This report of the New Year / Year 2000 festivities in the Narmada Valley appeared in India Together in February 2000.
Amra gaon me amu sarkar!
Practising the solutions at the Narmada.
February 2000: While the media and metropolises frenzied over 2 digits of code or lack thereof, the people of the Narmada Valley, like billions of others who share this humble home on Earth, were ready as always for the challenges of 2000. Volunteers of AID and allied NGOs and movements across India met in the valley to practice the solutions to the problems created by the modes of destructive development dominating the planet today. Ravi Kuchimanchi and Aravinda Pillalamarri spent the New Years at the Narmada valley along with some NBA, NAPM karyakartas, AID volunteers from India and US, Reva Yuvas, Nav Nirman team, village people, Jeevanshala children and friends from various groups and organizations.
Protesting women march to the police camp.
Charkha Session: In the shade of a tree Vimal Bhai from NAPM who wears only what he spins (Only Vimal!) had set up 5 portable charkhas. While all those who were curious got a chance to do some spinning, 5 jeevanshala children dedicated themselves to serious learning. By Jan 1st they were able to spin without needing any further guidance and their yarn garlanded the photograph of Mahatma Gandhi. Dedicating themselves to more spinning the 5 jeevanshala children aim to produce enough yarn for their clothes in 6 months. Vimal said that bringing the charkha to the Narmada valley was something he wanted to do for a long time, and he said the children picked up everything in a day and were very interested. He will follow up by having these children train five more children so as to have a dedicated batch of 10 charkha spinners in the Nimgavhan jeevanshala.
Bamboo Craft Session: A wonder tree that grows easily, Bamboo is strong and flexible and its products can outdo plastic and make the environment cleaner and enterprises more rural. Peter Bakos from Australia showed us samples of vegetable dyed Bamboo and Sivaram, a tribal craftsperson from ADS in Karjat gave hands-on training in making gift items out of bamboo. By Jan 1st the learners had made bamboo fish that chased each other round and round on catching a little breeze. One can learn to make things out of Bamboo very easily. Peter and Sivaram invited the valley people including some already skilled bamboo workers to ADS for a follow-up workshop that will include vegetable dyeing. They are also ready to spend more time in the valley giving further training if that’s more suitable.
Savings And Loans Session: After enquiring about the credit needs in the Narmada valley Balaji Sampath of AID and TNSF explained in detail how to start savings and loans groups there. Vishram, Pravin and Shoba from the Nav-Nirman team and Dedly Bai and other village leaders exchanged queries during the session. 15-20 women who meet weekly and save Rs 5-10 per week are important elements. In the weekly meetings, not just savings but also other important topics get introduced. There are no outside grants or funds required for this program since the money saved itself is rotated as loans by the women’s group to needy women. The experience of the Srikakulam groups also helped explain that some innovations have to be made depending on the field conditions. At the end of the talk Vishram said that this was most useful and he thinks he can start 5 groups immediately in the village he works in.
Satyagraha: Just as in the 99 monsoon Satyagraha, we began each day with prayer and shram dan. With so many people to lead in the songs and the energetic Nav Nrman team to guide us in shram dan, we all felt very much at home right away.
Education, Energy And Sustainable Development: Ashok from Vidnyan Vahini had shown science experiments in several jeevanshalas in March. He came back with his supplies, and this time, Ashok said, the children were able to do some of the experiments themselves rather than just see in the demonstration mode. Simultaneously Mora and Bhaskar from AID along with Dr. Suhas and Jeevanshala teachers were introducing the children to new toys. The telescope helped us catch the sight of Saturn and Jupiter though the moon rose too late — we looked at the moon in the morning! A Pedal power pump that pumps water at 40 litres per minute to a height of 25 mts was installed on the banks of the Narmada by Venkatesh and Peter. After consulting with Keshav Bhai and other village workers it was decided to set this pump in Domkhedi since the slope is much more gradual there and it can be more effectively used to water th fields. Ravi of the Nav Nirman team took the responsibility of utilizing the pump. Sanjay Sangvai led a discussion on sustainable development and the history of the Andolan with some of the first time visitors to the valley.
Painting, Prizes: Ratti of a women’s organization in UP along with Geetha of the Nav Nirman team led the younger jeevanshala children in drawing and painting. On 1st Jan we awarded small prizes to children who had done well in the various arts and skills taught. Each child led the assembly in a slogan such as “jeevanshala kunin se? amri se, amri se!” or “ladenge, jitenge!” while accepting the prize. Each of us got a surprise when we boarded the boat to leave — a handmade greeting card!
The Jungle: Keval Singh Guruji led a dozen curious folks into the forest to identify medicinal herbs. Like many sessions this deserved at least a day to itself, but we just had time to see the local “herbal coffee” bean, remedies for stomach upset, skin problems, scorpion bites, and drink delicious water directly from a spring.
2K: On the evening of 31st Dec, AID volunteers sat with people of many villages to discuss the vision of development for the future. City folks described the widely publicized “celebrations” which tended to destroy all natural areas either by direct invasion or extravagant consumption of resources, and cited the pledge by Minister Uma Bharathi to market tourist resorts to NRIs to raise funds for “development.” Noorji bhai said that he had no comment on these city celebrations, but he knew that nature is not something we can make, it has come only with God and when it is gone, it is gone. No amount of development can bring it back.
Aid Updates: We found time to hear of the 100 block plan from Balaji where the idea is to use the village volunteer base of the literacy movements for health and savings activities. Suryanarayana updated us on the 5 new savings groups he started in Srikakulam and his plans to further this effort. Bhaskar told us about the progress of the Rajahmundry school on the Godavari islands where now a hut has been constructed for the children.
Visit To Damsite, Rehabilitation Sites, Organic Farm: We visited the village of Mokhdi, just a stone’s throw from the damsite and the first village to be submerged by SSP. We talked to the people who have returned to Mokhdi after years of trying to survive in resettlement sites. We proceeded from there to two R&R sites — Vasana and Pancholi. In Vasana the families had no land for cultivation (because the land they were given is in another rehab site in another location that they have left as the quality of land is poor). On being asked about the Desai committee there were no good comments — people felt extremely let down — it was just another committee for eye-wash. Actually the committee member was not able to reach the site due to monsoon so these people had walked all the way to the main road to meet him. Some of the families are thinking of returning back to the Narmada valley.
We went along with bright red flowers of the gongura plant to Dhirendra Bhai’s organic farm where we saw how much one can do in just 2 acres with no fertilizers and chemicals. There were planst and trees in every inch of the land along with solar cooker, wind-mill, solar dryer, bio gas plant and other energy saving devices. They gave us a very refreshing pink drink made of these flowers from Narmada that they powdered and packaged. Everybody bought more packets for Rs 20 that makes about 50-60 glasses as this was a natural tasty drink.
Ringing In The New: On New years eve, there was singing, dancing and skits that sketched the events of the year that was. A lovely desktop calendar for 2000 that contains a song, slogan and the photographic memory of a crucial Narmada event of every month was released by AID-India just before midnight. It is bilingual and is available for sale. Amidst solidarity of various groups and continuation of Nirman and struggle, the new year zeroed in on us. While some people rang in the new year by seeing their dreams, others were singing around an open fire till 2 am …. Medha didi of course was having round-the-clock meetings…between friendly appearances! On New Year’s Day jeevanshala children released small leaf oil lamps into the Narmada and through binoculars saw the lights sail into the distance. Together we declared,
“Navla Varha Dui Hazaar,
Amra Gaon Me Amu Sarkar!” [In the year 2000,
We govern our own villages]. Ravi Kuchimanchi and Aravinda Pillalamarri
We thank Suhas tai, Medha didi, Geetha, Keval Singh and other Jeevanshala teachers and workers, Ghanshyam bhai and crew from Nimad who made sure we weren’t hungry, for the excellent arrangements in the valley, the NBA Baroda & Kevadia offices for coordination arranging the bus through a tough terrain and AID volunteers and various groups who participated and planned this to make it a very special dawn of a new era.