After a long ride, just as we were beginning to see some village houses, beyond an undulating landscape, Anil moved his bike in front of our jeep, signalling us to stop.
Pointing at the barren land around, with a sweep of his hand, he started telling us, that once, these hills were green, and villagers used to graze cattle here. The pits on the barren hills that we were seeing, were due to the soil being excavated by tractors, that was taken to Rajpur almost every day. He has vivid memories of playing in this green bushy area while grazing cattle with his friends in his childhood.
Anil and Golu convinced some of their friends about the need to conserve this land and stop the soil excavations; they sent a letter to the Tehsildar, requesting him to stop the illegal activity. When no action was taken, Anil and his friends talked to the labourers of their village, who were working with tractor-wallahs and convinced them to take up some other work, as this was destroying the village. Interestingly, Anil seemed to be particularly worried about not getting wood to burn the dead.
Finally, he led some youngsters to the site and stopped the tractor drivers and contractors. The soil excavation stopped. This small victory boosted the group’s confidence and set them thinking about reforesting the area by planting trees. But due to some reasons, they could not do it. Next year, they plan to do this for sure.
After ‘buying’ this great inspirational story we followed him to the village – Damdami in Badwani district of Madhya Pradesh, with a great positive feeling. Parking the jeep at his house, we walked towards the village school, happily soaking in the fresh air and the unmistakable odours of fermented Mahua and the not-so-holy lazing buffaloes and their dung. A band of children who had better things to do than going to school soon started following us. Chatting with the kids, we reached the village school, where Anil and his lieutenant – Golu, had organised a meeting.
The venue was set with chairs and ‘tatpattis’ but only 5-6 people were present. It seemed we had come at one of the busiest of times. Almost everybody was on the farm, busy planting the politically volatile and media-savvy, onions! Anyway, Anil explained the idea of conserving the hills and Jayashree talked to them about using the MNREGA scheme for water conservation works in the village, if they were interested. There was a discussion about the problems and advantages of doing the conservation work collectively, rather than individually.
Anil’s family’s main source of income is through the 3-4 acre farm and labour work. Onions are one of the main cash crops. It was very educative to see the production end of the onion story and we were filled with guilt, knowing the amount of labour involved, and the risks farmers take to grow onions. The difference between the wholesale rates at which they sell them, and the rates at which we buy in metros, is appalling. (Onion story later).
Getting back to our story, after these insights, we headed to Anil’s house where we were made to sit in an ‘air-conditioned’ room with reed mat walls, which brought in cool air and an ominously low small ceiling fan. As we entered his hut, crouching down, our eyes adjusting to the low light, he told us apologetically that he intends to make a new house next year. They are four brothers.
“Each year all the earnings go into getting a ‘laadi’ for one brother. Now the youngest is left.” This guy, in spite of his polio leg, was leaning on a bike with a great attitude and on hearing his name, waved his hand at us with a peace sign.
“So next year we will put our earnings into the house.”
After a basic, delicious lunch, we left with a lot of good feelings, inspired, educated and with equally amazing enthusiasm. The world had not come to an end. There is hope. There are many youngsters like Anil and Golu. Going about their daily lives, inconspicuous in a crowd but with a fire and a will to do something for the larger good
About a fortnight ago, he sent some photographs of people working on the barren land where he had stopped the tractors doing soil excavation.
He got his hamlet of people together and took them to the Gram Sabha held on the 15th of August 2019. There, they gave their demand for work through MNREGA to the panchayat secretary and Sarpanch. Due to his efforts, 33 people have got work and a small pond is being constructed to conserve water. They also told the people that if they don’t work for 100 days, they will lose their job cards and eventually the BPL ration cards may also be taken away!
“Aaj ke zamaane mein log seedhe, seedhe nahin samajhte. Kuchh to ghuma kar bataana padta hai. Kyon didi ?” (In today’s times’ people don’t listen if we tell them straight. We need to weave a tale and tell them some scary or rosy dialogues. Isn’t it Didi?) And Didi didn’t have any option except to nod her head in approval.
Seeing the fruits of their labour, people are happy.
The workers have received a message saying that the wages have been deposited in their bank accounts. Through the panchayat secretary, they called the engineer to the village and asked him to explain the whole project. The people need to take ownership of the work and not just act as labourers. They also expressed their doubts about payments being made according to work done rather than the minimum wage. After the meeting he says, he has a feeling that there are going to be some hassles and he has to be prepared.
Since his school days, Anil has been active in various student organisations in his area, but he had to leave college after one year, due to his weak economic situation at home. He was always restless as he wanted to do something to improve the situation of his village. He got a lot of energy and direction after joining the ‘Yuva Chetana Shivir’ , where he met many youngsters from his District and there was a lot of discussion about ways to stop the rampant migration due to environmental degradation and lack of work in villages.
The Yuva Chetana Shivir is a perspective building course run by Jayashree and Amit on behalf of SRUTI, where youngsters try to understand the prevalent inequalities and injustices in society and are motivated to think about small positive actions that they can initiate, at personal levels, for their community. He got especially enthused after his exposure visit to Alirajpur, where he saw how villagers had got work through panchayats, after organising themselves under the dynamic leadership of Magan Kanesh and Shankar Tadavla of Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath.
Simple people, simple thoughts leading to small actions in faraway places. Far more effective than the grand plans of grandiose commissions. Do we really need these big shit leaders or ‘well educated’ officers to tell us what to do to improve our lives? Actually, we just need them to stay out of our way and help us in when we ask them to.
Best wishes to them and thanks for filling us with positivity.