As I was travelling to Ghaduli, the village assigned to me for the Rural Living and Learning Experience, hundreds of questions hovered in my head. “Development” could be another synonym to Gujarat and so it was, especially when it came to infrastructure and connectivity. But I was curious to understand what lay beyond the swanky roads and buildings. I wanted to know if building roads and buildings had a direct correlation to the well-being of people, especially the ones at the bottom of the pyramid.
Ghaduli is a village on the India-Pakistan border and a part of the Lakhpat Block. My initial research about Lakhpat revealed an interesting history. “Lakhpat”, meaning “one who has a lot of money” was once an important port city, which now lies abandoned since 200 years. Once, on the bank of the Indus River, it used to be a center of trade with the Middle East. An earthquake in 1819 however changed the course of the Indus. The land turned into a desert and this place died a slow death. The Lakhpat Fort built in 1801 stands tall, witness to it all. It was disturbing to know how a stroke of Mother Nature could change lives for decades to come. Lakhpat was a living proof. This block was popularly known as a “punishment-block” and is significantly left behind in terms of Development.
As we started living in the village, we started seeing the ground realities of the people. The first day at Lakhpat gave us our Tagore’s Kabuliwallah-and-Mini moment. Our next door neighbour here has a huge cattle shed with 30 healthy buffaloes. As Tanu and I excitedly watched him milk the buffaloes, he welcomed us with the warmest smile and assured us that they are here for any help that we might require. I went to him in the morning to procure milk and received his smile and warmth as an added reward. Despite the struggles, little gestures by the villagers kept us going. A few extra jalebis from the mithaiwaale-bhai and fresh groundnuts from the farm by households were our favourite takeaways from our survey sessions. Who knew, we would find a family at the far end of the country?
We realised, one of the biggest challenges of a social intervention is tackling existing social evils through a people-centric approach, being sensitive to their beliefs and culture. Villages inhabited by the Jat community have had an age-old practice of child marriage. They are highly endogamous. Furthermore, birth-control is considered a huge sin amongst them.
Even education had its own challenges. For most girls in our country, access to education is not merely due to lack of infrastructure. Their inaccessibility lies deep-rooted within a cultural mindset. We visited a secondary school in Ghaduli and to our surprise found that out of 70 students, only 16 were girls. Furthermore, the numbers decrease as they move from 9th grade to 10th grade. As we interacted with the girls, we learnt that they aspired to be teachers, engineers, lawyers. The principal also mentioned that the girls performed extremely well and were sincere. But unfortunately, they face opposition from their families who would rather have them stay at home, run errands and get married than get educated. Dhrgadwandh, a remote village in Lakhpat has less number of school-goers than the Primary School can sustain. With the school having less than 20 on the school register, students from Grades one to eighth have only one classroom and one teacher. All that they master after 8 years of formal education is to read and write. That however makes them “literate” as per the definition. Yet, this school is under the threat of shutting down, given the low turn-out.
We realized, the well-being of the people had little or no correlation to inaccessibility to fair livelihood. The Mohammedan community of Ghaduli was a living proof of this. While the men work as casual manual labourers, the women create magic with their swift fingers. They sit all day tying fabric with thread, for it to be dyed, thereby creating the popularly known “Bandhej” art. Each Bandhej dupatta takes a month and half of incessant work to be complete. The “Seths” pay them around INR 3000 for each, on an average which makes it INR 100 per day, if you do the math. INR 100 for a skill which is stressful for their eyes and hands, both. Yet, when we asked them to rate their well-being out of 10, some even rated it to be 15.
So, after my 45th day, as I was on my way back through wind-farms and a beautiful sunset, I brought with me learning of a lifetime, to be resourceful, make the best of the little we have and be grateful to have what may be a luxury for many.