Wednesday, February 22, 2006

My days in PRADAN- The Action Begins!

The Action Begins

Soon after my village stay, I went for the real action in the grassroots. PRADAN in Sironj is Working for implementation of World Bank Aided Madhya Pradesh District Poverty Initiatives Project (MPDPIP). In Sironj block, this project is to be implemented in 46 villages and the total outlay is about 12 crores for 5 years (starting from 2000 onwards).

Before I joined PRADAN I always used to read in the newspapers/magazines that the money for development could not be utilized in the Project duration for some project or the other. I always used to think that may be the agency which is working to implement is not functioning properly. To certain extent it is true, as in most of the Indian Development Projects are like a Paralyzed Body- your head works and you come up with some really wonderful ideas, based on those ideas, you gather resources also but when it comes to execute those wonderful ideas, your limbs either do not work; or it they do, they work in an absolutely undesired way spilling your resources here, there, everywhere except the place they were meant for.

All ambitious ideas is past decades have died in this fashion and I don't see a ray of hope as at the grassroots, things have hardly changed, or if at all they change they have gone for the worse. The worst part is, we have, as individuals, accepted this chaos and most of us are either part of this orgy of corruption and mismanagement or we are ready to compromise at any point of time.

I used to think that there is no way a person can survive in the rotten system that we see around ourselves. More so, I thought that never in life can a multicrore project be run without any corruption. I was so disgusted with the system that soon after my graduation, I chose to join IIFM to get placement in an NGO because in my opinion both the Government and the Corporate sector have failed to safeguard the interests of the people. In such a state of mind, I had gone to my home- soon after my grads completed-when my father, who is a government Doctor, advised me to drop my radical views about corruption and nepotism in the system- "Or else", he said, "you won't be able to survive in this system".

A different Experience
After joining PRADAN I had an entirely different experience.

Ashok, our Team Leader in PRADAN entrusted me a cluster to 5 villages on the fringes of Sironj Block towards South. Two of them bordered with Nateran and three with Lateri Blocks of Vidisha, so soon I was leveled person on the border posting. These villages were between 15 to 25 kilometers from Sironj. The day I went to the first village named Kankerkhedi I traveled with Ashok on my Bike (A HH Splendor) for 15 odd kilometers on the state highway joining Sironj with Bhopal. It is such a pathetic road that the whole way I kept cursing Digvijay Singh, then CM of Madhya Pradesh, whose traditional constituency it was and his brother Laxman Singh was the sitting MP of Lokasabha from there. This place is hardly 100 kilometers from Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh and you should travel on it on a bike to find out in what hellish situation are the roads of Madhya Pradesh lying today.

Kankerkhedi is a small village of about 35 households settled on the foothills of a plateau, on the fringes of a forest. It is not a very well to do village as the average land holding is close to half a hectare and the topography is undulating. We entered the village through a naala which was used by the villagers as a connecting road, since there was no road constructed to connect this village, about 250 meters from the main road. Although it was only about 250 meters which may sound very less to many, but during rains, it is a horrific experience to cross it and so the villagers prefer to walk on the muddy fields to reach the main road rather than walking though this naala in the rains. Unfortunately since both myself and Ashok were visiting this village for the first time in rains, none of us knew this. I decided to reach the village on the bike itself. But, the naala so full of filth that I had to literally wade through the mud with my bike. When some how I was able to reach its end, where there was the well of the village, its only source of drinking water, I faced many villagers who were there to witness this courageous exploit of crossing the naala on a bike to reach the village probably that was not achieved in past so many years.

There was a narrow alley from the end of the naala to enter the village and it was lined by mud houses on both the sides, most of them in a bad shape. This alley was very undulating and with an upward slope of about 20 degrees. This alley bifurcates into two parts further, the left one going towards the temple and the houses of the better of family of the village, the Mina Patels and the right one goes towards the Houses of Harijan Families. The alley was full of mud as well, as there is no drainage system in the village and waste water from all the houses is dumped directly in the street, and it flows down it to accumulate near the well. There are no toilets in this village and everybody, regardless of his social or financial status has to go to the nearby forest or fields to attend the calls of the nature. Occasionally the kids defecate in the naala and during the times of the rains, all this waste get accumulated near the well, and gets a chance to percolate down in this shallow well of about 20-25 meters depth. To my horror, this was their only source of water for drinking, bathing, cooking food and washing. No wonder when we settled down in the verandah of one of the hut and started conversing with the villagers, they told us that almost all of them were suffering with diarrhea at that point of time. As I watched the kids who had gathered there due to curiosity, I could see rashes in their skin and abscesses in the heads of toddlers, protruding bellies of the small kids of 3-5 years, indicating severe malnutrition and contaminated water. (At the end of my first year working in Kankerkhedi, 14 out of 150 odd villagers were dead due to mainly water borne diseases; the majority of them was of kids less than 5 years of age).

I was appalled at the nightmarish situation in which people were living in that village. I recalled the clean super highways of Bhopal and Delhi, the parks for wealthy joggers and their dogs, all amenities that we, the urban people, take for granted, most of the time. And here was another India, where there is no drinking water, no health support, no education, no roads, no electricity as if they do not exist for the state. That day, the ground realities of our country hit in the face of the India Shining and the brouhaha about the Economic Liberalization. Where is the development for these people? Are they any lesser Indians than those living in Lutyen's Delhi or Nawab's Bhopal? What shall they do? To whom shall they approach to look into these problems, that challenge their basic survival. All the actors of the rural life- PRIs, governement personnel, doctors, lawyers, moneylenders, traders, banks- every body is standing there with a knife of exploitation in their hands to claim the proverbial pound of flesh. What would have I done had my family lived in such circumstances? What would have you done? Under these circumstances is it a sin to revolt? I don't think so. I did not hate them when they did not trust me. I did not hate them when they tried to gobble the money provided by the government for their own welfare scheme. I did not hate them when they offered me a bribe which I didn't accept. I did not hate them when they took kickbacks for purchasing their own goods from the traders.

Why? Because that is what we, as a society, as a nation, taught them. For last so many decades, that is their learning. You bribe the revenue official, you get he copy of your own land records. You want money to purchase seed and fertilizers, to do farming for feeding your kids, you get a loan from the Seth at a criminal rate of interest of 36 to 60 percent per year (which none of us would ever dream to touch even). You bribe the surveyor; you get the money of insurance from the insurance company. You bribe the teacher to get admission of you child in the school. You bribe the minister to get your son in school as a teacher. You bribe the panchayat to get a hand pump dug at your doorstep. If you can't pay the bribe, you don't have a right to survive. That’s the bottom-line for the poorest of the poor. Our system does not consider them to be human beings- for it they are some advanced form of humanoid apes, whose birth or death does not affects anybody.