concerned it is quite satisfactory but its fee structure does not allow everyone to afford this course. Perhaps that’s the reason why some seats in Bed course remain vacant in every academic session. Similarly Geography department has only 10 vacancies that too self financed. Some students had given their representation to VC regarding increasing the number of seats in geography but all in vain. The subjects that were initially introduced in Bhaderwah campus have very few takers not only in Bhaderwah but in the entire Chenab valley. Due to no student taking admission in MBA and nominal admissions in MCA department the campus has introduced BBA and B.COM instead. Something similar is going on with the English department with only 5-8 admissions this year. A campus must serve the local needs. The subjects that are presently being taught at college level should have been introduced at Bhaderwah campus. Besides B.Ed, M.Ed along with Education subject should have been introduced. But self-financing quota is turning everything on its head.
We interviewed some students of Bhaderwah campus and asked them about the problems faced by them. One among the major issues is the absenteeism in staff. There is lack of interaction and supervision between the Head of the institution and his subordinates. The campus library has outdated books and the setup in IT lab is not up to the mark. A lecture hall has been turned into library and unfortunately both the Campus Auditorium (functions and rehearsal are done here) and library are in the same block. How come we expect that library would have a relaxed ambience. The former rector of Bhaderwah campus Prof GM Bhat had tried to set things straight. He tried to introduce more subjects and wanted the support of locals but no one showed up. An administrator cannot server us on a silver platter. For that we need a vibrant civil society which will on one hand articulate the popular demands and on the other keep the institutions in check through informal control. There must be a linkage/interaction between civil society, college and the campus. This brings us to the second issue, that is- our spineless civil society.
The *civil society* plays a very crucial role in mobilizing people around shared/common interests. It is formed by taking every section on board & cuts across religion, community, race or gender. Unfortunately, we have not been able to form one such common platform let alone having a vibrant civil society. There might be some NGO’s or faith based organizations which are apparently working for the common good but they are allegedly working hand in glove with those forces which were needed to be held accountable for state we currently find ourselves in. Lack of communal harmony is one among the reasons why we are trailing this far. Take a public issue and you would find divided public opinion. Dissent and constructive criticism no doubt must be promoted but polarization around the issues must be avoided. Nevertheless, the entire onus cannot be shifted to the civil society alone. We need to figure out how much sincere are we as an individuals. What is our contribution to the society? Take education sector for instance- how many private libraries do we have? Do we have a reading culture in our town? How many of us are involved in pleasure reading? If a person wants to buy a Novel can he/she get one from the market? How many newspapers and magazines are in circulation in Bhaderwah? During his tenure as rector, Bhaderwah campus Library was thrown open to locals by Prof. G M Bhat. How many of us joined? To which level our college and university campus allow campus activism besides “campus politics”?
Let us move to the *Health sector*- SDH Bhaderwah once used to cater not only Bhaderwah town but Doda proper as well. This institution is in the doldrums- we have a large hospital building but without doctors, we have sophisticated apparatus but without operators. The hospital has an ultrasound machine but no Sonographer, a CT scan machine but no radiologist. Similarly ophthalmologist and Dermatologist are nowhere to be seen. One year prior, surgery department was paralyzed due to non availability of an Anesthesiologist in the hospital. With the appointment of some new doctors in SDH the condition has modified slightly. In the past we had good number of local doctors who would serve their town in a selfless manner. Given the fact that these doctors were local resident and had their families putting up in Bhaderwah their tenure was usually long. Now we don’t have a good number of local doctors for the reason known to everyone. It has to do with the current state of our education system. But it doesn’t mean that there is a complete blackout. Bhaderwah does produce good doctors. But here lies a catch- If a local serves his native place (Bhaderwah) some push and pull factors would come into play and he/she won’t be able to continue. There are some external factors which does affect the functioning of institutions in a society. Here is an illustration- if a doctor (local or non local) gets appointed to SDH Bhaderwah he would find no good school for his/her child. What will he do in this case? He will leave this place by serving for a very short span of time and try to get posted at a place where he and his family get every facility. So we need to look at all the issues in a comprehensive manner because every institution in a society complement and supplement each other.
The establishment of Government Medical College in Doda has not gone down well with some sections of our town. They cry of regional disparity. But if anyone questions them about the current state of SDH and road connectivity they would have no answers and end up blaming ‘administration’ which has become a buzzword when it comes to running away from responsibilities. What does seem puzzling, however, is the fact that people who cannot put their house in order are unhappy with the establishment of an institution of which they are the direct beneficiaries. The people of Bhaderwah must welcome the establishment of GMC DODA which would cater the entire Chenab valley. Instead of harping about regional disparity we as a society must put our efforts vis-à-vis up gradation of Doda-Bhaderwah road so that patients from Bhaderwah should reach GMC Doda in least possible time. It is pertinent to mention that Doda is nearer to us than Jammu or Srinagar.
The *economy* which was good in the past has gone haywire. The movement of people and ideas is very important to prevent an economy from getting waned. Earlier, when SDH Bhaderwah and GDC Bhaderwah were on peak as far as their functioning is concerned, our economy did benefit. People from erstwhile district Doda used to come to Bhaderwah which helped push our economy. Bhaderwah has a great business potential which only needs to be tapped. The strategic location of our town is very important in this respect. Bhaderwah share border with Himachal Pradesh, is linked to Bani- Basohli and connects Bhalessa from Jai valley. But unless and until Bhaderwah is connected with these areas by All-weather roads it will serve no purpose. Good road connectivity will also boost the tourism sector thereby helping our economy.
There might be some other issues responsible for this gloomy condition of Bhaderwah but to our mind those issues are inextricably linked with the above discussed themes. Instead of getting nostalgic about the past and only praising the beauty of Bhaderwah we need to look forward and try to find a solution to these issues. Development should not be confused with opening up of departmental stores or some tourists visiting us. We must not miss the forest for the trees; *otherwise we will fail and fail miserably.* _Touqeer Nazir is a research scholar and Usman Ali is a former student AMU. Can be reached at