Hardships, tensions, time-bound project pressures, are widely identified as reasons that are taking away innovation from modern lives and further making life stressful and dull. This might be the story of many modern-day professionals, but certainly not of Anjali Murmu, a woman from the tribal hinterland of West Bengal. Anjali is in her early thirties, has two children and has studied till ninth standard. Amidst all earthly woes and worries, she is a successful, self-motivated agricultural scientist working on the land owned by her family.
‘‘If I don’t try, nothing will happen, I shall slip behind’’, Anjali says confidently. This is her guiding philosophy. Her journey has not been easy, but she has drawn much support from her family and neighbours. Life has been quite harsh to her and threw up some serious challenges. An early marriage, bearing two children, marginal landholding, and the inability to have a full square meal- nothing could curb her innate nature of observing, learning and experimenting.
Be it constructing their house differently, a new style of painting, or trying out modern methodologies in agriculture, Anjali never runs short of innovative ideas. She engineered a style of housing she had observed while migrating for earning a livelihood and built the porch unlike any other house in the village, taking inspiration from that style. The design on the door, which she copied from a design on a small stool somewhere makes her home stand out in the village.
They took land on lease, after her father in law’s death. Anjali always prioritised cultivable land over having a big house to live in. ‘‘Purchasing a piece of land and building the house on that can happen anytime, provided we have resources, but resources always can’t buy a cultivable land as they are not always available’’, she puts her logic firmly. When the Bengalis from the adjacent village were selling their cultivable lands, her father in law prioritised purchasing land for building a house. But the second time, Anjali roped her husband in and soon bought around fifty decimals of land on lease for cultivation.
‘‘Right from my marriage to the time my father-in-law was alive, I had almost no responsibility, and life was also very boring. My only engagement was to collect leaves. After my father-in-law’s demise entire pressure fell on me, “but I am enjoying now as I can plan to execute as per my astuteness’’, she recounts her journey from a timid slender young bride, to the sagacious self-assured lady. Her youthfulness and pioneering ability, placed her in the leadership pool soon after she joined the village self-help group– Jaher Ayo SHG, in 2007.
Three years back PRADAN, a national level NGO, entered her village and started interacting with the SHG institutions for livelihood augmentation. Anjali’s scientific mind found strong logic in adopting the direct seeded rice method for paddy cultivation, keeping the vagaries of rainfall in consideration. She stepped forward and took up the risk of experimenting it in almost half of their land. Her decision faced critique from all quarters of the village society.
The harshest among them was from her husband. She was threatened by her husband that if the method fails, she will have to give a monetary compensation for food for the next six months. Sarcasm was all around her, but nothing could dissuade her from taking up the challenge. “I was divided into two. One side was tensed that if I failed I had to give an equal amount of money; the other side of me saw the strong logic in it and encouraged me. In the end, I succeeded’’, proudly narrates Anjali with a charming smile, about her mental state while experimenting with DSR.
After the initial worries when the small healthy paddy seedlings popped out from the field, her efforts and interest doubled. Meanwhile, campaign and training for organic agricultural practice by PRADAN were being held in the village. Anjali was quick to learn the techniques of making organic fertilisers and pesticides. Harvesting from her first endeavour in DSR came out devoid of any sorts of chemical application. She calculated that she saved almost nine thousand rupees by not purchasing chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The yield was impressive, and she could manage seven hundred and twenty kilograms of paddy from forty-four decimal of land. That amounts to almost five tons per hectare.
This was an above average data. With this huge success, there was no looking back for her. Next year, she took up the indigenous variety of paddy, ‘Kerala Sundari’, for experimentation under the guidance of PRADAN. She says with concern, “soils turned hard, earthworms; shrimps and small fishes vanished from our lands. We needed to reject the chemical inputs, and that’s why I experimented with chemical insensitive but tolerant indigenous paddy variety’’. Again it was a very successful experiment, and she achieved the benchmark productivity of five tons per hectare. She preserved seeds and planned to shift her entire paddy cultivation to ‘Kerala Sundari’. Her plan this year is to experiment with ashes made from burning hay and fuel-wood, as an alternative source of potash and phosphate. PRADAN will provide her required guidance.
The kind of youthful character Anjali has shown became an ideal for many women in the village. She has inspired many women and continues to do so. Another feather to her success is that all the twenty-two women in the two SHGs in the village joined hands for experimenting with indigenous paddy variety in their field. Anjali dared to travel far and wide. Her future endeavours with all the village women will undoubtedly change the way women are considered in modern agriculture, and I hope she would make her life’s dream of travelling to a sea/beach a reality soon.
All it takes to become a scientist is the ability to observe, learn and application in contexts, and University degree becomes secondary.