A life of isolation

Waiting for a bridge: Residents of the many islets in Udupi district, have from several years, been waiting for connectivity to the mainland.

When one does a reality check, however, one can still spot several islets in the region, where people live without basic facilities such as potable water and electricity. To reach Udupi, the inhabitants of these islets have to make do with boats. These tiny islets are called ‘Kudru’s in local parlance. Without the boatman, life for people who live here grinds to a standstill. Children who go to schools have to take the boat, and then walk a good two kilometres before they reach school. There are many instances of people succumbing to illnesses because they couldn’t be provided medical facilities in the hour of need. There are children on many of these islets who don’t attend school for at least three-four months a year.

‘Islet of Bats’

One such islet is called ‘Bavali’ (bats in Kannada) and is situated on the Brahmavar-Neelavar route. The situation here is pathetic. The islet is surrounded by the River Seetha. It is said that it was at one point home to bats. Today, there are no bats on the islet. There are as many as 23 Christian families on the islet, and the population here has hardly ever crossed 100. The islet is cut off from the main land. Not even a newspaper reaches the islet.

The residents of ‘Bavali’ have for long been demanding that a bridge be constructed to connect their islet to Neelavar. When it rains, at least half the houses on the islet are inundated. People struggle for drinking water at such times. During summer, the situation only worsens. The wells here have only salt water. It is indeed a huge task for people here to fetch potable drinking water from nearby towns and villages.

“When we  were children, we remember being told by elders that the village will soon get a bridge,” says Stephen D’Souza. “But eventually we went to Neelavar to study and find work. Not many parents of girls were willing to get their daughters married to men from here. Today, all the youngsters have left in search of greener pastures,” points out Stephen, who himself is an IT worker at Bahrain. He was at the island for his summer vacation, when this paper spoke to him.

“Our elders led their entire lives boating to and fro to the mainland. But today’s youth have stepped out of the islets in search of jobs.

There was a time when residents of this ‘Islet of Bats’ grew paddy, sugarcane and coconut. Today, the islet has nothing else except coconut plantations.

People here point out that several memoranda have been submitted to government officials and people’s representatives. The promises are made at the time of elections, only to be forgotten for the next five years. Meanwhile, the Udupi Zilla Panchayat has chalked out a Rs 33 lakh-proposal to construct a bridge connecting the islet with the mainland.

However, residents of the islet are not confident of the plan being implemented. There is also talk that the Tourism Department and some industrialists are eyeing the islets in the region to set up island resorts, as a means to boost tourism.

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