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Listen to Village Wisdom


We, the Citizens

By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer

We’ve returned after a month long sabbatical, to discover some good news amid the encircling gloom. First, however, here’s a little history to put things in perspective.

PM Indira Gandhi started it and the governments that followed fell in line. They have criticised her ‘dictatorial policies’ but they have embraced her most fascist act. She copied Hitler’s High Command system. This deprives a political party from deciding issues by the democratic system of discussion and debate and, instead, vests all authority in a small, self-appointed, coterie.

No one has elects this High Command. It has, effortlessly, converted Democracy into a Dictatorship, Diarchy or Dynasty. As students of history (not historians) we know what happened in France, Russia, Germany and Egypt when this political degradation became the norm: chaos, bloodshed and repeated aftershocks of international mistrust.

Happily, our enormous diversity is our greatest strength. Venom-laced political messages are diluted when translated into the 19,500 mother tongues interpreted through the mind-sets of 2,000 and still evolving ethnic groups who are largely located in 638,635 villages. Clearly, in our land, one size does not fit all. In our multi-faceted nation, people turn to their old stand-by: Village Wisdom. This is the accumulated experience handed down the generations.

Thanks to that excellent on-line environmental news-sheet, Mongabay, and its active correspondent Archana Singh, we have discovered a heart warming story. It is about a single family deciding to uproot itself from a very affluent urban life in Dehradun and return to their ancestral Himalayan village of Rawat Gaon. It once had 50 families but now has only 4. One of the major reasons for migration is the absence of a 400 metre all weather road connecting Rawat Gaon to the highway served by a bus. When Major Gorki Chandola got premature retirement from the Indian Army, and returned to Rawat Gaon with his wife Dipti and two children, he paid for a temporary connecting road to be built. But in the absence of government support, this was washed away before long.

We wonder why the local BDO, SDM and DM, to say nothing of the netas who rule over this area, have not helped. Are they not aware of the fact that this ex-serviceman and his wife have taken up abandoned houses and re-built them in the typical Garhwali style using traditional artisans and locally-available materials to show that such systems are most suitable for the local environment?

Their village is at an elevation of 1,200 metres. Because of this, local residents can grow both Mid-Himalayan and tropical fruit and vegetables. The Chandolas grow mangoes alongside their peaches and plums. The village has three springs which they have tapped to fill a reservoir so they do not have a water problem. What, then, is the reason why their village had become almost an abandoned one? Apart from the lack of road connectivity, one is an attitudinal prejudice. Local people have an ingrained idea of the high status of a job outside the gaon. Work in the village is looked down upon. Much of this prejudice could again be traced back to the lack of road connectivity. Anything that is difficult to get is valuable. Since it is difficult to get away from the village then getting away is valuable!

Here, then is the irony of a perfectly valid law. The 400 metres cannot be upgraded at state expense because there are not enough people in the village to justify the expense. But unless the road provides 4-wheeler access, modern development will elude the village. In case our readers can’t visualise what is 400 metres of motorable road, we will express it in terms of the most publicised road in India: Central Vista aka Rajpath. We estimate that our most celebrated road is 7.5 times the length of the essential Rawat Gaon link road. The renovation of the very beautiful Rajpath was declared an essential service. So then, isn’t this 400 metre road, at a fraction of Central Vista’s cost, become at least as essential for the survival of this village in Garhwal?

Or do we subscribe to the Orwellian point of view that all Indian Citizens are equal, but some Indians are more equal than others?

(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 halfhour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and 34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who was a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)