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Kugi: The unsung model village

Rup J Pater
(In times of large scale exodus from rural villages to cities and in times of modernity weighing heavy on tradition, a remote village in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh stands apart, unknown to the world.)

At a distance of about 15kms from along township in West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh, village Kugi looks like any other Galo village. But looks sometimes don’t tell the whole truth. A closer look and you realize Kugi is different, perhaps from most of the rural villages in the country, definitely in the northeast.

No wonder on August15, Independence Day, the district administration felicitated Kugi by awarding a cash of Rs 15000 and a certificate for its distinctiveness.

Over the years Kugi has emerged as a model village. Away from the glare of publicity, this remote village has learned the mantra for a pollution free environment. No polythene, no plastic, no bottles, no dead animals, no animal bones… in short, no unburied garbage. The village committee selected unanimously by village elders and panchayat leaders looks to it that no garbage is left unattended more than a day.

“We warn the concerned household and give a day’s time to bury the garbage. After that we impose fine,” tells Jomlee Ete, the committee’s secretary who is into his third year of the five year term.

Jomlee, however, doesn’t have much headache imposing a fine of Rs 50 on erring households. In a remote village Rs 50 is a fine big enough for people not to break rules. In his three years time, Jomlee remembers imposing fine only twice. The highest amount of fine, Rs 150, was imposed on a family in July this year for not burying a dead pig within a day of its death.

The most distinctive characteristic of this village is that it has broken itself away from Galo traditional villages in terms of sanitation and hygiene. Galo traditional toilets are a feature distinct only to Galo villages. Bamboo huts built on a platform much higher than the ground mostly have attached toilets, though in many villages these are detached and away from the main hut. However, disposal of human excreta is the same everywhere. Domestic pigs are the sole way of getting rid of the excreta! Kugi is different as it has closed-pit toilets for all its 29 households. The scheme implemented sometime during the late 90s was novel and untraditional for the villagers, but they have taken to it naturally, especially when told that it was more hygienic than their traditional system.

The potable water supply system of the village was originally installed by PHED under the Rajiv Gandhi Drinking Water Project six years back. But the department’s role ended there. The water supply system is solely maintained by the villagers themselves. Parts of the fund granted for the scheme is still safe with the village committee. This they use for maintenance of the desilting-tank at the source, which is at quite a distance from the village and other minor repairs needed on the pipelines from time to time. Water taps are fixed at various places in the village in such a manner that one tap caters to about three households. Maintenance of the taps is the responsibility of the households to which it caters. Leaking taps are to be immediately replaced or else committee members would just take it out and block the pipe with a wooden block! It is not surprising that the system is still functioning after so many years, unlike other villages of the state where the scheme didn’t last a year.

The able village committee has a youth wing too called the Kugi Pomte Youth Club (KPYC). Besides organizing youth related programmes, the KPYC routinely conducts a social service twice every year. The first one this year is scheduled for August. The social service is all about getting rid of filth and garbage from every patch of the village and its surrounding. Youth volunteers also lend a hand during unplanned activities like re-building someone’s house or a part of it. KPYC has a medical wing too. Members of this wing take care of people who fall sick. With the nearest heath center at Pobdi, about 6 kms walk from Kugi, volunteers many a times have to carry a seriously sick person for treatment. KPYC President Jongam Ete doubly acts as the medicine man. He keeps some basic medicines at his place and distributes free in times of emergency. He also monitors the medicine course of the three TB patients in the village. He gets the TB doses from Along T B Hospital, which is supplied free of cost. Foreseeing the services he could render to his village people, Jongam got himself trained in the basics of first-aid medicine.

Yes, he can also inject a needle without batting an eye when the need comes.

Kugi, which is considered to be the original homestead of the Etes of the Galo tribe, has till now given birth to seven villages besides contributing high profile engineers, doctors, professors and lawyers to the society, many of whom have preferred to settle down in and around urban centers. Though many of its families have migrated elsewhere and created new villages, Kugi basks in its originality and silently stands as a model village for all other villages still struggling to keep pace with the changing and challenging times.

Voices singing the morning assembly prayer emanating from the village primary school, which molded so many literates now serving in various capacities all over the state, remind one that one day many of these kids may move on with the moving times but many would stay behind just like Jomlee and Jongam and carry on the legacy of cultured simplicity that Kugi is all about.

Rup J Pater is a journalist and based in Itanagar