By: VARUN RATTAN SINGH
My only link with village life was that my father was from a rural area. My experience of a village life in past 25 years of my life can be summed up to be almost negligible. All the understanding or insights, which I had were of my father. Even though my roots are in a small village of district Bilaspur, still I had never had an opportunity of an extended stay in a village. So when I got the opportunity to stay in village Dibh as part of my fieldwork with Indo-German Changar Eco Development project, I was excited. This village was situated some 40-km from our organisations headquarters in Palampur.
Two months in the village had its own ups and downs. Our team was probably the unluckiest of all in terms of the facilities we got. There was a last minute change in the village in which we were supposed to stay. So there were no arrangements for food and shelter. First day we had to sleep on the ground in a dilapidated house of the village Pradhan with all sort of wild animals moving around us. My partner who was from Jaipur was awake almost the whole night due to the fear of snakes coming in through the space below the door. On the second day we sent an SOS to our host organisation and help came in the form of folding beds to sleep. With some basic infrastructure setup we started working on different objectives of our field work.
To start with the time chosen for our field work was excellent. It was harvest season in October and most of the community was busy in its routine from morning to evening. No one was available in the houses. It led to some constraints in survey and data collection but there was more to observe. So far I had just read about various cropping systems and here I could see farmers harvesting paddy and than sowing the winter crop which was wheat
Another interesting fact about the village was that it had people from one single caste residing in it. It was a very homogeneous community were from the backward class. So according to the villagers there used to be problems in decision making as there was no hierarchical structure and it led to lot of infighting among the villagers. This was one reason why the village community did not unite and contribute its part in the eco development project which our host organization had implemented. There was a clear difference in the work implemented by the host organization in the villages where people had come together and in our village.
I had read in newspapers and magazines that our state was doing well in terms of social development. The two months in the village helped me reinforce my readings. The villages though had very small population but basic amenities were available in all panchayats in the region. Education was a top priority in every household. Even the older people who were illiterate understood the importance of education and made sure that their children went to schools.
Irrigation water seemed to be one major problem which is present in all villages in one form or the other. In our village too the farmers were dependent on rain. The rains had gotten delayed and farmers who had sown the crops in anticipation of early rain were expecting huge losses. So the whole agriculture system to me comes across to be like a gamble which farmers play year after year.
Another interesting observation was that how the village community was aware of environment and pollution related problems. The village community was fighting a court case in Himachal Pradesh High Court to prevent a crusher unit from coming up near its periphery. This case was being jointly fought by three panchayats in that region against all odds. Over the period of time different people have staked claim to setting up a crusher in that area. The crusher owner had colluded with local politicians and government officials to get permission to setup his unit but the village community has resisted the pressure for almost 10 years now. In fact the fight is being led by women who are in the forefront. The community is so determined that they even had a clash with police force during one of the demonstrations.
I also got to understand the utility of some of the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) tools we had learnt at IRMA Anand. Our host organization had used PRA to prepare a integrated resources management plan for the village and it clearly highlighted the issue which the village community had raised. After talking to the staff of the organization i realized that one needs to have tremendous amount motivation to work at the grass roots level.
This field work gave us all time to think on lots of issues. For me it was an enriching experience as now i think i can relate to people who i want to serve one day. There is lot more to write and i will continue to share these experiences though this medium.