While it is a general sentiment that rural India has not progressed at an appreciative pace even after 74 years of independence, my experiences and learnings from villages in Raigad, Maharashtra, tell another story. Along with initiatives like Swachh Bharat, Jal Jeevan Mission and improved internet and mobile connectivity, there is another positive change—village communities are dreaming and now transforming their villages and inspiring others to do the same. Migrants who have returned during the pandemic are also embracing building small businesses in their villages.
I have witnessed many villages carving their pathway to being 'Dream Villages' in the last few years. During the recent floods in Raigad, these villages supported each other and restored our dream of a better India—bolstered by strong and self-sufficient, village communities with a can-do attitude.
I remember my visit to Bhavshet Thakurwadi, a tribal hamlet in the Sudhagad block of Raigad. I joined a meeting at the village school, about developing a plan that focused on the holistic development of the village and the upliftment of each house in it. Led by a few representatives—both men and women—tribal villagers were planning about answering their urgent needs of water, sanitation, health, livelihoods, and education first. When I asked a community lady about how they thought of taking the lead for their village development, she replied, "If we won't think about our village's prosperity, how can we expect government, non-profits to think of our betterment. They exist to support us and we cannot be dependent on them." This sense of independence and pride is the first step for Indian villages to become 'Dream Villages'.
Such experiences in Raigad have helped me understand how community members in these villages are driving on the way to be a "Dream Village" by working on five Ss.
Swachh (Clean): Cleanliness is the foundation of a thriving village and is deeply connected to the health of the community members. Free of open defecation, household toilet for each home, a proper drainage facility, adequate waste management and a tap for drinking water in every house, community members enjoy a safe environment that is free of diseases. There are over 1,200 hamlets that have a 'Nigrani Samiti', a committee that monitors households that have individual toilets in their house to ensure their usage and make their village is free of open defecation. Recently, 24 villages in the Mangaon block of Raigad have started plastic waste management. Every house in these villages is segregating plastic waste and is sending it for processing. It is honestly quite an uphill task, but the community is spearheading it.
Sunder(Beautiful): When I visualise a dream village, I think of a clean and beautiful community with sustainable permanent homes and functional roads. I think of some elements of our cultural heritage, artefacts, decoration, crafts to be present in the village. That is sadly absent in the villages I have visited. But in Raigad, villages are making a beginning. Community members from Solamkond village in Mahad, Raigad, made the maximum use of government schemes to make their village beautiful. The villagers got in touch with gram panchayat, took regular follow-ups, got financial sanctions, and ensured the construction of the first road, instalment of solar-powered street lights and a safety boundary on the side of a road for their uphill village.
Swasthaya (Access to Health Care): As the majority of our population still resides in villages, access to adequate health care is essential. While basic health care is available at the village level through well-trained community health volunteers and health centres, referrals and optimum utilisation of existing government and non-profit support are essential. During the pandemic, 6,000+ community members in villages of Raigad got trained to use the E-Sanjeevani app launched by the government to take virtual medical consultations, free of cost. Over 3,000+ community members availed of this service. Over 1,600 community volunteers ensured strong adherence to Covid-19 protocols in their villages and mandatory quarantine for migrant workers or anyone coming from outside.
Samrudhha (Self-Reliant): Once health care, sanitation and drinking water are available, village members can invest time and resources in their livelihoods. Bhavshet Thakurwadi is working on opportunities such as sustainable livelihoods, skilling and linking community members to government schemes to make their village self-reliant. Their aim? To ensure that every household earns a minimum of Rs 2 lakhs, through multiple livelihoods like planting fruit trees, goat rearing and poultry farming. These livelihoods are less capital intensive and also empower the women of the community. Since a majority of men worked as masons without any formal training and earned only daily wages, the non-profit also supported them with a proper skilling course in masonry. These trained masons are now entrepreneurs and take individual construction contracts in Raigad. When people find livelihoods and opportunities for the betterment of their family within their village, they are less likely to witness a migrant crisis.
Saksham (Aware, Enabled and Empowered): The above four cannot be achieved until the community members are willing to be equal partners in their village development. It has to be an actionable aspiration from the community members to make their village a dream village. An effective and functional Village Development Committee (VDC), that has equal representation of all community members is integral to make communities empowered. In Raigad, over 1,100 VDCs have already been formed and are an inspiration to us at every visit. These committees meet every month and they review and revisit their village development plan. They are the nerve centre for leveraging all government schemes for the village members. For example, with the help of a national bank, they conducted camps across seven blocks of Raigad and registered 1,317 community members for Kisan Credit Cards.
In the 75th year of independence, I am hopeful and feel confident about these five S’s as the clear path to turning our dreams of a thriving village into reality. These are simple, sustainable, scalable and replicable interventions driven by communities—under the guidance of a non-profit and VDC. These villages in Raigad can inspire other villages and ensure we make an India of our dreams, where the rural-urban divide is minimal and communities see their villages with joy, pride and as full of opportunities.
The writer is the co-founder, managing trustee and director of the Swades Foundation.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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