Nurturing Young Minds

Nurturing Young Minds

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Pond Without A Penny

In many states of India  ponds are made on paper and all the money siphoned off by officials, contractors and local leaders. Jharkhand has acquired the reputation of being one such state. In such a state where millions of rupees are unable to produce a pond on the ground, a pond  was created by the poor villagers themselves without spending a penny, by just donating their time and labor.

Video footage of the initial phase of pond digging 

I will narrate the story. how! 
In 2002 I was posted in Tripura, and happened to be in Ranchi for a few days. A few people invited me to address select gatherings of advocates, traders, voluntary organisation, doctors etc. I accepted the invitation and addressed a few groups. In one such meetings, somebody stood up and invited me to come to a village which his newly founded voluntary organisation SAGE had taken up for development.He wanted me and Bharat Shodh, with which I was known to be associated, to help them  achieve their goal   I went there. The name of the village was Simalia. It fell under the Ratu block of Ranchi district. It was a poor village mainly  inhabited by tribal people. I interacted with the villagers there for a couple of hours, and spoke things that could easily render one unpopular. After affirming my personal and sincere faith in the existence of God, I spoke against the belief that  God or some deity will one day take pity on their poverty and make them prosperous; that there was something called destiny that had consigned them to this state etc. I told them that they could change their condition with their own efforts in a few months or years, and could be prosperous without any astrologers or deities helping them. I had invited some agricultural scientists there from the nearest agriculture university. I said that if there were any deities for the poor agriculturists  today it was these agricultural scientists, and that these scientists, through their guidance, could give them what no deity ever gave them. But finally it was the villagers themselves who would have to put in their efforts.

The scientists were quite disappointed to see the state of the village. They said that the village first needed water bodies and water harvesting structures for irrigation.

One of the villagers rose and requested me to 'adopt' the village like one adopted a baby.  In Hindi they said, "गोद ले लीजिए", which  does not only mean 'adopting' but actually means 'taking in your lap'. I said no body could adopt so may babies. From where could one get so many baby feeding bottles and so much of milk! I was, however, prepared to be their partner and friend! This relationship would not make them mute receivers like infants. I said that if they took one step, the local voluntary organisation SAGE and Bharat Shodh would take two. But it is they who would have to take the first step.

The villagers were uncertain about what they could do. They said they had nothing.They had no money, and most of them were daily wagers. The majority in the crowd were women. I reminded that they had the most important thing in the world with them: their hands! We the one billion people - even if we have nothing else - have two billion hands!  Two billion hands could reshape the world! A twinkle started appearing in their dusky eyes. I asked if they had 'kudaals' and 'khantees' (simple handy earth digging instruments) with them. 
"Yes,  there are plenty of them." 
I said that  was enough. "Your first step could be to dig up a pond, and then we would get a bigger pond dug up for you." 

They agreed to take the first step as a partner. But I told them that they should not talk to me till they had completed digging of the pond. And if they could not dig up, they and their local partner SAGE should forget about me and Bharat Shodh. I lovingly and politely told them that we had time only for people who were interested in shaping their future with their own hands.

I came back to Tripura and forgot about these people, engrossed in so many activities.

One day a rustic voice greeted me over phone very early in the morning and disturbed my sleep. "सर, हम सिमलिया से बोल रहे हैं. हमने तालाब खोद दिया है' अब आप आ कर देख लीजिए." "(Sir, I am speaking from Simalia. We have kept our promise and dug up the pond. Could you kindly come and see?")  .

I woke up, excited and anxious. Anxious because now I had to keep my part of the promise of getting them another pond. How things fell in place to ensure that my sincere promise was fulfilled is a story that I might narrate at some other time. What you truly will, starts materializing itself!

When I went to Ranchi the next week, I found that the poor villagers had really done it. 100 women, 15 children and 10 men had together dug up a pond! 
Simalia villagers collect fish from the pond

What worked in this case was inspiration, confidence-building and arousal of the self-esteem of people whose minds had been tinged with a beggar-like attitude by the approach of the governments that do not link development assistance for communities with their enterprise and initiative, and like to remain arrogant 'givers' treating the poor and the toiling masses as objects of pity and charity. The ignorant astrologers and priests have equally damaged the self-esteem of the poor by asking them to beg the deities by offering pooja to them for the smallest things in life, whereas in the BhagwadGeeta Sri Krishna discourages  sakaam pooja or worship of deities for obtaining worldly objects, reminding all humans that they are all  themselves essentially the Lord or God.

 It is true that initially we the outsiders inspired them, but then  their local  buddy SAGE and Bharat Shodh volunteers sustained the inspiration for the next three months. But they too did not dig the pond, except for making a symbolic contribution, perhaps. The villagers themselves did it!

People everywhere in the world, as in India, are like stationary trains, waiting, unfortunately, for an engine to provide them the locomotion. If local leadership develops, proper and well groomed leadership, every village will start picking up speed on the track of development and soon hit the destination of prosperity. 

Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, we must work to inspire and build the confidence of the people in every village by building local leadership - a million leaders in over half a million villages of India! 

And why only in India! Everywhere in the world!. Come forward, willing people every where in the world, and join the mission of leadership development for shaping the future of your village, country and the world. 

Watch the video of pond digging by the Simaliya people on YouTube at

The pictures below are of Satish and Bharat Bhushan, two of the local leaders, who along with  many other youngsters kept Simalia people organised and inspired  during the digging of the pond, which took nearly three months of toil.