Skip to main content

Golden City of India? 40% migration, no jobs, school dropouts, social backwardness

A typical house in Jaisalmer
By Rajiv Shah
It is called the Golden City of India. The raison d'ĂȘtre is simple: Virtually no houses in the 70,000-odd population of the small township are made of red bricks reinforced with cement. They are all constructed with yellow sandstone found in the nearby hilly tracks. One can go atop any house, not to talk of the hilltop fort, to fathom that it’s all yellow all the way, everywhere, including the beautiful hilltop Jain temples in the fort premises. Jain temples, we were told, aren’t coloured yellow anywhere, except here.
Jaisalmer becomes a tourist attraction, starting November and ending mid-March, attracting foreigners and industrialists like Arvind Dubash, who celebrated his 50th “destination birthday” here with top Bollywood personalities such as Karan Johar. As part of a small family group, we also visited the city in the third week of January in a Rajasthan trip organized by one of the best known online agencies MakeMyTrip – a city about which I vaguely knew anything other than it has possibly some lovely “sand dunes”, and there was campfire to enjoy in its tent hotels.
We spent two nights there, the first one in the town itself, at Marina Mahal. I didn’t care to inquire, but it seems it was a small two-storey haveli, renovated and converted into a hotel. We preferred to stay on the ground floor, as we did not want to trouble our legs to climb the stairs. The hotel has no lift, which seemed its minus point.
One of the Patwa havelis
We took our lunch in a nearby dhaba-type restaurant. As we had come all the way from Jodhpur following a six-hour cab ride, with a stopovers in between to see places (including a defence museum), it was already late afternoon, and the restaurant owner was about to close shop. Yet, he was kind enough to serve us with tasty Rajasthani dal bati. Thereafter, we decided to proceed to Marina Mahal, where we did nothing but relax.
Peeping through the window of the hotel room, which opened on a small street, I could see three women, with ghunghat on their head, sitting on the a small chabutara outside their small yellow house in the evening sunlight, peeling vegetables. I snapped a few photographs. We chatted for the rest of the evening. On the next day we were to visit the city and the hilltop fort, and then move over to the desert, supposedly the main attraction of Jaisalmer.
After taking breakfast on the hotel terrace, where it was very cold, we were taken by our excellent driver, Gopal Singh, to see five havelis of Jaisalmer, built by Jain merchants in the 19th century. Gopal Singh got hired for us a young and energetic guide, whose surname, I recall, is Charan, a community whose traditional job was to sing songs in praise of gods and goddesses, and of course Rajput rulers, even as chronicling events.
The hill-top fort
Called Patwa havelis, even as Charan took us inside one of them, which has been converted into a museum, I decided to explore how rich is this “golden” town. I asked him: “What is the population of the town? Do all of you live only on tourism?” Charan was quick to respond: “Yes, on tourism, which lasts for less than five months, all around winter. Of the 70,000 people living here, nearly 40% migrate in search of jobs, as there are there are none here for seven to eight months a year.”
Intricately carved exterior, decorated walls, Marwari style miniature paintings, mirror work, merchants’ and their wives’ clothes, the utensils they would use -- we saw all of it for about an hour. Charan also showed us the pagdis different communities would wear to identify their castes and sub-castes. Surely, I thought, there was no place for “outcastes” or “untouchables” -- they dared not wear any pagdi. For, their only job was to clean streets and, of course, human excreta.
All through Charan tried to tell us how the rich Jain merchants, when they lived here, turned Jaisalmer into a major trading centre. They would trade in gold, silver, opium, jewellery, etc., as it was part of the Silk Route, which passed through today’s Pakistan, via Afghanistan, into Iran, Iraq and beyond, he said, regretting, the merchants left this place in a lurch after India was divided. Many of them shifted to Mumbai.
Inside the hill-top museum
The Silk Route collapsed, and the once rich city today is part of one of the most backward areas of Rajasthan and India -- Marwar. Water scarcity is a common feature here, there is very little agriculture, it’s in the midst of Thar desert, there is no industry around, droughts are common, and things would become worse during summer.
And, of course, less said the better about power. Even the two "high-profile" hotels where we stayed didn’t have power for an hour each. In the tent hotel, where we stayed next, the generator didn't work for quite a while, and we were told to make do with our mobile torch!
We were taken to the Hill Fort of Jaisal, named after the 12th century king, Maharawal Jaisal Singh. Charan told us, around 3,000 people lived within the fort premises, with many of the houses turning into handicraft shops, guest houses and restaurants. We could see many foreigners coming out of the houses, converted into small little fancy hotels.
Of the 70,000 people living in Jaisalmer, nearly 40% migrate in search of jobs, as there are none here for seven to eight months a year
The main part of the fort has been converted into a museum. Here, apart from the display of the valour of Rajput descendants of the 12th century king, we were also apprised of their daily life. “They would eat in silver utensils, as they knew, the utensils’ colour would change if poison was mixed into their food”, Charan told us.
Then, Charan took us to the bedroom of a king, where, we were told, he would sleep on a low height bed, especially designed in a way that his legs could immediately touch the floor. “He was trained to stand up in an upright position from this bed to fight back, taking weapon lying next to him, if attacked at night”, he added.
The Jain temples
“What a life!”, commented one of us. “They couldn’t even have a peaceful sleep!” We saw pagdis different communities would wear on different occasions, utensils used for cooking food, the royal dress, weapons the kings would use, and all that. We were also told how the queens would observe purdah – they had separate rooms from where they would observe the king’s durbar through an intricate stone carving.
After spending a couple of hours in the fort, we parted company of Charan. Driver Gopal Singh took us down to the town to another dhaba to have traditional food – a barja roti with tasty mixed vegetable sabzi. Following the lunch, we were taken more than 30 plus kilometres away, to a tent hotel, Sand Voyages Camp.
On reaching there, we hired a jeep, which took us on a bumpy ride to the sand dunes, which is what I wanted to see and experience the most. We were dropped at a make-shift tea stall, next to one of the sand dunes, sat on the charpoi till the camels were brought in to take us on another ride. A young boy, still in his early teens, accompanied one of the two camels we had hired, walking for about 40 minutes. He took our photographs as we rode on.
Back to the make-shift tea stall, I asked the boy, who was the elderly person accompanying the other camel. “My uncle”, he replied. “We live a village not very far away”, he said, showing us the direction where his helmet was situated. “It’s some distance, though... We come here to earn a living.” I got curious.
The teenage boy and girl: Both school dropouts
I asked the boy whether he went to school. “No I don’t. I have stopped going to school”, he replied. “Why?”, I queried. “The teacher doesn’t come to the school. Who would teach us?” I paid him a tip and we parted company. We again went and sat on the charpoi at the tea stall, where a young rural family, consisting of a girl and a boy, both in early teens, and a young village couple, all with costumes on their face, requested us to listen to their song.
They sang a popular Rajasthani song, we paid them the agreed amount, and went up on the nearest sand dune to sit in the bright sun to wait for the sunset, when the jeep was to come to pick us up. The girl came up to us, demanding chocolates. We didn’t have any, I told her. She hung around, starting to play with the sand. As she was playing, I asked her where she lived, and whether she went to school. “No I don’t”, she replied. “There is no school in our village.”
Following the sunset, we rode the jeep again on a bumpy ride, reached the Sand Voyages Camp, were taken to a cultural programme, performed around campfire in the neighbourhood, returned to the hotel, took dinner especially prepared for us, slept in the cold wintry night in the tent.
Next day morning, following breakfast, we began our long journey – about 550 km – to Udaipur, wondering all the while why was this city called “golden” even though it has all the characteristics of backwardness. As I was sitting next to the driver, he began talking about the Marwar region, often dropping hints about the harsh rural life.
A bumpy ride on the jeep
Himself a Rajput, Gopal Singh admitted untouchability and discrimination are rampant in the rural areas. “Dalits are not allowed to enter temples. They dare not. They are treated as untouchables almost everywhere”, he said. And what do they do? “Cleaning job in the village, and agricultural labour as and when there is farming.”
As for women, he said, “Girls do not study much, they are married off at an early age, which is a norm here. And women-folk must observe purdah after marriage...” Gopal Singh comes from a village near Jodhpur, about 300 km off Jaisalmer, part of the Marwar region. He has a farm land, but it's rainfed agriculture. He added, it’s not enough to feed his family, one reason why he must drive taxi to take tourists around.
Social backward and oppression, clearly, characterized Jaisalmer, which is situated 121 kilometres from Pakistan border. Bollywood bigwigs Gauri Khan, Maheep Kapoor, Sandeep Khosla and the “girls’ gang” may have taken an auto ride around the golden city in order to get media publicity, even as attending destination birthday bash of industrialist Arvind Dubash.
However, Jaisalmer, and the entire Marwar region, of which it is part, clearly isn’t a romantic destination if seen from a close quarters. Surely, behind the golden colour lies the dark, dense social and economic backwardness, a very harsh life, which few wish to notice.

Comments

TRENDING

Eco Ganesha made from water hyacythns, a most noxious invasive aquatic weed

Elsie Gabriel, founder, Young Environmentalists Programme Trust, and national coordinator, Oceans Climate Reality Project India, has come up with Eco Ganesha, made from recycled water hyacinths and silt from Powai Lake. She presented it to Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar on September 7 at Powai lake:

Diaspora protest as Biden failed to publicly address persecution of minorities in India

As Modi addressed UN, human rights groups decried “monstrosity” of persecution of Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and other minorities in India. Demonstrators gathered outside UN to protest fascism, hate campaigns, weaponized rape, apartheid, lynchings, unlawful arrests, attacks on the media, and other abuses in India: A report distributed by the diaspora group Hindus for Human Rights: *** While observers said it was “shameful” that President Biden failed to publicly address widespread persecution of religious minorities in India when he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 24, more than 100 members of interfaith and human rights groups spoke out as Modi addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Speakers condemned the egregious human rights violations and murders of religious minorities in India under a government that openly supports Hindu supremacy. The rally was sponsored by 21 organizations, including Ambedkar International Center, Ambedkar King S

In the land of the Buddha, why are there so few Buddhists? Did they convert to Islam?

Sonali Ranade, a trader and columnist, who is a prolific tweeter , in a recent blog "How did India’s Buddhists disappear? In the land of the Buddha, why are there so few Buddhists?" suggests that most of the Muslims who converted to Islam in South Asia were Buddhists and they did it mostly out of self-volition. Read on: *** It wasn’t until college, that it dawned on me that I had never met a Buddhist in my life. I could count quite a few Jains [hawt property for Gujju girls] at college, Muslims a plenty; the Navy, on whose bases I grew up, was chockfull of Sikhs; many Christians at school including a English literature teacher who I think was a recreant Pope in hiding; and not to forget my bestie, a blue-blood Parsi, whacky as they come, [she masquerades as an architect these days, and I always wonder why her buildings don’t collapse laughing at her colorful Hindi]; but no Buddhists. Puzzled, I asked the Pater, usually my go-to walking encyclopedia, but he was stumped. Or a

Post-Stalin Netaji advised Soviets, had facial surgery, met Lal Bhadur in Tashkent!

In an curious Facebook post "What happened to Netaji?", former editor of the Times of India, Ahmedabad, Kingshuk Nag, who later took over the Hyderabad edition of TOI as editor, has asserted that not only did Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose didn't die in a plane crash, he went to the Soviet Union, where he served as adviser of the Soviet leaders during the post-Stalin phase. One who has authored a Netaji book , he makes another astonishing "revelation": that Netaji, it is believed, had undergone face surgery "to change his appearance", and is "supposed to have met Indian PM Lal Bahadur Shastri when he went to Tashkent in 1966." Was Netaji so meek? One doesn't know... Anyway, read the FB post : *** Today is purportedly the day that Netaji died in an air crash in Taiwan in 1945. An elaborate theory of his death and the fact that his ashes were stored in Renkoji temple was created. By all accounts this is fiction. Netaji disappeared into Soviet

Critique of Hindutva does not constitute an attack on Hinduism, nor is it Hinduphobia

Organised with the active support of Indian diaspora in US, a series of virtual conferences, Dismantling Global Hindutva, have been held in order to "analyze and educate" the public as to how Hindutva is destroying India, undermining syncretic nature of Hinduism and the country's secular and democratic traditions.

Jinnah's claim: He never wanted Pakistan, wished if he could return to Bombay

In an account of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, termed "amazing but true", Ramkrishna Dalmia reveals Jinnah’s claimed love for Indian heritage and his beloved city Bombay (now Mumbai). Read it to comprehend a different aspect of his life... The account first appeared on Facebook timeline of Christi A Ali, and has been shared by many. *** “Look here, I never wanted Pakistan! It was forced upon me by Sardar Patel. And now they want me to eat the humble pie and raise my hands in defeat.” Jinnah to his closest friend Ramkrishna Dalmia to whom he (Jinnah) sold his marvelous Delhi house for Rs.3 lacs before partition. Jinnah chose his friend Ramkrishna Dalmia over others, a Jain, no-onion; no-garlic; a sprinkler of Ganga jal if a Muslim entered the home type of Hindu. The house was later sold to the Dutch Embassy as Nehru had issues with Mr.Dalmia. Nehru ensured that Mr.Dalmia would later be jailed. Jinnah never wanted Pakistan and even accepted Cabinet Mission Plan in July, 1946 to form

An international phenomenon, crackdown on media now part of Ukrainian policy

An article released by the Independent Media Institute points to how Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is using the ‘Kremlin excuse’ to ban media that doesn’t always agree with him. Authored by David C Speedie , the article has been produced by Globetrotter in partnership with the American Committee for US-Russia Accord : *** On the eve of his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on September 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pulled the plug on the opposition news outlet Strana.ua and imposed sanctions on its editor-in-chief . This is not the first time Zelensky has cracked down on opposition media. Earlier this year Zelenksy banned three of his country’s television news stations—NewsOne, 112 and ZIK—accusing them of peddling “Kremlin-funded propaganda.” A veteran of the broadcast media himself [he was previously a comedian], Zelensky’s action may perhaps be seen at first glance as largely symbolic. It is, in fact, both inflammatory and short-sighted. First, it should

What caused Kandhamal violence in 2007-08? Expert, Dalit leader react to new docu-film

Well-known film maker KP Sasi has released a new 95-minute documentary  "Voices From the Ruins - Kandhamal In Search of Justice", which seeks to graphically describe how in Kandhamal district of Orissa, mainly inhabited by Adivasis and Dalits, among them a large population are Christians, witnessed its biggest violence on the Adivasi Christians and Dalit Christians in 2008. Based on interviews with the survivors of Kandhamal violence, who are still struggling against the improper compensation, improper rehabilitation and improper justice delivery systems, the film brings out the concerns of the survivors, through their own voices as well concerned sections, analysing the historical roots of violence, the impact of violence on various sections of the communities and the struggle for justice by the survivors of Kandhamal violence. Released on the anniversary of the violence (August 28), while Sasi has sought the documentary, already available on YouTube, widest circulation thr

UN Food Systems Summit paved the way for greater control of big corporations

In a sharp critique of the  UN Food Systems Summit, a statement released by the People's Coalition on Food Sovereignty, a global network of NGOs, has accused UN meet of being steered by big corporations, even as the Global South was pushed back. *** The Global People’s Summit (GPS) on Food Systems slammed the recently concluded UN Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) for paving the way for greater control of big corporations over global food systems and misleading the people through corporate-led false solutions to hunger and climate change. “It was just as we expected. While branding itself as the ‘People’s Summit’ and even the ‘Solutions Summit,’ the UN FSS did not listen to the voices of marginalized rural peoples, nor forward real solutions to the food, biodiversity and climate crises. Instead, it let powerful nations and big corporations play an even bigger role in determining food and agricultural policies. The UN has finally made it clear what ‘multilateralism’ is all about—paying l

Forthcoming book explodes Western myth: Personal qualities are biologically inherited

Jonathan Latham, PhD, Executive Director, The Bioscience Resource Project, New York, has said in an email alert via JanVikalp that his forthcoming book about genetics and genetic determinism, provisionally titled "The Myth of The Master Molecule: DNA and the Social Order" criticises the notion that personal qualities are biologically inherited: *** The contention of the book is that the key organising principle of Western thought is the seemingly innocuous and seemingly simple idea that our personal qualities are biologically inherited. That is, our character derives from our ancestors rather than being an always-adapting product of our own experiences, decisions, and education. The book makes the case, first, that genetic determinism is a scientific fallacy. Organisms are self-organised systems and therefore are not genetically determined. Second, the explanation for the myth, which predates Mesopotamian cities of 6,000 years ago, is its utility. Genetic determinism rationa