The strength of India lies in its villages, so said Mahatma Gandhi. Even today, in the age of industrialization and rapid urbanization, where the concept of the village as the primary abode of our population is under severe threat, the rural ethos still has significance. And that is why I feel that only as our villages develop, then we can truly claim that Bharat, along with India, is developing at a rapid pace.
Kishanpur village, in the Booty block of rural Ranchi, in Jharkhand state, is unremarkable by most standards. Dusty roads, brick houses and cattle grazing around do not distinguish it from umpteen other villages in Northern India. On a cool, breezy Sunday morning, we are here, attending the meeting of Janyoday Vikas Samity, a NGO run by my friend Shubham, which is bringing about small but significant changes in the form of rural empowerment & women’s development. Two weeks back, the NGO has taken over the local women SHG ( Self help group) , which will work in the field of education, health and women’s empowerment. Far away from the glitzy glamour of city life it is here that we observe slow, incremental steps that can truly bring about changes in the lives of people. We are sitting in the verandah of a building that is the local club, and is the site for the local mid-day meal scheme under ICDS ( Integrated Child Development Scheme) , the programme under which children are provided healthy and nutritious meals by the state government.
The SHG has started a local micro insurance scheme in collaboration with LIC ( Life Insurance Corporation of India) which, is a small step in an ultimately larger direction. By promotion of savings , this scheme will ultimately be able to bring about a change in the lives of people.
True to form, the menfolk of the village are indifferent, even mildly contemptuous, towards this initiative. Reeking of alcohol even in the daytime, they serve more of a nuisance value than anything else. One wonders how many centuries of prejudice these spirited women would have had to overcome, in order to achieve what they have done so far.
Enter Rashida. A diminutive young woman, head covered modestly in a chadar, she is a BA graduate. In a village where all women are matriculates. In a state with a literacy level of less than 60%, this is a remarkable achievement indeed. Women’s liberation, did the feminists in the big cities and the armchair activists say? This is what women’s liberation is all about.
Lila, who helps out Shubham, is a graduate, an ex- NCC member and an active member of the community. A modest lady who hides her firebrand nature behind her mild frame, she is an important part of this initiative.
They come in all types…young unmarried women, mothers carrying babies on their laps, school -going girls. A testimony to the fact that social change, however small, is happening in our villages.
The proceedings of the day over, they line up, a bit hesitantly ,for a group photograph. And as we move out of the village, with a plan to come back next Sunday, we carry back visible images of what development, as we witnessed in the heart of the rural hinterland, is really all about.