Every morning, Geeta Baria reaches the banks of the Hiran at 7 am sharp, carrying her school books in a plastic bag. The Class IX girl from Sajanpura village in the tribal-dominated Chhota Udepur district of Gujarat also carries a Gohri, a 20-litre brass pot. The pot is precious as without it she and her five friends — all girls — can’t reach their school. They hold on to the pot to stay afloat and cross the 600 metre-wide river.
Every day, the father of one of the girls volunteers to swim with them across the river. It takes them 30 minutes to cross the river — and reach Sewada village. They then have to walk 5 km to their school, the Utavadi Prathmik and Uchh Prathmik Shala in Utavadi village.
Drenched, the girls wring their churidaar-kurta uniforms before reaching out for their slippers, safely brought inside the pot.
About 125 children from 16 tribal villages of Sankheda taluka — Sajanpura, Chamarwada, Vasan, Angadi, Kashipura, Kukreli, Doodhpur, Nandpur, Sitaphali, Devla, Surajgola, Hatgol and Dharmapura among others — cross the raging Hiran every day to get to the school. The students then sit through classes, in their drenched uniform, and make the journey back home in Sankheda at 5 pm, taking the same water route.
This ritual of swimming to school is not out of choice, but the lack of it. For the past seven years, the villagers have been petitioning authorities to construct a bridge to connect the villages of Narmada district with Chhota Udepur across the Hiran.
According to Ramsinh Kanti Vasava, the sarpanch of Sewada, locals had given a petition to current Chief Minister Anandi Patel, who visited Narmada three years ago as the state revenue and urban development Minister.
“The authorities are telling us that the bridge has been approved and it will be constructed to connect Kareli village in Tilakwada taluka in Narmada district with Chamarwada in Sankheda taluka of Chhota Udepur so that the children can cross safely. However, nothing has taken off despite our pleas nor have we received any continued…