A. J. Vinayak- Belur 65 (km), says a milestone 83 km away from Mangalore towards Chikmagalur at Charmady Ghat’s ninth hairpin curve.
This location in the State highway is the end of the motorable road to Banjarumale, a hamlet with 42 families of 125 Malekudiyas (a scheduled tribe) in Belthangady taluk of Dakshina Kannada district.
The ninth hairpin curve itself is 9 km away from any basic facilities, barring a State highway connecting Belthangady with Chikmagalur district. To visit Banjarumale village from here, one has to hire a jeep for the 9-km journey that takes up to an hour. (In such jeeps, all four wheels receive torque from the engine simultaneously).
The way to the village is a track of stones and loose soil intersected by water streams and falls here and there. A small bridge on the river separating the village from the road was built in 1953.
Krishna, the village panchayat member representing Banjarumale in Neriya village panchayat, says that Malekudiya tribe of the village (of which he is a member) desperately needs a road connecting the State highway on Charmady Ghat. The villagers have been pleading for it with the governments for decades, but in vain, he says.
The election of Krishna as village panchayat member was unanimous, as the villagers did not want a contest among themselves, which they thought, would weaken their cause for road connectivity to the rest of the world.
The then Deputy Commissioner (DC, also known as district collector in other States) of Dakshina Kannada district, S.K. Das, was all set to visit this village in 1983. But he could not cross the river on the old bridge as the river was in spate.
Each house in the village is separated by a distance of at least 100-200 metres, and spread over a vast area of undulating land with water streams and falls in between.
The water stream is a cause for concern during the monsoon period. The 55-year-old A.B. Annappa from the village says that 14 families are cut off from the rest of the village during the monsoon as there is no proper footbridge to connect them. Using arecanut stems, villagers have set up a makeshift footbridge.
In 2002, the then MLA and the minister concerned laid the foundation stone for the bridge with much fanfare. Though the foundation stone remained steadfast near the waterfalls in the village, no footbridge came up.
The ‘DC katte’ (‘katte’ means a platform in Kannada), which was set up in 1983 to welcome the DC, still remains in the village. Though no DC visited the village till now, it is a significant landmark for the villagers. They still hope that one day the DC of the district will visit them and the village will get a proper road.
Arduous road to school
In spite of all odds, most villagers make it a point to sent their children to school for basic education. Most children go to a residential school at Gandibagilu village, 10 km from Banjarumale through a forest trail. Otherwise, one has to travel a distance of 30 km to reach Gandibagilu by vehicle.
Nearly 70 per cent of the villagers are literate. Krishna says that all below the age of 40 years have got at least primary education.
The Gandibagilu village is the nearest polling booth for them.
Ask Annappa if the politicians visit the village. His reply was: “Yes, during elections only.” The villagers make it a point to vote, though they have to walk a long distance through the forest.
Arecanut is the main crop of Banjarumale. Nearly 30 members from these families work in the nearby private estate.
Krishna says that he joined the private estate as a worker in 1972 with a daily wage of 50 paisa a day. Now the villagers earn around Rs 250 for a day’s work at the estate.