Seem Eons past, a seasoned journalist of AMRITSAR told me that Amritsar has an uncanny distinction!—‘You will notice that Any significant event in the world somewhere has an incredulous connection with Amritsar”. Strange as it may sound his words are evolving to be prophetic and I am slowly starting to believe this gentleman.
I came across this write up –“Soldiering for village uplift”, a first hand account of Naik Anna Hazare by Lieut-Gen Baljit Singh (retd) published as ‘middle’ in The Tribune, recently.
Soldiering for village uplift
by Lieut-Gen Baljit Singh (retd)
HIS demeanor and emphatic, measured speech have not changed a whit since I first and last met him in 1989. The men I once commanded were from the Pune-Sattara-Ratnagiri region and in moments of informal interaction they would often talk of Anna “Sahib” who had led his village from dire poverty to assured prosperity.
Traditionally, soldiers reserve the “Sahib” appellation for their officers and JCOs only; so who was Anna? Well, he was one of the several thousand vehicle drivers of the Indian army. During the 1965 Indo-Pak war he had a close call with death. His was one of the 15-odd lorries ferrying ammunition in the Amritsar sector when this convoy was strafed by PAF Saber-jets.
All the lorries exploded, except Naik Anna Hazare’s. When he regained composure, he had a divine vision; “Bhagwan boley too ja, apney gaon ki seva kar”. And over the next two decades, village Raleagan Siddhi became the beneficiary of “faith moving mountains”.
Short of outright deifying him, his ideas and guidance were accepted by Raleagan citizens as “Dharma”. The women of the village emerged unconditionally empowered and enjoyed vis-à-vis their menfolk the Orwellian status: “All animals are equal but some are more equal than the others!” No more pregnancies after the second child and freedom to acquire skills both in aid of the community and their households.
Land holdings were miniscule but the collective agricultural output increased phenomenally because rain-fed cultivation was replaced by assured, well-water irrigation. Consumption of alcohol was ruthlessly rooted out and with the combined, energized labour force, open wells were dug and a water-usage roster was drawn for each family based on their acreage under tillage.
Every house became a brick and concrete structure with piped drinking water and cooking gas from two community sized, bio-gas plants, at fixed times. Community toilets were clustered around the bio-gas plants, the human faces supplementing its “gobar” feed-stock. Kitchen waste was dumped into community compost-pits.
Anna Sahib was able to convince the Houses of Tata and Kirloskar of the viability of his mission and obtain interest-free loans as also irrigation lift-pumps and diesel generators at concessional rates. Loan instalments were honoured post the Kharif and Rabbi harvests; the last being in 1986 !
Onions and pulses were the main cash crops. In 1986, the produce earned close to a whopping 2.5 lakh rupees. A Cooperative Gramin Bank was created and staffed exclusively by the Raleagan women. Each family had fixed deposits of five to thirty thousand rupees by 1989.
I cannot recall how the school was funded but free and compulsory education was provided to each child up to matriculation. At least two able-bodied youth enrolled in the Army each year.
I shared this experience with the late General B C Joshi and suggested that the Army ran an orientation course, for soldiers about to retire under Anna Hazare’s aegis. The General visited Raleagan and launched the initiative with the hope that many more soldiers would replicate the Raleagan template in their villages.