No Help from Govt, Andhra Villagers Sell Off Ornaments to Build Road. Is This What They Meant by “Atmanirbhar”?

Social Commentary

No Help from Govt, Andhra Villagers Sell Off Ornaments to Build Road. Is This What They Meant by “Atmanirbhar”?

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

During one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s many addresses to the nation over the course of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, he stressed the need for atma nirbharta, for India to become self-reliant. For villagers on a remote hilltop in Andhra Pradesh, that meant taking matters into their own hands when the government and local authorities proved to be unreliable. The residents of Chintamala from the Vizianagaram district in Andhra Pradesh had been requesting authorities for a motorable road connecting to their village, but after years of inaction they took matters into their own hands – pooling money and building the road themselves.

The villagers, a group of around 89 families, all contributed toward the cost of building the road. Each came forward with a sum of ₹2,000, with a few even selling off jewellery and other valuables to raise the amount. The collected amount, which amounted to over  5 lakh (reports vary from as much as ₹5 lakh to ₹20 lakh in different publications), went toward connecting Chintamala village to the nearest settlement that was connected to the state’s network of roads. Before the road to Chintamala was built, its residents had to trek for around five kilometres up and down the hillside to reach a road, making life difficult in medical emergencies and for the elderly.

The villagers were inspired to build the road during lockdown, but not because of the PM’s message of atma nirbhata. Instead, it was the humanitarian work in helping the poor and stranded migrant workers of the country carried out by actor Sonu Sood that made the villagers take action. As news of the story began to spread, Sood also chimed in to congratulate the villagers for their proactive approach to solving their problems.

While the decisive actions taken were praiseworthy, there were some online who pointed out how it was a failure of the government in serving all citizens that led to the road being built by the villagers themselves.

Perhaps this is not the self-reliance that PM Modi had in mind, but for these villagers cut off from the rest of the country, there was no other choice.