Villages in Maharashtra enjoy the benefits of a campaign that lays stress on cleanliness, self-reliance and community-sharing, ideas that were popularised by the legendary social reformer Gadge Baba.
GADGE BABA, the 19th century folk hero who inspired people with his philosophy of self-reliance and community-sharing, would have been delighted at the changes that are being wrought in the villages of Maharashtra. Clean surroundings, self-help schemes, use of fuel-saving devices, increased environmental awareness and the strengthening of women's groups are just some of them.
Gadge Baba was born in 1876 in a washerman's family in Amravati, in northeastern Maharashtra. He lived a life of poverty, at first tilling his fields and then later, when he lost his land, working as a wage labourer. One day, he was in a field, keeping birds away from the grain. A passing sadhu mocked his efforts and asked him if he owned the grain. That was his moment of realisation.
The values of community-sharing and giving, which were revealed to him after the sadhu's comment, stayed with him for the rest of his life and became the basis of his teachings. His teachings were simple give food to the hungry and shelter to the needy and protect the environment.
A common man's teacher, the Baba travelled all over the countryside, carrying his trademark broom and wearing his food pan upturned on his head. As soon as he entered a village he would start cleaning the roads and gutters, telling the people that their felicitations would have to wait until his work was done. With the money that people gave him, he built dharmasalas, educational institutions, animal shelters, and hospitals almost all of which are still functioning. His campaign was immensely popular. After his death in 1956, Gadge Baba and his movement slipped easily into folklore.
Two years ago, in an effort to raise awarness about the need for cleanliness among village residents, Minister for Rural Development R. R. Patil instituted that Sant Gadge Baba Gram Swachata Abhiyan. This idea was prompted by the result of a survey done on the extent of use of sanitation facilities built by the government. The survey revealed that between 1997 and 2000, of the 16,61,000 toilets that were built in Maharashtra at a cost of Rs.456 crores, only 57 per cent were in use.
There were two reasons for this. One was the absence of an integrated approach to sanitation and the other, a complete lack of community involvement.
The Gram Swachata Abhiyan received a remarkable response and has since 2000 become an annual event in Maharashtra. This year, 27,636 of the State's 42,000 villages participated in the campaign, which has created public assets worth Rs.500 crores without any contributions from the government. Money, labour and materials were provided by the community. Womens' groups, youth groups, cooperatives and gram panchayats were involved in the programme, whose objective is to arouse a spirit of competition and thereby achieve `Prosperity through Cleanliness'.
The campaign relied on the teachings of Gadge Baba and, instead of offering funds to the residents of village, it introduced a system of incentives. The three cleanest villages would win prizes of Rs.25 lakhs, Rs.15 lakhs and Rs.10 lakhs each. The villages then decide how to spend the money. It is usually used to further some community cause since village leaders are aware that the district administration could take the money back if the village dropped its standards.
The winners are decided on the basis of 11 criteria, ranging from drinking water (its quality, the performance of local water committees, and so on) to personal hygiene (habits of children, analyses of anganwadi reports, and so on) to the use of unconventional energy sources.
The campaign was structured in such a manner that the competition itself lasted about 240 days because of the many rounds of judging that had to be completed. The process of judging starts at the gram panchayat level and proceeds to the block level and the district level.
Sulekha Kumbhare, Minister for Water Supply and Sanitation, said that the womens' groups "came together irrespective of caste or religion because they wanted their village to be Number One in the State." She recalled the unforgettable scene in Tunga village mandir, masjid and church was painted pink. The people decided to convey the message of national integration and chose pink as the most neutral colour." However, according to Kumbhare, it was Phulsare village which stood second, that really exemplified the motto of the Gadge Baba campaign. A tribal village in the northern tribal constituency of Nandurbar, Phulsare is something of a model village. Says Kumbhare: "For the last 25 years there has been no police complaint lodged. The women have always been very active here. They had an amazingly efficient water recycling system in which domestic water is reused in agriculture. All the children go to school and no alcohol is consumed in the village. Each house had its own toilet something very unsual in a tribal community."
Phulsare was not awarded the first place because it had a population of just 800 as compared to Ankalkhop, the winning village, which had a population of 16,000. Kumbhare said that the number of residents was a criterion in judging a village's achievements.
Perhaps the most stimulating aspect of the campaign is the self-reliance it has generated among the people. As an official in the Water and Sanitation Department said: "At least the people won't have to wait for development to come to them. They can create their own future."