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Special Content

Special Article vol. 21

Rural Empowerment and Youth

Arun Tiwari

In India, the number of villages with roads, shops, electricity, primary schools, primary healthcare centres, and police stations has been increasing. The number of pucca houses in the villages is also increasing. The facilities and the toilets inside the homes have also increased. More mobile phones, motorcycles, and tractors can be seen. The number of those who have higher degrees and do the jobs has increased. The income and spending power per person have risen, Wages have also increased. The government is allocating more funds to gram panchayats or schemes for villages, the money flow to the village have also increased.

Do these rising graphs show us that the villages of India have really been empowered? If we consider Indian villages as just a physical entity, then we can say - 'Yes, Indian villages are more empowered today.' Despite this the quality of soil, water, air, light, plants, cattle and human body in Indian villages is slowly deteriorating. Because more hospitals, more schools, more shops, more money, and more police stations are not representative of better health, more knowledge, more self-sufficiency, more prosperity and less crime.

True Meaning of Rural Empowerment

Indian villages are more cultural entities than physical ones. From this viewpoint too, villages of India have become more emancipated than before. They are much in need of empowerment. According to the basic principles of 'Empowerment', highlighting the chief attributes of any noun or pronoun and strengthening it further is the real empowerment. Transforming the villages into cities or filling them up with urban facilities is not the real empowerment of villages. If we really want to empower villages and like to mark the real role of youth in it, then we have to first mark the innate attributes of the entities that we call as 'villages of India'.

Chief Attributes of Indian Villages

Everyone knows that we build cities to get facilities, while each village emerges when a few families that are related to each other want to live with one another. These relations can be blood relations, traditional social relations, or bonds formed by community work too. The basis of any such relation lies in observing the truth and honesty of all the give-and-take situations. From this perspective, the relations between all the families in the villages is the first and foremost attribute we should look for, in the absence of which the households in an area cannot be considered a 'village'. 

Besides this, there are three other crucial attributes that define a village. These are self-sufficiency of a community in terms of resources, simplistic lifestyle, and purity of food, water and air. The three professions that form the economical and cultural backbone of Indian villages are agriculture, animal husbandry, and traditional craftsmanship.

Power of Chief Attributes

These are the attributes because of which the famous European scholar E B Havell had said that the Indian villages are the foundation stone of 'Democracy'. Famous traveller Travenic had said that each village in India is a small world in itself. The events happening outside its borders do not affect the village like. The natives of the village believe in their own strength and God, and keep doing their work. The village in India is like one big family, where each member knows its duties well. Their unity and their zeal to cooperate with each other are appreciable.

It is the richness of these attributes that made India shine as the 'Golden Bird' in the past. These were the basic attributes because of which agriculture was considered the 'best' profession; business was considered the 'medium' option while doing a job was considered an 'inferior' way to earn. The agriculture was so progressive that we did not have to import agricultural products. Today, even with the help of computerized techniques, we are able to manufacture threads that have a maximum count of 600. In the ancient times, the technique used in Indian villages was so advanced that the craftsmen of Dhaka could make threads that were fine up to the count of 2,500. The muslin of Dhaka was famous all over the world. India was the famous exporter of cotton yarn. The social regulatory structure was so strong that the decision of 'panch' was considered the decision of God in traditional panchayats and the entire village accepted it. The agriculture was totally organic. Living within one's means was not considered as one's helplessness but as one's strong ideals.

The state of Indian villages today

The British rulers had gauged the strength of these attributes and hence, they made 'Divide and Rule' as their strategic foundation. Macaulay's education policy tried to laid a foundation of the society that is swept far away from its basic tenets. The political moves were made by the British to widen the religious. New forest laws were laid down according to which the forests were declared as 'government property', so that the villages' claim over this natural wealth can be denied. The making of canals was introduced to collect taxes, and in the process the traditional skill of self-sufficient water management in India got hurt. The British efforts to force the farmers of Champaran to grow indigo, introduce laws related to salt, and force people to use foreign instruments in traditional arts and crafts were all made with an intention to destory rural skills and self-sufficiency of villages. The British governance introduced several proposals to make these moves successful. Land management, the custom of landlords, the Society Registract Act of 1860, the suggestion of Lord Mayo in 1870, the proposal of Lord Ripon in 1882, and the reforms proposed by the Royal Commission in 1907 - all collectively destroyed the autonomy of the villages. In the name of local governance, the towns and cities were enslaved by the officers and those in authority.

Challenges of Rural Empowerment

The biggest challenge of rural empowerment is that today Indian villages are not interested in remaining 'villages'. They are interested in becoming something else. Some people deem it to be empowerment but the truth is that such empowerment schemes only lead to a future where the villages of India will neither remain 'villages' nor they will develop into 'cities'. At best, they will remain half-baked.

How can one change this picture? How can our villages re-claim their original attributes? This is now possible only with the intention and efforts of the youth. Indian villages are waiting to relive their glory, to again be ready for autonomy, for the youth to be aware about the empowerment of village community for real. This is only possible when rural youth get ready to understand that all that their villages have lost, have been lost because they have lost their original values and attributes.

They need to understand that the weakening bonds and relations are the reason why critical work that can only be done at the community-level is getting neglected. Land, water and other natural resources that belong to the entire community are not getting managed properly. This is the reason why more and more villages in India do not have water or have polluted water today. This is the reason why the culture of shared farmland and agriculture is dying. This is the reason why fights, crime, and litigations in villages are increasing. This is the reason why a daughter of a village is not the daughter of the entire village anymore. Rural youth will have to realize that as soon as the village community will draw closer once again, the closed doors of rural empowerment will re-open on their own. I can guarantee it.

Unfortunately, the rural youth today equals 'higher education' with 'migration'. They can play the role in empowering villages only when they stay there first. This is only possible when they understand that being highly educated and highly skilled and creating a bright future does not only mean 'migration'. The success of youth can not only be measured by their urbanization. The real success means being able and devoted to the development of one's environment. They must understand that the mass migration from villages to cities is only building an unbalanced India.

The World will Change when Your Ideas will Change

The Barefoot College in Tilonia started by Bankar Roy who left the job of an IAS for it, the rise of Alwar with the waterman Rajendra Singh, the famous story of headmanship of Popat Rao Pawar from Hiwde Bazaar, Chhavi Rajawat from Rajasthan who is known as the first women Sarpanch of India who holds an MBA degree are some of the many examples who have proved that one can earn more, have a better job, carve out a better name, and lead a happier life than cities while staying in a village. But to achieve this, the rural youth will first have to change their mentality and their priorities. They will have to choose to dream about owning their business or profession in a village instead of serving someone else in the city.

New Opportunities Everywhere

Education: If you teach or learn only to get a degree or a job, rural empowerment is impossible. The youth of Indian villages will have to make it a priority to gain more knowledge which can enable to come up with the best self-sufficient model of farming, cattle rearing, and sale of handicrafts based on local skills and resources. They will have to become knowledgeable village economist so that the villages do not have to look up to cities to rise any more.

Today, there is a deluge of private higher secondary schools and postgraduate colleges in the villages today. Yet, there is a severe shortage of community and cooperative colleges that can teach techniques and holistic management of agriculture, cattle, water, land, traditional medicinal knowledge, and traditional skills of the village. 

Panchayat: Rural youth has to be the catalyst for Gramsabhas. They have to be active themselves and will need to keep the three-tiered entities of the Panchayati Raj System active, hard-working and honest. The funds allocated for 'Rural Development Scheme' has started reaching the villages. Each Indian youth can play the role of a hero by making an appropriate village development scheme, and help in its appropriation and implementation as a member of the Gramshabha.

Ayush: The Ayush Ministry of the Indian government has started reviving and promoting the traditional treatments of India. The villages need this very much. A significant portion of the hard-earned money of the villagers today is going towards education, medicines, drug abuse and litigations. Drug abuse is the biggest obstacle on the way to village empowerment. Hence, de-addiction is one of the most critical interventions needed in villages. On the other hand, many people in villages are at the mercy of fake local doctors and are wasting their money and health in their name. Formal and informal studies about the knowledge of local herbs which is now restricted only to old men and women, and reviving the traditional medicinal wisdom and lifestyle - is also one way to empower villages.

These can help us to build the entire Ayurvedic pharmacy based on the time-tested desi formulations and medications. The primary education of Ayurveda can be imparted while preparing these local herbal medicines. It is possible to revive the ancient system of Vaidyas. The Human Resource Ministry might have to lift up such rules and regulations to support such efforts, and perhaps allocate some funds too. The Ministry of Ayush will have to build an honest network to implement, monitor and encourage these pharmacies.

Agriculture: It is very unfortunate that the rural youth has got brainwashed by the world too and think that agriculture is an 'inferior' work. He needs to question himself about who is responsible for such a sad situation of farmers and Indian agriculture. He has to introspect that if farming was really a loss-making venture, why are so many companies embracing it? Are we lacking in 'farming' or in our marketing and distribution system. The high society prefers desi, organic and herbal products. In the markets, such products are being sold at higher prices by promoting them as 'superior' products. The rising graph of Patanjali products is a proof that the world of customers is passionate about domestic seeds, Yoga and Ayurveda. Here is the solution - right in front of your eyes.

We need to present this picture to the rural youth and help them understand that 'desi' is the best even today. The villages are losing their rural knowledge because of lack of confidence in it. We have brought our farms and soil in the grasp of chemical fertilisers and dangerous pesticides by being greedy about more production. This is the reason more and more land in India is turning infertile. The cost of agriculture has risen because the water table is falling, growth of weeds has accelerated, we are forced to buy seeds and fertilisers from the market, and use of agricultural tools has increased. If villages really want to save agriculture and make it profitable again, they will have to adopt desi seeds that can be conserved year-on-year, organic manure, mixed land use for agriculture and horticulture, buy better cattle, and use agriculture-oriented scientific ways for irrigation, land management, and water-table management.

Different ministries have introduced several schemes and programs to support such efforts. These include gram haat, food processing, organic India, Water Village Scheme, greenery, schemes for expansion of fields, irrigation schemes, land improvement scheme, MP Model Village Scheme, digitalization of land records, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) etc.

Village Industries: Internet is an effective tool to directly link manufacturers with customers or public with administration. Government and bazaars are all now online. If the 1,800-crore scheme of making rural India digitally literate is implemented correctly, then it can be helpful in building up a corruption-free administrative system and a marketing & distribution network for village products which is free of middlemen. The educated youth of the villages will have to play a role where they can help their village to choose the appropriate schemes, programs and relevant scientific techniques, and use them for its benefit.

Sarees from Benaras, Carpet industry of Bhadohi, Taant industry of Mau, guavas from Allahabad, Banda from Faizabad, Aamla from Pratapgarh, paan from Mahoba, chikankari from Lucknow, Rewadi, cane furniture from Bareli, itr from Kannauj, heeng from Hathras, pottery from Hapur, laddus from Sandeela, pede from Mathura, petha from Agra, locks from Aligarh, knife from Rampur, papar from Hapur, melons from Baghpat - look at just one state and you will find that products from several regional brands are still quite popular. Not only in India, are these local products in demand all over the world by the name of the place to which they belong.

These products are really famous because of the skills of villages and the soil, water and climate of a particular place. Riding on the positives of their environment and by nurturing them properly, a village can increase the employment opportunities it has and its income too. There are many government schemes and processes that can empower cottage industries in villages. vis


(email amethiarun@gmail.com Views expressed are personal)