Unless conscious and painstaking efforts
are made, all development leads to increasing disparities. So much so that
in India, planned development seems to have planned for higher growth of
inequalities. Poverty in Indian society has existed as a comprehensive
package. The deprived section is deprived in all aspects: social, economic,
political, cultural, information, knowledge, education, skills, health
or even access to health care, initiative, self-confidence,leadership ...many
more things may be added to this list. This inequity in development is
well-illustrated by looking at a typical
govemment program or new technology for rural areas. The upper strata will get to know of it first. They will show the initiative, enterprise and the confidence to take it up. They will implement it well and reap the benefits.
In contrast the programs specially meant for the poor are either diverted by the bureaucracy in collusion with the rural leadership to benefit the rich or remain only on paper. The money allocated for these progams is used elsewhere or is allowed to lapse. Because of these reasons the poor have lost faith in Government programs and they have not been able to develop any stakes in development activities taken up even at the village level.
In Ralegan Siddhi the people of Ralegan made sure that the first benefits of development reach the poor. They have succeeded in breaking the age old barriers and consequently the poor too have started having a stake in the development of Ralegan. This process has resulted in participation of the poor with new energies. Release of these energies has contributed to rapid and integrated development of Ralegan Siddhi.
According to a survey of Ralegan taken by its Gram Sevak in 1986, there were 41 families of dalits living in the village. Out of them were 17 Mahars, 15 Chambhars, 2 Matangs, I Nhavi, 1 Bharhadi and 5 were Sutar families. Five of these families were landless. Mahars, Chambars and Matangs are the three castes which come lowest on the Hindu caste ladder. Untouchability in many forms did exist in Ralegan. These people were not allowed inside the temple. They were given water from the well but not allowed to draw water from the well on their own. They were not allowed to participate in community functions and marriages. During community lunches they had to sit separately and were served the last.
At Anna Hazare's initiative the people of Ralegan decided to alleviate these disparities at both the social and economic levels. The dalits now participate in all the social functions. Their marriages are held as part of community marriage program together with those of other castes. As members of the Tarun Mandal, Mahila Mandal and Gram panchayat the harijans are even part of the team cooking or serving food in community lunches, even to the higher caste people. Once the Satyanarayanpooja in a local temple was performed by a local . These activities have helped in breaking the social barriers between dalits and other castes.
In 1972 eleven dalit families had jointly borrowed Rs. 22,500/ from the Ahmednagar Bank for bringing their 32 acres of land under irrigation. They did dig a well and lay a pipeline to their fields with this money but a few years later, because of some discord amongst themselves the electricity bills were not paid and repayment schedule of the bank loan was also not followed. As a result, the bank decided to recover the arrears (loan and interest totalling about Rs. 75,000) hy auctioning the land. Anna Hazare intervened at this point and on his suggestion the Tarun Mandal took the responsibility of cultivating the land on lease for 10 years and pay back the loans. The bank officials also agreed to allow a grace period. Thc Tarun Mandal paid off the loans in just three years by collective farming on these lands. Later some of these lands were brought under farm-forestry by planting Subabul (Lucena) trees which yielded fodder and fire-wood. During the lease period the dalit owners got 25% of the produce and after the lease was over the lands were handed back to the original owners.
For all other economic programs the people from the oppressed castes were chosen to be the first beneficiaries. Twenty-five women got cows or goats with Government subsidy and bank loans and became members of the cooperative society. Dalit wells were repaired/deepened with Government grant and a co-operative society was registered for sharing of water. A community centre with an electric connection was built, landless families were given land (5 acres each) and 9 houses were constructed with a NREP (National Rural Employment Program) grant. Like in any other village in India, dalit houses in Ralegan also were on the outskirts ofthe village. The new houses were built next to the village temple. The village people also contributed to construction of these houses by way of Shramadaan. All these houses have a lighting connection and smokeless chulhas. Dalits have also benefited by way of subsidies and loans for sewing machines, irrigation pumps, gobar gas plants, common toilets and bathrooms, free books, notebooks and uniforms for the school children. Seventeen families are members of the Krishna Lift Irrigation Schemes.
The only barber in the village used to hire out for wage labour to supplement income from the traditional occupation. He received training in running a poultry farm and with a bank loan of Rs. 9,000 he was able to start a poultry farm as an additional source of income.
The carpenter families are also farmers. They have been able to improve their agriculture. Three of them got loans for buying cows, one ol them dug a well and bought a pumpset with assistance from the bank for irrigating his fields. One of these families opened a grocery shop, also with bank assistance.
During the ten year period i.e. trom 1976 to 1986, the Social Welfare Department had spent Rs. 7.93 lakh and the Panchayat Samitis had spent Rs. 73,000 under IRDP (Integrated Rural Development Program) grant on program of economic advancement ot Dalit families in Ralegan Siddhi.
However, more significant than the amount
of money spent is the spirit of integration that thc people of Ralegan
have demonstrated. They have shown that development with equity is real
development and that it is also possible to accomplish this within a short
span of 10 years.
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