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The rural experiment

THE VILLAGE REPUBLIC VHS (PAL) . 50 min .Christopher Rego

By Pradip Kumar Datta
Published: Wednesday 31 January 1996

Anna Hazare: pioneer par excel FOR an urban Indian centre of the mid '90s, the chief interest of the film The Village Republic lies in the excitement at the variety of experiments by villagers to control their resources. The film focuses on collective rural initiatives to stem biomass degradation in places like the Siwalik, Deccan and Chota Nagpur plateau.

The stories are separately narrated, but are placed in a sequence that builds up a strong argument for rural self-control. The success of these efforts in making poor villages prosperous, allows the film to advance them as a poverty alleviation measure.

We are introduced to several individuals who initiated pathbreaking movements: Kishan Babu Rao Hazare also known as Anna Hazare, who returned to his village to build a small stone structure that could dam water; Rameshwar Prasad, a follower of Vinoba Bhave, who sucessfully campaigned for village autonomy 30 years ago; K C Mishra, a forest officer in Orissa, who has initiated a network of inter-village patrols of forests.

At the core of their self- activity is the formation or reactivation of village councils. The most startling instance of this is the Gram Sabha in Ralegaon Siddhi village, Maharashtra. The key activities of such councils revolve around water management, switching livestock (from goats to the more pasture land-friendly buffaloes), afforestation and regulating common land use, and patrolling forests.

The narration emphasises the need for executive and legal powers for the villagers to fight back profit-hungry industrialists. We are told of a splendid achievement in Orissa where, through padyatras and discussion groups, 350 villages have been mobilised to patrol a staggering 84,000 ha of forest land!

The Village Republic stimulates a sense of freshness, as it talks of creative responses to a crisis. The documentary is well made and has a lucid and informative narrative. However, the otherwise interesting camera at times tends to provide snap shot images.

The film does not, as a whole, talk about problems. Rather, it makes the village community an idyllic institution, and does not indicate the internal imbalances of power involved in land and gender relations. Equally, the idea of the "village republic" does not do justice to the importance of State policy and the need to preserve its 'welfarist' component.

After all, the stories indicate how the State is crucial to the success of these ventures -whether in terms of existing through inefficient projects and proposals, laws like the Gramdan Act, or personnel. Nothwithstanding these shortfalls, the film is bound to be useful for activists and laypersons alike.

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