~~ Reflections by IAAT Residents on their expedition to two of the villages in Haryana ~~
“As a child, summer vacations meant visiting my maternal uncle, who owns a farm in a village. So the mention of a village always brought back images of a self-reliant, agriculture-based unit where life, though full of challenges, was based on diligent hard work and a simple way of living. All villagers worked as per the skill and resources they had. Government aid was limited and its distribution questionable, as was evident from the daily issues for which the villagers sought help from my uncle. Caste –system deeply pervaded daily life, and education was only a means to attain literacy, usually only for the male members of the family, with no desire to learn and grow as an individual…
…Most members of the Gujjar community were landowners who had made money by selling their prime land to the real-estate developers of Gurgaon, and bought cheap land elsewhere. Few had undergone professional training and worked in offices in Gurgaon. The other communities worked as labourers, drivers and helpers or as factory workers. Many unemployed youth whom we spoke to were reluctant to venture out of their comfort zone to earn their livelihood. Many indulged in gambling to while away their time, as was seen at a village chaupal. This was in stark contrast to the agriculture-based, diligent work force that I had seen in my uncle’s village. The women on the other hand were more enterprising, generating self-employment opportunities like selling milk, stitching, beauty parlor, weaving rugs etc from their homes, as they were forbidden from stepping out.
Also the lack of pre-primary and healthcare facilities was disturbing, given the proximity to Gurgaon. Although the Aaganwadi worker we spoke to, had been working there for 25 years, the resources and services provided at the centre were grossly inadequate. This was also echoed by many families who were not comfortable with sending their children to the Aaganwadi.
The lack of unity and collaboration within the village as a whole was also evident. There was neither a gobar-gas plant to tackle the regular power-cuts, nor any such initiative, despite the widespread availability of cow-dung and awareness regarding the same. There were no taps anywhere to regulate the water supply, only outlets, leading to a lot of wastage. The villagers also told us that the clogged drains and piles of garbage strewn all around the village were due to the unavailability of any designated sanitation workers. All these facts shattered my notion of a village as a self-reliant, self-sustaining unit, where everyone collaborated to solve the community’s issues.
The story of the village’s midwife, proved that our ancestral knowledge and skills are neglected and dying out. She is a storehouse of knowledge with 40 years of experience and no one to pass it on to, as none is willing. The influence of the city has taken over the simplicity of village life with TVs taking priority over knowledge-sharing.”
– Rohini Jain
“My expedition to Kadarpur village gave me another visual confirmation of the day-to-day challenges that majority of the population faces in our country. I could see a stark difference in the standard of living of the villagers on the lines of caste differences. The upper caste villagers had comparatively better standard of living than the lower caste villagers. I could see the high and mighty trampling the rights of the weaker section of the society. I could see the indifference of the haves towards the have not’s. I could see public wealth being grabbed by the representative of the public. I could see corruption prevalent in all sections of life.
However, the village expedition did throw some new light on my existing perception about lower caste women. I found the lower caste women to be particularly aware of their rights and government policies. The awareness about education and its benefit was very high. Almost all women were sending their children to anganwadi, government and private schools…
…My village expedition did throw some positive light on the level of awareness among women. I saw many village women taking charge of their lives and willing to be the change they want to see…
…If I were living in the same village and if I was just as aware as I am right now, I would use my knowledge and awareness to bring some changes in the way the system has been working there. I would want to make the villagers aware of the Right to Information (RTI) Act as I want them to avail the benefits of this act. RTI can be used to demand transparency and accountability from the elected representative like Sarpanch and various other government officials handling government funds. From my experience, I have noticed that most of the government officials do respond to RTI application, as it is a valid legal document and can be used against them in the court of law. I would share my knowledge about the act and its logistics with the villagers and encourage them to use it to get information or to get their work done by the Sarpanch or other government officials.
During my visit to Kadarpur, I also got the impression that the awareness about health and sanitation is relatively low among the villagers as compared to the awareness about other issues like education, government policies, subsidies, etc. I believe the villagers are not aware about the relation that hygiene and sanitation has with their health. I would talk to the Sarpanch and ask for a meeting with the villagers in order to make them aware of the fallouts of poor hygiene and sanitation. I would want to use my knowledge about the same to spread awareness among the villagers. I would link poor hygiene and sanitation with various water borne diseases that villagers get infected with. I would also mobilize the villagers to demand the use of allotted government funds from the Sarpanch, for better hygiene and sanitation facilities for the villagers. I believe that if the villagers can come together as one, anything is possible.”
– Tripta Chand
“A visit to Damdama village and interaction with the people there gave me a chance to look into their lives closely. I realized that development there was limited to amenities only. When it came to fundamentals like education, awareness, infrastructure or scientific methods of farming, electricity and potable water supply etc, much still needed to be done. Considering its proximity to developed cities like Gurgaon and Delhi, my expectations were more.
If we look at Education, then there were Aanganwadi’s and schools up to 8th Standard only. If someone has to pursue studies after 8th they have to go nearby village or have to travel to as far as Gurgaon for higher education. Not all, particularly girls, are able to travel far and discontinue their education after eighth. The village was lacking in so far as education of women and elder people is concerned. There was some arrangement for women’s education but not many of them turned up nor were the teacher paid properly. Another major reason for low turnout of girls for higher education is their early marriage. Most of the elders/ parents still are carrying the old thought a girl, after marriage, has to finally look after a household hence there is no point allowing them to continue higher studies. However we were glad to note that there were few households who have taken up education very seriously and their girls are travelling and going to colleges. I am hopeful they, sooner or later, will encourage rest of the village…
…Their main livelihood is cattle rearing. On average they have good number of cows/ buffaloes whose products they sell. They have farm lands as well but most of them have given land to others for tilling on rent (on “patta”, the exact hindi word). The men didn’t appear to be that much enterprising. They appeared contended with what they have and hence were mostly in bad habits like idling around, gambling, drinking etc. Household work is mostly done by the women. Not only they do the daily chores but heavy work as well that otherwise should be done by men. I found them, particularly the daughters-in-law, totally tied in work with little or no time for self. I was pained to see their condition. They seemed happy and healthy but I could sense they were lacking in freedom. Even if they looked contended, I found, they were not aware what they are missing. They were just living under so many restrictions. They still do purdah, covering their face, cannot speak loudly or express themselves freely. They are not allowed to move outside the house. They just have nothing to entertain themselves. They are just caught in work day and night. On little probing they expressed their desire of pursuing higher education and living better life. I sincerely wish I could do something more for them.
Many of the houses were very small but family staying in them was large. They still believe that more hands in family means more work and more money to the family. They don’t realize what work they will do when there will be no job.”
– Sarita Singh
“…Before visiting DamDama, I was also stereotyping it as a Gujjar Village. I went believing I would find the girls very timid, mostly uneducated, oppressed and suffering. However, most of the families that we visited in the village were very progressive about education. We did not meet a single child who said that he/she did not go to school and we did not meet a single woman who was not at least educated till 12th.
One of the most ‘mental model’ shattering things that I encountered was when I visited a Harijan Colony. The colony that we visited was one of the cleanest in village. It had a small dumping ground on the entrance of the ‘basti’, but once you entered it, it was spic and span. They looked well off if not better than Gujjars; their children were educated and they were progressive. The daughter-in-law of the family we visited was MCA and was working till recent.
One of the other things that I found very surprising that the Sarpanch here was not all-powerful. In Damdama we found out that nobody listened to the Sarpanch. We asked a village girl Seema if the Sarpanch assigned a particular place/method for waste disposal will the people adhere to it? She said, “No”. The answer was, due to political differences nobody wants anybody to succeed, hence won’t listen to the Sarpanch. The Sarpanch’s mother told us that even the ‘Choodi’ sweeper would not clean their road as she belongs to the other party.
When we look at these problems holistically there are many problems that are born out of long held ancestral values; like Dowry system, caste system, looking down upon certain kinds of work and gender inequality. I fiercely believe these evils can only be obliterated by educating and empowering women. Women of a house are the basic source from where each child first imbibes values, therefore if a woman is empowered and respects herself, she will definitely pass on the right values to children. To do that we will need to educate every woman and make them financially independent so that they are no longer seen as the lesser half of the society.
The biggest problem I find is the problem with the attitude of youth towards the betterment of their society. Since there is no dignity of labour in the villages, they look down upon certain kinds of work; they will not work even if the opportunity presents itself. They have categorized work on the basis of what is considered acceptable for which faction of society. Hence there is a lot of societal pressure on people who want to go out of line and find work.
Their proximity to NCR has exposed them to many variables that have worked both for and against them. Lots of farmers have become rich overnight by selling their lands to property developers. It might have helped them if they had used the money for their growth. As is evident, people mostly spent the money in buying Houses, cars and living a lavish life style of neo rich. However by the time the money gets finished most of them develop a lot of ego, rage and become addicted to alcohol and drugs…”