“All the best for next two days. By the way, Patiya is a zero network village”. In today’s tech-savvy world, three magic words “zero network village” were enough to make me feel anxious (as if I was not already). I experienced Patiya, a village with approximately 500 scattered houses in Gogunda block, Udaipur for two days on third weekend of July 2017, under the India Fellow’s rural immersion module. It is a beautiful lush green village situated in the hilly region of South Rajasthan.
This place is more than a treat for the eyes and surely breaks the single story of Rajasthan being a desert state. At first glance, Patiya seemed to have all the basic amenities such as a senior secondary government school, an Anganwadi centre, a Panchayat centre, a basic health centre, electricity, pacca houses, bathrooms in most of the houses, hand pumps and wells, etc. However, on a closer look, things did not seem as romantic as it seemed initially. Patiya has a population of around 2500, schedule tribes and scheduled caste dominated, out of which more than 60% are illiterate and the statistics for female literacy rate are even poorer. Alcoholism is destroying the young generation and child marriages are strangling the desires of young brides to do something in their lives. Due to lack of local job opportunities, outsourcing themselves as labourers is their chief source of income.
After having a chit-chat with some villagers in the common sitting area, it was revealed to us that the government policies are reaching Patiya and villagers are getting their benefits, yet, the situation did not seem to improve at the grassroot. Clearly, the government is doing a lot (though a lot is yet to be done), still development is visible only in infrastructure and not in the mind-sets of the Patiya people, we were told.
*Damini bai, age 19 pregnant with her third child, told how she got married to *Kundan at the age of 14 and had her first child at the age of 16. She studied till class 5th, whereas Kundan is a class 8th drop out. Dhamini bai works in the fields and takes care of household chores whereas Kundan works as an outsourced labour and remains away from Patiya for a good 10 months a year. *Vada Ji, Dhaminibai’s father-in-law, does not find any flaw with this setting, he feels education is a waste of time, energy and money (may be not so much of money as education is free of cost for SC/ST students in government schools). He feels instead of investing a couple of years in education and earning better income, it is more logical to start working early in life as unskilled worker and be satisfied with bringing in a fraction of potential income. Same mind-set is shared by majority of Patiya’s population. Aforementioned setup can annoy anyone, at least, it irritated me for sure.
Amidst this, I met someone who reassured me that there is still hope for improvement and that there are people who are ready to be the torch bearers of change. *Kanhaiya Ji, a 45 year-old farmer, is a father of two daughters and two sons, and a proud grandfather of two girls. He is a class third drop out and got married at the age of 15. He had a typical Patiya upbringing, yet his thinking is very different from Patiya’s majority. His daughters, *Pooja and *Laxmi, are enrolled in a local government school and study in class 10th and class 8th respectively. Kanhaiya Ji has no intention of marrying off his daughters before the age of 18 and before they become financially independent. Both his sons got married at the age of 21 (considered very late in Patiya). One of his son works with him in fields as Kanhaiya Ji does not want his family to lose connection with farming, and his second son is currently enrolled in a skill development program in Udaipur.
Kanhaiya Ji’s family neither resides at the apex of power hierarchy, nor is financially very strong. Moreover, it is surrounded by people who share opposite beliefs and are in the majority. Despite of such adverse situation, Kanhaiya Ji and his family are breaking the barriers and leading by example, unaffected by the consequences. For me, people like Kanhaiya Ji are the face of change. When a Kanhaiya Ji rises within the community and sees the ills of the community as well as identifies with the necessity of change, then the hope for a better future is re-insured.
After having this highly hopeful session with Kanhaiya Ji over a paper cup of ginger tea, I started seeing the positives in the society. I realized that all the women that I talked to in those two days shared the same desire, the desire to study, the desire to be someone, the desire to get more, the desire to be liberated. They all recognized the necessity of change. As per the census 2011, the Average Sex Ratio of Patiya village was 1006 which was higher than Rajasthan state average of 928. In short, the fuel is in abundance, all we need to do is to ignite it and let the phoenix rise from the flames. “To gift a better society to our future generations, it’s us who need to stand strong and fight against the ills“, the words of wisdom by Kanhaiya Ji resonated with the background sky. May be a coincidence, but it felt as if the God or the Nature wanted to restate John F. Kennedy’s quote
Every area of trouble gives out a ray of hope; the one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is certain or unchangeable.
*Names changed to protect identity.