THOUGH the world focuses only on one form of poverty that is financial
there are two other forms - ecological poverty and povert of the mind or mental poverty - that are even more relevant for the rural poor for they are
closely associated with the state of the environment.
When I had first visited Jhabua in 1984, it was a degraded moonscape. Its
transformation into a green village came as a pleasant surprise to me. After the
transformation of Jhabua, I had another pleasant surprise last fortnight. It was
seeing the changing face of Alwar.
Rajendra Singh, who had founded
Tarun Bharat Sangh in the mid-1980s,
has been working with the villagers of
Alwar district to restore their traditional
water harvesting structures, check dams
called johads. In these 14-15 years, his
work has spread from one village -
Gopalpura - to about 500 villages and
through the relatives of these villagers,
has even extended the work to nearby
districts of Jaipur and Sawai Madhopur.
Some 5,000 johads have been built
The change in the mindset of
the rural people and in the ecology
is extraordinary. Firstly, the mental
poverty has gone and secondly the
ecological poverty is slowly disappearing. With villagers encouraged and
emboldened to take their life and their
destiny into their own hands, they have
gone out and undertaken efforts to
harness the one critical ecological element that was missing from their lives,
namely water. By catching the water
that falls regularly from the heavens,
they have ensured so much ground-
water recharge that wells are now full of
water round the year. So much so that
several streams that were dead for
decades now flow round the year.
What is the biggest change that has
taken place in your lives, I asked one of
the villagers. "Oh, our women can now
bathe everyday," he replied with a
But that is not all. Building water
harvesting structures has slowly but
inevitably linked the people to their
environment. All over the hills where
the mental poverty has gone, new
ecological wealth is emerging. The hills
are no longer barren. Three to five-
year-old trees can be seen growing all
over. In one village the forest has
become so good that the village has
declared it a peoples' sanctuary in the
name of the local goddess, with a whole
set of rules proudly displayed on its
The mental wealth and the ecological wealth is now bringing in financial
and economic wealth. Sixty five-
year-old Dhanua remembers his long
years as a labourer in Delhi. Long
before independence, the local Raja
had sold of the forest to contractors
who wanted to make charcoal. The
forests had rapidly disappeared and
so had water. Dhanua never remembers
tilling his fields. "I was in Delhi moving
gunny bags around when Mahatma
Gandhi was killed. I was doing the
same in Delhi the day Indira Gandhi
was married." But this year for the
first time in his life he has tined his land
and his sons are working with him.
Dhanua and his fellow villager, Arjan,
happily remember the days when they
used their lath (not a bamboo stick to
beat people with, but their moral insistence) on the other villagers to con-
tribute their labour (shramdan) to make
the village dam.
In another village downstream
villagers again said that for the first time
they had enough to eat and even some
produce to sell. So I asked "What next?
Will you now build your own school
and health centre?"
"We already have these," they
A lot of villages are rich in hardware
like buildings for schools and heath care
centres. They normally lack software
like trained personnel and qualified
teachers. So I was tempted to put forward another question.
"But does the school teacher come
regularly?" I asked.
Rajendra Singh took up the conversation from here. "Yes he does," he
explained because these villagers are
so organised they will immediately
complain." Well then I thought
these villagers have got everything
they want and I voiced my opinion.
"No," said an old man, "we would
like Tarun Bharat Sangh to start evening
classes to teach old people like me."
The earlier desperation is clearly dead
in these villagers. There is a new
confidence and a new zeal. They are
looking for help but with an internal
strength. And they are beginning to
respect themselves and their environment and manage it.
Atornisation is being replaced with
cooperation. They are on the road to
progress not like the elite flowers of a
manicured garden but like the thousands of tiny flowers that make a mountain pasture come alive.
Mental wealth, ecological wealth and economic wealth are all slowly
rolling into one. And the Tarun Bharat
Sangh is now even becoming a beneficiary. Several villagers are coming forward to work with the organisation to
spread the message of love, respect,
pride and confidence: love and respect
for nature and pride and confidence in
themselves. None of this will appear in
the GDP calculations of the government.
But true economic growth has begun in
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