Displacement of rural population may be driven by unequal access to land or by human rights violation. Regardless of their circumstances and preferences they live without access to basic amenities while contributing to urban sprawl. Relatively little is known is about the precise numbers of those forcibly displaced. The International Organization for Migration defines forced migration as movement of any person to “escape persecution, conflict, repression, natural and human-made disasters, ecological degradation, or other situations that endanger their lives, freedom or livelihood.”
In India, the 40% of our rural population is said to be keen on opting out of rural livelihoods, trying to make a forced entry into big cities. Lack of infrastructure, globalization, land grabbing by big industries are some of the major causes of displacement. The simple village man, having forcibly moved, now gets termed as a displaced person thus losing his identity and his right to clean and fresh air.
Welcome to Hiware Bazaar, which not so long ago, was just another village near Pune, Maharashtra, where forced migration of the local population was rampant. The main occupation and preoccupation of this crime ridden village was alcohol.
Today, Hiware Bazaar is called a peaceful hamlet and has become a living example of Gandhiji’s dreams of a self-run, self-respecting village. So what made this poverty stricken, drought ridden community, a rare example of the term ‘community works, community changes’?
Gandhiji said, “Democracy cannot be run by 20 people sitting at the centre. It should be run by people living in villages. It is Swaraj when we learn to rule ourselves. It is, therefore, in the palm of our hands. But such Swaraj has to be experienced, by each one for himself”. It is this insight by Gandhiji which was understood by the community of the Hiware Bazaar. The amazing transformation of the village began in 1989, when a young aspiring cricketer named PopatRaoPawar, himself a migrant from Hiware Bazaar, returned back to become the Sarpanch (head of Gram Sabha).
Lead by Pawar, the local people began to take charge of the village proceedings thus giving birth to the mantra –‘self’. To elaborate on Gandhi’s quote, the implied meaning of ‘Self’ translates to self-governance, self-restraint and community solidarity, as well as Swadeshi (home economy). Pawar and his battalion of energetic youth soon realized that they don’t need a Government hundreds of miles away to take decisions for them. It was their village and matters concerning their village should be solved by the people living there – they resolved that they needed self-government – and this was the foundation of the restoration of Hiware Bazaar into a model of community based, equitable and nature conservation oriented development. A strong willed ideology based on concepts of democracy, self-sufficiency, equality, and rejection of consumerism were adopted for village management. This brought in a transformative energy that can be considered near-magical in today’s times when citizens completely rely on Government agencies for any change. Slowly and steadily, everyone in the village deeply owned up and welcomed the presence of the Gram Swaraj (Village Rule).
The five principles adopted to put into practice the ideology adopted are: Free Labour (Shramdan) , Ban on grazing (Charaibandi) , Ban on Tree cutting (KurhadBandi) ,Ban on Liquor (NashaBandi), Family Planning (KutumbNiyojan). Practicing these five principles has made such an impact on Hiware bazaar, that today the village is known in distant corners of the world for its community driven work and water conservation programs. Throughout the year the streets wear a colorful and festive look. With the right to fresh air and water being made possible, along with the improved sanitation and better lifestyle, the village community can well be envied by city dwellers.
“What is truly remarkable is that Hiware Bazaar is witnessing reverse migration. People who had left Hiware Bazaar for the dazzle of urban life are returning back to their roots. A family who had been living in South Africa for long has just returned” says a happy Pawar, who is now working with government organizations in Maharashtra to develop more model villages like Hiware Bazaar in the state.
Ensuring abundance of water resources
Once, the village faced acute water crisis - severe land degradation resulted and traditional water storage systems became defunct. The village prepared its own five-year plan for 1995-2000 that emphasized local ecological regeneration. It attained this feat by using the EGS (Employee Guarantee Scheme) money for the regeneration of the land and water that sustains close to 90% of the residents. With local labor donations, the Panchayat built 40,000 contour trenches around the hills to conserve rainwater and recharge groundwater. Residents took up massive plantation and forest regeneration activities. Ban on cattle grazing ensured that no erosion of land would take place. The village invested all its five-year plan funds on water conservation - recharging groundwater as well as creating surface storage systems. It laid a tight trap to catch rainwater. Since 2002, Hiware Bazaar has been doing an annual budgeting of water assisted by the Ahmednagar district’s Groundwater Department.
Insuring the future of the initiative
Most vibrant community projects seem to die down in time due to lack of a long term perspective. Hence at Hiware Bazaar, apart from the five principles, the new village Panchayat steered the planning process to focus on sustainability with a long-term view, and invested in the revival and maintenance of natural capital. During the ‘Ganesh Utsav’, the entire village gets one idol instead of many, and the savings are donated to a social cause. Another instance is the popularization of ‘samodayikkheti’ (where two or three families work collectively in each others farms), thus solving the problem of labor and creating an environment of social cohesion. The village also maintains a patch of land where a 100 different species of plants are preserved. Farmers in Hiware often grow three crops a year. Agriculture has been diversified and cash crops include cut flowers, onions, and green beans as well as drip-irrigated vegetables.
A Government which is neither formed nor removed
Development projects can only be successful only if there is complete participation of the people. Decisions which are forced upon people have a short lived viability; decisions taken collectively are effective and lead to institutionalized practices. School teachers, ration vendors, Government officials, Anganwadi workers and health practitioners are made accountable and have to put forward their accounts before all villagers in the Gram Sabha. Here, villagers themselves are a permanent Government. Monthly accounts and records are displayed on a board. Every year, income-expenditure accounts are shown to the villagers and also to officers and people from outside the village. Significant achievement of meetings has been the support of the people to the village administration
Planning for the community, helping the self:
Along with implementing measures for community prosperity, it is important to ensure that every individual is also sufficiently prosperous. Hence, checks and measure have been introduced, such as ban on tube wells for agriculture purpose, ban on crops with high water requirements like banana and sugarcane and ensuring that only ½ acre sugarcane cultivation per land owner is allowed for green fodder usage.
Due to increase in water availability, basic infrastructure began to take shape and in time real estate started gaining importance in Hiware Bazaar. With land rates shooting up, people from elsewhere thronged to buy land in Hiware. The Panchayat immediately had a meeting and as a collective decision the people of Hiware Bazaar, objected and banned selling village land to outsiders. The poor or landless who had been deprived of their customary rights to pasture land could buy grass-cutting rights from the Panchayat.
New Initiatives – keeping the fire and energy alive.
Change, in the form of setting up new goals, is a constant need for any community based initiative, making sure the fire and energy of the group is kept alive. Hence, since basic needs having been attended to in Hiware, energy is the focus for the future. Pawar says “wind turbines and solar panels are being installed to supplement the power requirements since there is a lot of load shedding. The street lights now use LED bulbs; and biogas plants have been set up all around the village as an alternative to other fuels.”
Hiware Bazaar is today studied as a model by students of planning and policy research, development planners and practitioners. There is often a tendency amongst those who follow a model to focus on the tangible changes – the water management, agricultural practices, education and so on. But it is the intangible changes of consciousness amongst the people that will make for effective transformation – such as redefining political compulsions, willingness to let go of personal interests for the common good and cohesiveness in decision making – this is the most vital lesson to learn from Hiware Bazaar.
PopatRaoPawar, now the Deputy Sarpanch of Hiware Bazaar and
SarangPandey, friend of PopatRaoPawar.
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