Agriculture is the main source of food & income in my village. As the major crops here depend on the monsoon, different Kharif crops are sown in the month of May/June. Each year, after sowing our crops, we would pray and wait for a good monsoon. With erratic rains, our crops were devoid of water, the yield insufficient and all our hard work seemed unworthy. In the absence of water irrigation, any ambitions of Rabi crops too remained a fantasy.
This story dates back to when I was 10 years old. I remember the villagers had finally decided to buy a Water Pump to beat the woes of water scarcity. It was to be a 5HP Diesel Water Pump. Since our village was adjacent to a river, water could be easily pumped to the nearby fields. The Diesel Pump was booked through the Irrigation Department special scheme with subsidy and a loan of ₹15000/- (Rs. Fifteen thousand) only. During the delivery of Pump by Govt. Department, a security deposit ₹200/- in cash was given to the officials.
The villagers had arrived at a consensus to repay the loan amount by contributing cash of ₹100/- per family annually. This way the total amount per year would be ₹5000/- (Rs.100 x 50 families). The repayment period of loan with interest was 4 years.
The villagers started using the pump as per their requirement. The member requiring the pump service would book it in advance and bear the cost of diesel too. Diesel was purchased on a regular basis from a Petrol pump about 20 kms away from the village.
Now that access to water was available throughout the year, the villagers started Rabi crops in November & December i.e. after Kharif crops was harvested. They started growing different vegetables, wheat, potato etc. & utilised the pump whenever required. They were happy to see the result of multiple crops and were able to improve their financial condition & livelihood.
While all users benefitted from this water cooperative, a peculiar problem cropped up. After a year, it was observed that some members failed to pay on time, gradually others followed, and slowly they were all defaulting their payments. Very soon the members started withdrawing from their membership one by one. It was observed that a few financially capable members started forming small groups and started to part away from the core group. They did not cooperate with the Village head citing minor reasons and started blaming him of partiality. They conspired with other members privately to part away with their memberships. Other members also followed suit. Most of the members not knowing the true reasons of their actions, simply followed blindly when asked to withdraw their memberships. They did not attend the meetings called by the Village head for discussing and resolving the disputes. The Village head tried his level best to convince all not to give-up their memberships, but in vain.
He could not believe that people failed to acknowledge the improvement in their lifestyle due to this Water Pump. Moreover, that how a few jealous individuals were misleading them and jeopardizing their success, growth and development.
Now the responsibility of loan repayment was entirely on the Village Head. In absence of any regular source of income, the Village Head also could not pay back the loan amount as scheduled. When the bank officials came for recovery, they would ridicule the Village Head and humiliate him in front of villagers. The villagers never came to his rescue and left him to fend for himself. On their usual visits, the bank officials would often take away some agriculture produce like vegetables and chicken from the Village Head, promising to deduct the loan amount equivalent to price of such items. Hoping the full loan amount to get adjusted in kind, left with no other alternative, the village head readily agreed for this arrangement.
Little did the Village head know that in due course, the loan was never to be adjusted and it increased day by day with the interest. He had no idea how much it was, as the bank officials would never provide details correctly when asked for.
The Village Head continued to face personal sufferings, humiliation and financial burden for years. In addition, the he had the responsibility to feed his own large family & bear the expenses of his children’s education. He tried very hard to cope with these hardships. But he had great faith in God and believed that one-day this temporary phase would disappear and all the hardships, worries and difficult time will end. With this hope, he continued his selfless service to the village with sincerity, humility & trust. He worked hard to save for his children’s education.
Years passed by, the Village headman’s children completed their education and got jobs. They started supporting the family with their salary. The Village head started repaying his loan, which had multiplied over the years. After a few years of struggle and subsequent savings from salary of his children he was able to pay back the entire loan amount of ₹15000/-.
After the loan was fully paid, the bank officials called him to the bank for closing the loan account. During the process of loan closure, the security deposit amount was returned to him. He was dismayed and amused to receive only ₹20/- against the actual ₹200/- . He clearly remembered depositing ₹200/- in cash during the delivery of the Water Pump. On contesting, that he had actually paid ₹200/-, the officials asked him to produce the receipt. He told them that no receipt was provided at any point of time. The officials told him that he had only deposited ₹20/- and will get the same. Reluctantly the Village head signed and received ₹20/- only as he could not produce the money receipt. Thus the long pending loan of ₹15,000 was finally closed at ₹25,000.
From the above experience, the Village head realized that adivasis suffer due to ignorance and illiteracy. Other people take undue advantage of adivasi simplicity. The adivasis continue to remain underdeveloped and backward due to lack of vision and absence of unity to solve common problems.
The village head experienced the fruit of development by sending his children to school and college. He was happy about his tough decision to educate his children even with adverse financial conditions. He pledged that he would take all the possible steps to help and educate others in his village, so that such unpleasant exploitation could be avoided in the future. He also advocated for education of all the children in the village and encouraged everyone by helping in every possible manner.
I hope you liked my small story. Please write in the comment box and let me know what kind of similar challenges you have seen or faced in your village.