On October 16th 2010, the Kisan Swaraj Yatra reached Ralegan Siddhi in Ahmednagar district, the renowned village of Anna Saheb Hazare, a rare Gandhian activist who transformed his village into a village which combined development with environment conservation, particularly of water resources.
It was ‘laundry day’ for us and many of us were happy to tackle the laundry that had piled up over the past few days! Even though we reached Ralegan Siddhi at an unearthly hour of 3.30 am, we were up early and were soon drying out washed clothes.
After a review meeting of the Yatris, which unfortunately had to be cut short by lunch time, we all met with Anna bhau Hazare who shared his thoughts on Gram Swaraj, on the Kisan Swaraj Yatra, on how he transformed Ralegan Siddhi and six other villages and so on.
Some of the main things that he said included:
- Gandhiji always stressed on development that does not depend on exploitation of Nature and Man – only that is sustainable and true development. What passes off as Development today is obviously not the answer.
- The government is keen to only provide markets for fertilizer, seeds and pesticides industry. This is not what farmers need, however.
- The government is today like an over-drunk alcoholic who reaches a stage of unconsciousness. On the other hand, people are also sleeping. They do not even realize that they are the masters and that they are Citizens. It is time that citizens became aware and organized themselves around various issues including in agriculture.
- We should be aware that the Gram Sabha is more important than the Vidhan Sabha and the Lok Sabha. In fact, it is the Gram Sabha that gives birth to the other two. She is like the mother and we have to respect the importance of the Gram Sabha.
- Only when power is truly decentralized can we have democracy in word and spirit in this country
When asked specifically about the government’s top people articulating a vision of development which consists of only 6 to 15% of Indian population in rural India, living off farming, he said the following:
“Whoever says that agriculture is not enough to bring about ‘development’ should be brought to this village. After the collective efforts of all the villagers to conserve every drop of water, the village economy has changed drastically in favour of the people. This village exemplifies how people can become self-reliant and happy without exploitation. In any case, what is the vision of urbanized development that the government has today – how long will the resources last? How long will fossil fuels be there? What about water? I would like to challenge the governments on their notion of development and show at least 50 villages to demonstrate how you can turn around rural economy today. How environment can be protected even as people can achieve development. Any development based on exploitation is only Destruction and cannot be construed to be development”, he said.
We later visited various places in the village to look at the water and soil conservation and recharge efforts in the village and learnt about various social regulation norms put into place by the villagers collectively around prohibition on alcohol, no ostentation around events like weddings etc.
In the night, we addressed a gathering of around thousand people who have come for the Navratri festival celebrations from around 4 villages in the vicinity about the issue of GM seeds and proposed that the village gram sabhas should discuss the technology in greater detail and take a resolution not to sow such seeds. There was a full show of hands at the end of the meeting for this proposal and the Gram Sabha is likely to discuss and pass this resolution in the coming few days.