Village chaupal mere shadow of its past

Village chaupal mere shadow of its past

Tiny doughnut shaped cow dung cakes fill the walls of a park even as wedding preparations are in full swing on a warm afternoon on the edge of south Delhi’s Munirka Village. 

Twenty men have gathered with their hookahs and are discussing the menu for the feast later that night.

Just across the road, children play cricket in a deep pond, which has been dry for the past 20 years. Khazan Singh Tokas, a national level swimmer and an Arjuna awardee, is believed to have trained at this very pond.

A large white temple, housing the village patron deity Baba Gangnath, stands at the other end of the pond. Serving at one point of time also as a dharamshala for people who walked from one village to another, the temple is now primarily used to coach local children in wrestling, boxing and karate.

At the outskirts of Munirka, this is all that has remained of the ‘village’. The insides are marked by narrow lanes and buildings whose balconies touch each other.

Till about a decade ago the local elders didn’t need to wait for occasions such as marriages to gather in large numbers. The several ‘chaupals’ inside the village served as the place where they would hold even events like someone’s retirement.

The elders would smoke hookahs all day long at the chaupals and take decisions on the common issues and advice youngsters on their careers. “Today, the local youths in the company of outsiders dare to smoke and drink in front of village elders,” says 46-year-old local Dharam Raj.

Chaupals continue to exist to this day, but the area has got smaller and big functions like weddings can no more be organised. 

They were recently ‘modernised’ by the representatives of the area. The mud floors have been replaced by marble tiles. At some chaupals, iron benches outnumber the rope cots.“We now visit chaupals only in evenings. Apart from evening gatherings, they only serve as a meeting point for mourning during deaths and for celebrating retirements of people,” says Sudhan Singh, a 72-year-old local.

The locals vehemently deny the existence of khap panchayats, denying the story reported from the area in mid-February. Sudhan says the concept of panchayat exists no more and their “suggestions” from time to time are limited to the local community.

Raj says marriages within the same surnames are still not allowed within the local community here and so far no one has dared to go against this unspoken rule.

“My younger brother passed away in 2010. On suggestions of the villagers, we got his widow married off to my youngest brother,” he says. “But it was not a diktat. The man and the woman were consulted first,” he says. 

A youth Deepak Tokas who claimed to be a relative of local councilor Parmila Tokas, says villagers even go to the extent of contributing financially if any person falls short of money for a wedding. “Migrants who mingle with villagers benefit,” he says.

But the migrants, most of them students from the bordering Jawaharlal Nehru University, claim they have never been invited at any of these functions and gatherings. “I have been living in Munirka for the past eight years, but there has been no interaction with the locals except during minor confrontations or for business purposes,” says Raunak Yadav, a businessman from Bihar.

But Raj rues that Munirka neither stayed a village nor developed into a proper urban area that could boast of decent civic amenities. “I just want to feel I still live in a village by being able to walk through the thick wooden doors of my neighbour’s old-fashioned house without having to ring the door bell,” he says.

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