Aragam, Kashmir’s first book village is ready for bibliophiles and tourists

How a tribal community in Bandipore has embraced books and reading, offering education, and uplifting lives through a unique initiative.

Published : Mar 28, 2024 17:22 IST - 4 MINS READ

The recent initiative is expected to enhance education and boost job opportunities for locals in the village.

The recent initiative is expected to enhance education and boost job opportunities for locals in the village. | Photo Credit: By Mohsin Mushtaq

Mohammad Anwar, 41, never imagined that his village, Aragam, would garner headlines in national and international media. Anwar is delighted to witness the increasing footfall of bibliophiles in his village after it was transformed into a book village due to Pune-based NGO Sarhad’s collaboration with the Jammu and Kashmir government. He hopes that the residents of Aragam may find livelihood opportunities through the book village proposal.

Aragam, situated on the banks of Asia’s largest freshwater lake, Wular Lake, is a remote village in the Bandipore district of Kashmir that has captured the attention of book lovers. In Kashmir, Bandipore district is renowned for Alim, Adab, and Aab, representing “knowledge”, “good habits,” and “water resources” respectively.

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This village was designated as a “book village” by Sarhad a few months ago. Various houses in the village now house extensive literature on diverse subjects, attracting visitors who come to Aragam to study. The villagers, who are predominantly tribal, suggest that they have historically lacked educational opportunities.

In 2023, to uplift tribal education in Kashmir, Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, Manoj Sinha, launched a significant initiative to convert 200 schools in the region into smart schools for tribal communities, with an estimated cost of Rs 40 crore.

In fact, the concept of a book village was pioneered by BJP leader Vinod Tawde in Bhilar, a small town in Maharashtra’s Mahabaleshwar. Inspired by this initiative, the Sarhad team proposed a similar idea to Shah Faesal, the then Deputy Commissioner of Bandipore district, with the intention of implementing it in Athwatoo village. However, it was later decided to establish the book village in Aragam, thanks to the efforts of Siraj Uddin Khan, currently pursuing a PhD in history, who spearheaded a door-to-door campaign for the initiative. Anwar Ahmed, the village head, acknowledged Siraj’s significant contribution to the project.

Why was Aragam chosen as a book village?

Aragam, a tribal village in Bandipore district, comprises over 400 households and is located 68 km away from the main city of Srinagar. Positioned on the banks of Wular Lake, the village offers a scenic and enchanting environment for visitors.

An official from Sarhad, speaking to Frontline, explained that Aragam was selected for the book village proposal due to its proximity to Wular Lake. He mentioned that 30,000 books have been made available in the region, and added that Sarhad plans to introduce eight lakh books of various genres including English, Urdu, science, politics, novels, and books for competitive examinations.

Sarhad is a social, cultural, and educational NGO committed to its mission of connecting with people in border regions who often feel marginalised due to conflicts. Over the past three decades, Sarhad has established itself as a trusted entity among residents of India’s tense border regions.

The village’s transformation into a book village has accelerated the footfall of tourists and bibliophiles.

The village’s transformation into a book village has accelerated the footfall of tourists and bibliophiles. | Photo Credit: Mohsin Mushtaq

“Ever since Aragam became a book village, hundreds of book lovers have been visiting our village to indulge in reading,” said Shahid Ahmed, a 23-year-old college student. According to Kulsuma Akhter, a sixth-grade student, previously, students from schools and colleges in Aragam had to travel to Srinagar to obtain books for their exams. However, the initiative has revolutionised the village by providing books free of cost.

Apple tourism and border tourism

In an effort to attract readers and tourists to Aragam, the Sarhad official revealed plans for “apple tourism” and “border tourism” in Jammu and Kashmir, suggesting that the book village could easily be incorporated into these projects. Aragam boasts two hospitals, more than six schools, and a Panchayat where books are readily available for readers, he said.

The book village project entails the construction of a library complex in Aragam, where a wide array of books will be accessible to readers. Also, a room will be built to host literary talks and cultural events, with artwork from various painters adorning its walls. The complex will include a main building housing a sizeable library for writers and community members to utilise regularly.

Besides literature on Kashmir, books in six languages (English, Urdu, Hindi, Marathi, and Bengali) will be available for checkout at the library. Guests will also have access to audiobooks, providing them with the opportunity to listen to literature of their choice.

The village head of Aragam anticipates that the increased tourist influx will create new job opportunities for locals, particularly in transportation and handicraft industries, thereby benefiting the marginalised community residing there. He stated that the book village initiative will not only enhance education but also boost the village’s economy.

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Expressing gratitude to Sarhad for transforming their village into a book village, Anwar Ahmed, the sarpanch of Aragam, highlighted the initiative’s impact in extending books to the far-flung areas of Bandipore district. He stated, “Today, students in Aragam are preparing themselves for competitive exams, benefiting the entire Bandipore district educationally.”

Mehraj Ahmed, a 21-year-old B.Com student, talked about the difficulties students in Aragam faced in acquiring books from markets in Srinagar, noting that financial constraints often led to some students abandoning their education. He shared that his house, registered under Sarhad, has become a repository for vast literature across disciplines.

Irshad Hussain is an independent journalist, based in Kashmir.

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