Does rural India really need urban facilities?
As a boy I remember not being very fond of visiting our village. It took a tiring journey to get there, the water tasted differently, and the mosquitos didn’t help the case much. Today, when I look back, however, I do not remember the roads, or how the water tasted. All I can remember is the large family gatherings, the smiles on each face, and the magical harmony that is amiss in the bustling city life. During his presidential tenure from 2002-2007, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam made it a point to travel the breadth of India to the most remote villages to interact with them and learn about their innovative solutions on the path to sustainable development. He simply put the experience as, “India’s heart resides in its villages, and just like a doctor whose work begins with the diagnosis of the heartbeat, the planning and execution of any policy for the nation of a billion, has to begin with the learning derived from its 600,000 villages.” Eradicating poverty from the face of the earth may seem like a distant dream, but a majority of the poor in the world live in rural areas, and here is where we must start.
WHAT IS PURA
PURA (town or village) or ‘Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas’ is a socio-economic system for sustainable growth (Target 3 Billion). It is an amalgamation of technology, people, traditions, skills and entrepreneurial spirit aimed at achieving sustainable development that is financially viable, socially equitable and eco-friendly. It is a carefully prepared strategy for an all-inclusive drive towards development, launching from the village household level. The PURA hierarchy then moves on to the village level which encourages community participation, and finally to the PURA Village Cluster level which is a conglomerate of nearby villages sharing social and economic essentials. One big advantage of having a cluster would not only be that each cluster could be independently managed and monitored but also that these clusters may also collaborate for mutual benefit, dividing fixed costs, and exchanging knowledge and sharing markets. They may also serve as a source of comparison and competition between village societies to improve coordination and effectiveness of their systems.
WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS BRING LIGHT TO RAIN SHADOW DISTRICTS
In an attempt to provide a fillip to economic development in areas most vulnerable to climate change, The Swayam Shikshan Prayog helps women from India’s interiors break gender stereotypes and adopt sustainable methods of farming. The SSP model is a network of 5000 Self-Help Groups comprising of a rural school of entrepreneurship and leadership for women, a resilience fund for women led businesses and even provides facilities such as warehousing, branding and marketing through market aggregators. The SSP functions mainly in the 16 rain shadow districts and has helped over 1.45 lakh women, providing an impetus to them in various rural micro-enterprises ranging from clean energy initiatives and basic health services to nutrition and agriculture. The women are trained and provided access to skills and markets and it is these women who convince their husbands to switch from cash to food crops making it easier to fight economic turbulence. They have played a major role in transforming 30000 acres of dry land into bio farms across Maharashtra and the SSP model has further helped transform the status of more than 45000 women from mere ‘farm labor’ to ‘farmers’ with cultivation rights and a greater say in the farm and the household. Prema Gopalan, the founder of the SSP model was presented with the ‘Social Entrepreneur of the Year’ award by the Schwab Foundation, the sister organisation of the World Economic Forum, for her outstanding work in the field.
Thinking out of the box is known to be an inherent characteristic of being an Indian. One such idea that set the ball rolling on social entrepreneurship and gender equality was the Barefoot College. Established in 1972 as the Social Work and Research Centre in the tiny village of Tilonia, Rajasthan, the institution is entrenched in the Gandhian philosophy of self-reliance of villages. Their basic motive is to identify women from the poorest villages and educate them on the installation, working and repairing of solar panels and water pumps so that they can go back to their villages and teach the others how to do the same. This reduces their dependence on outside mechanics and the time spent on kerosene lighting. It bridges the gap between the rich and the poor who are now presented with equal opportunities, the men and the women who are now equally independent, and the educated and the illiterate now equally skilled. Most importantly, it is a remarkable step towards sustainable development.
The successful cases provided above are testimony to the viability of such models. However, it would be wrong to assume that the PURA model is a panacea to all the problems faced by rural citizens. It only provides a helping hand to the existing programs of the government, the individuals, and the Non-Governmental Organisations already functioning in these areas. It is not the presence of these that is doubted but rather the coordination among their activities. Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam puts it correctly once again in his book Target 3 Billion when he says, “these initiatives start well- just like heavy rain resulting in multiple streams of water. As soon as the rain stops, a few days later, the streams dry up because there are no water bodies to collect and store the surplus water”. Not only does PURA seek to harvest this runoff by acting as a reservoir of resources but it also provides an integrated development plan to fix all its leakages.
So if the sustainability models of the various organisations work, is there really a need to bring urban amenities to rural life? One of the most common setbacks to rural development is how life in the bucolic interiors is viewed by esteemed professions. Doctors are found AWOL from PHCs (Public Health Centres) and teachers are a no-show in the few schools present. It is ironic to see that even the NGOs that work for the development of these rural centres base their offices in cities. We can work towards erasing this reputation by providing the amenities and public facilities that are missing here- something PURA seeks to establish of the highest standards. It is not the villages that encumber development, but rather it is these villages that empower a nation and hold it together. As Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “India’s way is not Europe’s. India is not Calcutta and Bombay. India lives in her seven hundred thousand villages.” Villages define us, they are the roots of life as we know it. It is time we rekindled the fire and played our role in empowering those roots. It is time we bring PURA (all of) India on the same level.
Sources for further reading
“Target 3 Billion” by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Srijan Pal Singh