#VinitasPune: On Meeting Anna Hazare, The Man, His Ethos And Ralegan Siddhi

Anna Hazare
Image used for representation only. Source: Udayavani

Anna Hazare goes on fast again on 30th January, this time for the implementation of Lokpals and Lokayuktas…

What remains unchanged through all this is his iconic, yet simplistic Ralegan Siddhi village and his humility which effuse good values that an individual and the society at large can emulate…

Remember how the nation resonated with the chants of `mein bhi Anna;tu bhi Anna…’ during the 2013 movement against corruption?

This chorus could well be used perennially if one goes by the values he lives by and those that he has implemented in his iconic Ralegan Siddhi village in Ahmednagar district, 85 kms from Pune.

An oasis of water shed development programmes that has won international accolades, Ralegan Siddhi is also a sterling example of conservation of the important values of life that have corroded by our lifestyles and the hustle of the cities we live in.

A random comparison between Urban Pune and Rural Ralegan Siddhi reveals the stark differences…

The water crisis is looming large on Pune with water cuts even before the winter has passed. Anna Hazare says his village has faced the worst ever drought in 2019, but it is thanks to his several sustained measures to capture/retain rainwater and preserve top soil, over the past four decades, that is holding his village in good stead.

Despite the worst ever drought, agriculture flourishes and every home is self-sufficient in water. Nana Pathare, a young volunteer proudly states, “if you stand outside Ralegan Siddhi at the intersection of the Ahmednagar Highway, you will see a continuous stream of water tankers as neighbouring villages are facing grave water scarcity; not us.’’

Why can’t Pune emulate these initiatives in an urban setting? 

Harnessing rainwater through harvesting, terracing and contour bunding on the hills of Pune for soil retention and recycling waste water and proper management of water (including halting the nearly 30% water leakage by PMC’s pipeline) is not really rocket science is it?

I must add that much to the credit of PMC, it has begun efforts by making rainwater harvesting mandatory for new housing societies, yet, there is a lot more that needs to be done.

Compare this– Ralegan Siddhi received 200 odd mm of rain in 2018, while Pune district received over 900mm, of which Pune itself received copious amounts.  

Swach Bharat Abhiyan has come a cropper in our Smart City Pune. Despite Pune having been pampered with generous funding under the Smart City banner, P M Modi’s appeal for cleanliness is conspicuous by its absence.

How about learning from Ralegan Siddhi, which adopted the cleanliness mission decades before Swach Bharat Abhiyan was even born? The entire 2,500 acre that the village comprises of is mostly devoid of any litter.

Though we picked up a few chocolate plastic wrappers in the school compound, this educational institution which has 800 secondary level students is spotlessly clean, including the toilets. Nana, the young volunteer told us it is due to strict implementation of the rule not to litter and constant awareness building that goes on through colourful painting on the school walls that the mindset has been changed for the better.

Pune is a city that has a much larger population, but, if Surat after the plague and recently Indore too have achieved remarkable success, why can’t we?

Junk food, alcoholism and several other malaises thrive in Pune. Perhaps, taking a leaf from  Ralegan Siddhi, the fundamental advantages of sound habits should be instilled at  the school level.

The 800 students in school stick to a regimen of waking up at 5 am and practicing yoga. Says Anna, ‘We keep hammering into them the dangers of alcoholism and other vices, right from the age of five. We work on the physical and mental fitness of all children from Std V by waking them up at 5 am for running, exercises and yoga.

This regimen moulds their thinking in a positive manner and when they come of adolescence, they start leading their lives with this positivity, bereft of vice’’

It all started when Anna came back to his village in the 1970s and the first thing he did was to uproot the 30 odd liquor dens that had destroyed the lives of the villagers. Says Nana, pointing to a long pole in the public square, `I still remember my childhood when alcoholics who refused to mend themselves were tied to this pole and beaten up.’’

Unfortunately, the state government is bending backwards to ensure increasing intake of alcohol and youngsters have become victims of the same. Perhaps, it requires social consciousness and political will in this citizen-alert city to drive this addiction away.

Urban cities like Pune are known to be self-centred. Paradoxically, Anna’s vision of looking beyond oneself and living for the society, community and the nation is visible  in every brick and on every face that greets you with a smile in Ralegan Siddhi.

Most of the structures are built out of shram daan (voluntary labour). He particularly gives the example of the school and says, ‘When we built it, the cost was Rs.20 lakh but not a paisa was spent on its construction. Every villager toiled to build it.’’

After Anna returned to the village in the 1970, he could not bear to see the barren village soil, the alcoholics and the heavy migration from his village.

He began holding village meetings at the Yadavbaba Temple and impressed upon them that it is in their hands to turnaround the village. Convincing them to make the village self sufficient with water and agriculture enterprise, he changed them from being self-centred to a harmonious community that is an example for others now. 

Today, youngsters are inspired by Anna to become entrepreneurs by taking up dairy farming, besides agriculture. Anna proudly says that today 6,000 litres of milk is supplied to dairy co-operative societies every day from Ralegan Siddhi as against 300 litres per day a few years back.

Anna Hazare’s own words is probably the best insight into this classic example of Ralegan Siddhi, “If your focus in life is for the larger public good, then you will forget the petty things that bother you in life. You will think of the society, community and nation as your own family and not just the members of your family as your own…

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#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.

Vinita Deshmukh

Vinita Deshmukh

Passion for the written word that comes alive, not only to tell a story, but to speak out loud about all that's good, bad and the ugly in society...

That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.

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