When do we mean when we say that India lives in villages? If we mean, our ancient heritage, rigid caste system, slow and event less life fare from the madding crowds, yes. If it is superstition, ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, also yes; India lives in villages, If it is scientific and technological innovations, industrial growth and comfortable living, no ,India does not live in villages. Ask any doctor to go and set up his practice in a rural atmosphere. Even if you offer him attractive incentives and generous compensation, he will say no. Tell a teacher to go off and work in a village school. He will tell you a hundred excuses, all apparently real and reasonable even a student on vacation feels like a square peg in a round hole. He longs to get out at the least opportunity real and reasonable.
Even a student on vacation feels like a square peg in a round hole. He longs get out at the least opportunity he can think of. But we harangue loud and long about the serene atmosphere, scenic beauty and the quiet life unpolluted by modern, materialistic civilization, the country side presents. We are all praise for the hospitable nature, love and kindness, simplicity and sincerity of the villager. We appreciate his god fearing nature, his qualities that sustained through centuries and preserve our glorious cultural heritage. We know he lives ungrumblingly on the verge of semi-starvation but works untiringly to satiate the hunger of others. If all this is not mere lip service, why haven’t we done something to better his lot and wipe his tears?
Wherever he is, in a city or village, the essential needs of man are the same. Hunger and thirst, fear and hope, pain and pleasure are universal, even animals share these sentiments.
The first need after food is, wherever you are, a roof over your head, a roof that can protect from the sun and rain. We do not know how the landless poor, the jobless artisans, the potters, the cobblers and the weavers live, in their thatched mud houses that will collapse year after year when rains come or floods inundate. His counterpart in the city lives in no better conditions, but at least during the days of incessant rains, he has some safe place to hide in, a school or a college building. If he is lucky, he can get allotment from slum clearance board. But no housing board or slum development scheme to help the poor villager to erect a solid roof over his head.
With Acharya Vinoba Bhave’s Bhoodan Movement there came up Sramadan and Sakitan movements. But like the mother, the offspring too are convalescent. No metal or tar roads, no street lighting, no protected water supply, no drainage facilities. There is a Panchayat office, president, vice president and members too, in every village; but there is nobody to think of the needs of the village community.
Every village needs a primary school, a health center and a counseling cell where the villager can obtain information he needs in connection with his agricultural work, or off season vocational facilities. A family planning center, a community hall, a library with essential collection of books, appended with a reading room and a recreation center equipped with radio and TV are the minimum facilities that every village should have.
It is true that this is what the governments are trying to do with their Block – Development schemes. Because of the red tape involved, the poor farmer with scant holdings, is no able to derive much benefit. In the cooperative credit society it is not the ignorant tenant but the rich landlord who would be enjoying the credit facilities. He would have affixed his thumb impression without really knowing why he did so. Its is his poverty and ignorance that are to blame, poverty that makes him unduly grateful to some one else, and ignorance that keeps him always in darkness.
Poverty and ignorance are the twin diseases, the villager is suffering from. The root cause for both is illiteracy and therefore education is his primary need. But he can never go out seeking education. Education should go to his door step soliciting his participation.
He needs steady and continuous work to sustain him and his family through out the year. For want of proper irrigation facilities, agriculture is a seasonal occupation. During the lean periods the small farmer and the landless laborer need some kind of vocation to keep body and soul together. Whenever we think of unemployment, we immediately think of the urban educated. Highly qualified graduates and postgraduates, doctors and engineers. We also think of the skilled labor, the mill worker and the slum dweller in highly industrialized cities and townships. But rarely do we think of these unskilled unemployed millions that look forward for opportunities that would free them from despair. A government that has organized Toddy Growers’ Cooperatives can definitely think of some village oriented cottage industries to keep these starving poor fully occupied. When a foreign administration with a touch of benevolence, had thought of connection Vijayawada and Madras with a long canal only to keep the hunger off from the famine ravished millions of his province, a popularly elected democratic government should definitely think of restructuring these villages that cry for potable water, roads and minimum sanitary conditions.
There are certain areas which are prone to devastating floods that visit year after year with mathematical precision and wash off village after village. Millions worth of standing crops are destroyed, thousands of cattle are killed and hundreds of tanks are breached. Nothing has been done so far to prevent this colossal loss of life and wealth. The Danes have built the dykes; the Chinese their huge wall. But instead of doing something permanent to mitigate their woe, we rush food and medicines to the stranded sufferers and announce thousands of rupees on the spot to the bereaved families. This is the drama that is enacted year after year. We sit in the galleries and watch the scenes.
There are many international organizations ready to offer assistance in kind and coin, only for the asking of it, if only we try to keep such natural calamities off. The immediate need is to construct permanent structures to accommodate the flood affected, in every village which is likely to suffer.
In this world of opposites, beauty and ugliness, pain and pleasure, penury of opulence exist side by side. It does not mean that we must accept it as a way of life and remain complacent. Our endeavor must be to remove the ugliness, pain and penury and make life livable. A country on the threshold of industrial revolution has an obligation to narrow the gap between the two ways of life, between the old, primitive way and the luxurious modern style. Till then, until we fulfill, India is sure to wail in villages.