In 1978 after a voluntary retirement from the Indian army, Anna Hazare went to his native village Ralegan Siddhi, a village located in the acute drought-prone and rain-shadow zone of Parner Tehsil of Ahmadnagar district, in central Maharashtra. It was one of the many villages of India plagued by acute poverty, deprivation, a fragile ecosystem, neglect and hopelessness.
Hazare made remarkable economic, social and community regeneration in Ralegan Siddhi. He reinforced the normative principles of human development – equity, efficiency, sustainability and people's participation and made Ralegan Siddhi an oasis of human-made regeneration in a human-made desert without any inputs of industrialisation and technology-oriented agriculture.
Prohibition on alcohol
Anna Hazare recognised that without addressing the menace of alcoholism, no effective and sustainable reform was possible in the village. He organised the youth of the village into an organisation named the Tarun Mandal (Youth Association). Hazare and the youth group decided to take up the issue of alcoholism. At a meeting conducted in the temple, the villagers resolved to close down liquor dens and ban alcohol in the village. Since these resolutions were made in the temple, they became in a sense religious commitments. Over thirty liquor brewing units were closed by their owners voluntarily. Those who did not succumb to social pressure were forced to close down their businesses when the youth group smashed up their liquor dens. The owners could not complain as their businesses were illegal.
When some villagers were found to be drunk they were tied to poles/pillars of the temple and flogged, sometimes personally by Hazare. He justified this harsh punishment by stating in an interview to Reader's Digest in 1986 that “rural India was a harsh society”.
Hazare said, “Doesn’t a mother administer bitter medicines to a sick child when she knows that the medicine can cure her child? The child may not like the medicine, but the mother does it only because she cares for the child. The alcoholics were punished so that their families would not be destroyed.
Hazare appealed to the government of Maharashtra to bring in a law whereby prohibition would come into force in a village if 25% of the women in the village demanded it. In July 2009 the state government issued a government resolution amending the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949. As per the amendments, if at least 25% of women voters demand liquor prohibition through a written application to the state excise department, voting should be conducted through a secret ballot. If 50% of the voters vote against the sale of liquor, prohibition should be imposed in the village and the sale of liquor should be stopped. Similar action can be taken at the ward level in municipal areas. Another circular was issued making it mandatory to get the sanction of the Gram sabha (the local self government) for issuing new permits for the sale of liquor. In some instances, when women agitated against the sale of liquor, cases were filed against them. Hazare took up the issue again. In August 2009 the government issued another circular that sought withdrawal of cases against women who sought prohibition of liquor in their villages.
It was decided to ban the sale of tobacco, cigarettes, and beedies (an unfiltered cigarette where the tobacco is rolled in tendu also known as Diospyros melanoxylon leaves instead of paper) in the village. In order to implement this resolution, the youth group performed a unique "Holi" ceremony twenty two years ago. The festival of Holi is celebrated as a symbolic burning of evil. The youth group brought all the tobacco, cigarettes, and beedies from the shops in the village and burnt them in a ‘Holi’ fire. Tobacco, cigarettes, or beedies are no longer sold.
In 1980, the Grain Bank was started by him at the temple, with the objective of providing food security to needful farmers during times of drought or crop failure. Rich farmers, or those with surplus grain production, could donate a quintal to the bank. In times of need, farmers could borrow the grain, but they had to return the same amount of grain they borrowed, plus an additional quintal as an interest. This ensured that nobody in the village ever went hungry or had to borrow money to buy grain. This also prevented distress sales of grain at lower prices at harvest time.
Watershed development programme
“ It is not the water in the fields that brings true development, rather, it is water in the eyes, or compassion for fellow beings, that brings about real development ” — Anna Hazare
Ralegan is located in the foothills, so Hazare persuaded villagers to construct a watershed embankment to stop water and allow it to percolate and increase the ground water level and improve irrigation in the area. Residents of the village used shramdan (voluntary labour) to build canals, small-scale check-dams, and percolation tanks in the nearby hills for watershed development. These efforts solved the problem of water scarcity in the village and made irrigation possible. The first embankment that was built using volunteer efforts developed a leak and had to be reconstructed, this time with government funding.
In order to conserve soil and water by checking runoff, contour trenches and gully plugs were constructed along the hill slopes. Grass, shrubs and about 3 Lakh ( 300,000 ) trees were planted along the hillside and the village. This process was supplemented by afforestation, nullah bunds, underground check dams, and cemented bandharas (small diversion weirs) at strategic locations. Ralegan has also experimented with drip and bi-valve irrigation. Papaya, lemon, and chillies have been planted on a plot of 80 acres (32 ha) entirely irrigated by the drip irrigation system. Cultivation of water-intensive crops like sugar cane was banned. Crops such as pulses, oil-seeds, and certain cash crops with low water requirements were grown. The farmers started growing high-yield varieties of crop and the cropping pattern of the village was changed. Hazare has helped farmers of more than 70 villages in drought-prone regions in the state of Maharashtra since 1975. When Hazare came in Ralegan Siddhi in 1975 only 70 acres (28 ha) of land was irrigated, Hazare converted it into about 2,500 acres (1,000 ha).
The Government of India plans to start a training centre in Ralegan Siddhi to understand and implement Hazare's watershed development model in other villages in the country.
As a secondary occupation, milk production was promoted in Ralegan Siddhi. Purchase of new cattle and improvement of the existing breed with the help of artificial insemination and timely guidance and assistance by a veterinarian resulted in an improvement in the cattle stock. Milk production has increased. Crossbreed cows are replacing local ones which gave a lower milk yield. The number of milk cattle has also been growing, which resulted in growth from 100 litres (before 1975) to around 2,500 litres per day. The milk is sent to a co-operative dairy (Malganga Dairy) in Ahmednagar. Some milk is given to Balwadi (kindergarten) children and neighbouring villages under the child nutrition program sponsored by the Zilla Parishad.
From the surplus funds generated, the milk society bought a mini-truck and a thresher. The mini-truck is used to transport milk to Ahmednagar and to take vegetables and other produce directly to the market, thus eliminating intermediate agents. The thresher is rented out to farmers during the harvesting season.
In 1932, Ralegan Siddhi got its first formal school, a single classroom primary school. In 1962, the villagers added more classrooms through community volunteer efforts. By 1971, out of an estimated population of 1,209, only 30.43% were literate (72 women and 290 men). Boys moved to the nearby towns of Shirur and Parner to pursue higher education, but due to socioeconomic conditions, girls could not do the same and were limited to primary education. Hazare, along with the youth of Ralegan Siddhi, worked to increase literacy rates and education levels. In 1976 they started a pre-school and a high school in 1979. The villagers formed a charitable trust, the Sant Yadavbaba Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, which was registered in 1979.
The trust obtained a government grant of 400,000 (US$8,920) for the school building using the National Rural Education Programme. This money funded a new school building that was built over the next two months using volunteer labour. A new hostel was constructed to house 200 students from poorer sections of society. After the opening of the school, a girl from Ralegan Siddhi became the first female in the village to complete her Secondary School Certificate in 1982. Since then the school has been instrumental in bringing in many of changes to the village. Traditional farming practices are taught in this school in addition to the government curriculum.
Removal of untouchability
The social barriers and discrimination that existed due to the caste system in India have been largely eliminated by Ralegan Siddhi villagers. It was Anna Hazares moral leadership that motivated and inspired the people of Ralegan Siddhi to shun untouchability and discrimination against the Dalits. People of all castes come together to celebrate social events. Marriages of Dalits are held as part of community marriage program together with those of other castes. The Dalits have been integrated into the social and economic life of the village. The upper caste villagers have built houses for the lower caste Dalits by Shramdaan, Sanskrit for voluntary work without payment, and helped to repay their loans to free them from their indebtedness.
Most rural poor get into a debt trap as they incur heavy expenses at the time of marriage of their daughter or son. It is an undesirable practice but has almost become a social obligation in India. Ralegan's people have started celebrating marriages collectively. Joint feasts are held, where the expenses are further reduced by the Tarun Mandal taking responsibility for cooking and serving the food. The vessels, the loudspeaker system, the mandap, and the decorations have also been bought by the Tarun Mandal members belonging to the oppressed castes. From 1976 to 1986, 424 marriages have been held under this system.
The Gandhian philosophy on rural development considers the Gram Sabha as an important democratic institution for collective decision making in the villages of India. Hazare campaigned between 1998 and 2006 for amending the Gram Sabha Act, so that the villagers have a say in the development works in their village. The state government initially refused, but eventually gave in due to public pressure. As per the amendments, it is mandatory to seek the sanction of the Gram Sabha (an assembly of all village adults, and not just the few elected representatives in the gram panchayat) for expenditures on development works in the village. In case of expenditure without the sanction of the Gram Sabha, 20% of Gram Sabha members can lodge a complaint to the chief executive officer of the zilla parishad (the district-level governing body) with their signatures. The chief executive officer is required to visit the village and conduct an inquiry within 30 days and submit a report to the divisional commissioner, who has the power to remove the sarpanch or deputy sarpanch and dismiss the gram sevak involved. Hazare was not satisfied as the amended Act did not include the right to recall a sarpanch. He insisted that this should be included and the state government relented.
“Anna is a shining example of creativity and service by an ex-Serviceman” — Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa (in 1991)
In Ralegan Siddhi, Gram Sabha meetings are held periodically to discuss issues relating to the welfare of the village. Projects like watershed development activities are undertaken only after they are discussed in the Gram Sabha. All decisions like Nashabandi (bans on alcohol), Kurhadbandi (bans on tree felling), Charai bandi (bans on grazing), and Shramdan were taken in the Gram Sabha. Decisions are taken in a simple majority consensus. The decision of the Gram Sabha is accepted as final.
In addition to the panchayat, there are several registered societies that take care of various projects and activities of the village. Each society presents an annual report and statement of accounts in the Gram Sabha. The Sant Yadavbaba Shikshan Prasarak Mandal monitors the educational activities. The Vividh Karyakari Society gives assistance and provides guidance to farmers regarding fertilizers, seeds, organic farming, and financial assistance. The Sri Sant Yadavbaba Doodh Utpadhak Sahakari Sanstha gives guidance regarding the dairy business. Seven co-operative irrigation societies provide water to the farmers from cooperative wells. The Mahila Sarvage Utkarsh Mandal attends to the welfare needs of women.
Major Source: annahazare.org
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