Re: Culture in the last 100 years -

C. Kambhampati (shskambh@reading.ac.uk)
Tue, 11 Mar 1997 09:07:26 +0000 (GMT)


Here is an article entitled

"A living National Treasure"

It has bearings on what we were discussing on another thread.

(and it reflects the amount literature (and culture) has impinged on our
lives - both left and right sections here and it makes me want to cry
and laugh, has one can only become a cynic for one can see such a
situatiion occuring everywhere in India nad Andhra).

regards
Chandrasekhar
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Hazare's life has a romance about it. From an impoverished family, in deb=
t
as other families in Ralegaon Siddhi. He is compelled by want of funds to
abandon studies when he is in just the seventh standard. Our defeat in 19=
62
at the hands of the Chinese, fires him to serve our country. He enlists i=
n
the Army as a truck driver. Ferrying material at the front in the 1965 wa=
r
with Pakistan, he barely escapes with a head wound as his colleagues are
killed and grievously injured because of strafing by a Pakistani plane. T=
he
conviction grows in him that he must have been saved for a purpose.

He begins reflecting on his life. He eventually goes into deep depression=
,
so common in such cases. He resolves on suicide. His sister is to be
married, the need to help the family in this leads him to postpone killin=
g
himself. He has been sent to Delhi from Ambala where his unit is posted t=
o
deliver something. At the station he purchases a book by Swami Vivekanand=
a.
He learns, "You cannot run away from your life." He learns, "The purpose
of
life is to serve others." The Swami becomes his buoy. He works another te=
n
years in the Army, serving in one distant place after another which is in
turmoil, the North-East, Kashmir and the rest. As soon as is eligible, he
seeks early retirement, and resolves to serve the people of his village,
Ralegaon Siddhi.

That was twenty years ago. The village itself is about 85 kilometers from
Pune. It lies in the drought-prone area of Maharashtra, with rainfall of
about 15 inches a year. Every two or three years the rains fail -- for th=
e
last two years, for instance, there has been less than six inches of rain.
The soil is of poor quality, the land undulating so that water runs off
quickly. The total land of the village is about 2200 acres. Of this about
1700 acres is arable, the rest being on hill slopes. Twenty years ago onl=
y
about 70 to 80 acres of it was irrigated through wells. The village was
destitute : about a fifth of the families ate just once a day; half to
two-thirds borrowed grain from other villages and had to repay it with
additions the subsequent season; there was little work in the village --
people had begun to go outside to earn a pittance breaking stones; family
after family was in debt, a major proportion of the land had been mortgag=
ed
to money-lenders. With no other source of income, people had taken to
manufacturing liquor : there were 35 to 40 liquor stills. Drunkenness had
become common. And with it feuds and crime, specially against women. The
village had a temple around the samadhi of "Yadavbaba" -- its state spoke=
 of
the condition of the village : it had broken down, the wood from it had b=
een
used as firewood in the liquor stills. Other than liquor, tobacco burnt u=
p a
good part of the meager earnings of the people -- the sale of tobacco
products was around 60,000 Rupees at the time. Few of the wells of the
village were still useable -- and these were major sources of disease and
illnesses : 90 per cent of the families were stricken by abdominal ailmen=
ts,
child mortality was high. It was to this village that Anna Hazari returne=
d.

Today there is not one liquor still, indeed liquor itself has been banish=
ed
from the village -- the people having taken a vow not to touch the stuff.=
 To
say nothing of liquor, not one shop in the village sells cigarettes, not
even the humble bidi : in 1987 the entire village resolved to rid itself =
of
tobacco and the addiction to it, all the tobacco and tobacco products in =
the
village shops were purchased and burnt in place of wood at Holi. "The rea=
l
thing to burn is this sack of our addictions, not wood," the people had
learnt from Hazare.

Water is systematically harvested today -- by percolation tanks, by check
dams, by wells being recharged. The results are what others would scarcel=
y
dream of. Of the 1700 odd acres of arable land, 1100 to 1200 acres are un=
der
irrigation. Where the village got its single crop only if the rains did n=
ot
pass it by altogether, today three crops are grown. The village in which =
a
fifth of the families got no more than one meal a day, now markets
vegetables, grain, milk. As for water itself, while because of the drough=
t
of the last two years every village in the neighbourhood waits for the
Government tanker to bring drinking water, Ralegaon has enough not just f=
or
everyone in the village but also for the hundreds who troop into the vill=
age
every day to see the wonder which has been wrought there.

Heart-stopping though these achievements are, they are but a tip. Even mo=
re
fundamental than them is the way life and relationships within the villag=
e
have been transformed -- they have been transformed out of recognition.
Twenty years ago on all accounts the village was riven by the usual
disputes, compounded as these were by poverty, by addictions. Today every
family contributes voluntary labour of one adult every week : almost
everything new that one sees has been built and accomplished by community
labour. Buildings worth over 35 lakhs have been constructed, including a
school of 18 rooms, and a Yadavbaba Hostel which accommodates 150 student=
s.
A technical school is in the works. Between 3 to 4 lakh trees have been
planted. Families and individuals have adopted these and they look after
them on their own -- the trees are not, and have never been fenced. And t=
he
reason for that too is modern as can be : in the same way that the villag=
e
took a vow to eschew addictions, it resolved to end grazing -- all animal=
s
are stall fed.

Community effort has been used in particular to lift the poorest, special=
ly
Harijans. Many of them had lands on the slopes of the hillocks around the
village. These lands could not be irrigated. The Harijans were deep in de=
bt.
By community effort the productivity of the lands was raised, and the deb=
ts
were paid off : do you know of any of these fellows who keep shouting in =
the
name of dalits having done anything even remotely similar ?

The temple was the first thing to be repaired. Today it is the hub of eve=
ry
activity of the village -- Anna Hazare himself lives in a little room to =
one
side of this temple, and it was here that he conducted his fast. The temp=
le,
wood from which had been taken for firing the liquor stills, today houses=
 a
"Grain Bank" -- any family in need can borrow grain from this Bank : it m=
ust
repay it of course, and with a little "interest", for the village has
decided that things obtained free are not valued, that in fact they put u=
s
into injurious habits. The "Bank" started in the same way as other things
that became possible with the growth of community spirit : the village
resolved that every family which had surplus grain should contribute, and
the assessment was done by the villagers themselves. There has not been o=
ne
case of a family having "defaulted" on the "loan" for they all know that
they are borrowing from themselves.

For the last 17 years the village has been marrying its boys and girls in
community marriages. These are held every three or four months. Youth
volunteers assist the parents in preparing estimates, in shopping, in mak=
ing
sure that no family is fleeced by demands for dowry etc. Parents contribu=
te
just Rs. 1300 to 1400 for the marriage and the meals etc. The village has
bought on its own account items which are needed each time: shamiyanas,
utensils, the loudspeakers. Couples of all castes and creeds are married
together : there is no distinction. Each ceremony is kept to the simplest=
,
though the precise ritual to be followed is tailored to suit the traditio=
ns
of each family.

Water which has been harvested by community efforts is utilized also by
community decisions. For years now farmers have been grouped into groups =
of
10 to 25 farmers each. Each of these groups has been registered as water
supply cooperative society. Each farmer has been issued a ration card for
the water. He gets water only on his turn. The amount he gets is strictly=
 in
accordance with his quota. A water tax is charged. No one defaults, for h=
e
knows that the community will not allow him to do so.

The village now produces crops worth Rupees 50 to 60 lakhs. Where people =
of
this village used to trudge long distances to get work breaking stones, n=
ow
the village is often short of hands. Where a large proportion of the
families were in debt, their lands mortgaged to the money-lenders, the
village school has been rated at the top in regard to small savings in
Ahmednagar district.

Where there was no schooling worth the name, not only is there a school,
what is taught there has been overhauled. Those who get degrees, Anna Haz=
are
says, leave our villages, those who acquire a specialization leave our
country. And so instead of gearing up the students for a "degree-factory"=
,
the school is viewed as a Jeevan Shiksha Mandir, as a temple that prepare=
s
them for life. Children get up at 5.30 every morning. They go for a run i=
n a
play-ground which the village has prepared, again by community labour. Fr=
om
6 A.M. there is a physical training. A retired ex-serviceman takes their
parade. The children have planted over 50,000 trees. They run a plant
nursery, and prepare around a lakh of saplings every year for sale.
Something I have not encountered anywhere else is a school which is meant
only for school drop-outs. Children from all over Maharashtra are eligibl=
e,
but only those among them who have dropped out of schools. "The S.S.C.
results of these students have been between 80 to 90 per cent," Anna Haza=
re
reports, "and some students have secured as high as 82-85 per cent marks
also. These students are good at school sports and bag a third of all the
prizes in the tehsil level competitions."

In taking on such a man, in hurling calumny at him, in deluding themselve=
s
into believing that they will nail him by launching enquiries against him=
 --
of how the office car allotted to him has been used, mind you ! -- Thacke=
ray
and his timorous ministers are spitting into the wind. Over a lakh have c=
ome
to Ralegaon in the last 15 years to see the miracle which has been wrough=
t,
a very large number among them have spent hours and hours listening to an=
d
asking questions of this good and simple man. Every time the Government
hurls an accusation at him, there will be a hundred thousand persons acro=
ss
Maharashtra who will, on the basis of what they have seen with their own
eyes, proclaim it to be a lie. And there are many times a lakh who today
testify to what they say are facts about this Government. I had a glimpse=
 of
this myself. On returning to Pune from Ralegaon, I was sitting with seven=
 or
eight officials. The conversation turned to Hazare and the remarks Thacke=
ray
had made in his interview in Samna. One officer after the other narrated

"facts" about the deeds of Thackeray's relatives -- in twenty years of wo=
rk
in this field, I have not once seen officials talk in each other's presen=
ce
so derisively about ministers etc. as I saw that day. That is how the
balance stands today.

Thackeray may be telling the truth when he says that he will destroy anyo=
ne
who sets out to destroy his Government. But that is where the trouble lie=
s.
It is not Hazare who is destroying that Government. It is Thackeray and t=
he
ministers who now have the perfect shield in Thackeray's conviction, the
conviction that "the real target" of anyone who talks about corruption or
murder is him, and not the minister or the relative. Exactly but exactly =
the
conviction which enveloped Mrs. Gandhi.

But why waste time talking about these ministers, about their record and
prospects, about, to use Thackeray's evocative phrase a third time, "the
froth on the urine" ? What about Hazare ? What drives him ? What keeps su=
ch
persons striving for twenty years in one God-forsaken village, towards on=
e
goal in the face of such calumny, of such tremendous odds ?
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