‘We will get educated but we will not leave farming’
The Tonk Kala village in the Dewas district is situated at about three km from the Agra-Mumbai highway. As we take the uneven road to Prem Singh Khinchi’s house, it gives the impression of a wellplanned society in a city. The five similar houses that stand within the compound were constructed during the years of prosperity that Umrao’s Bhagirath Krishak Abhiyan brought to the village. The houses belong to five families that are well-educated and well-settled but have not given up on farming. The chief reason behind this is the continuous increase in the area irrigated by the ponds. Prem Singh and his family members tell us how earlier, only 10-15 percent of their fields could be irrigated but after the ponds were constructed during Umrao’s campaign, about 90 percent of their fields could be irrigated. Farming is far from being a bad deal now. Thus, the family sticks to it rather than taking up any other profession. Prem Singh says it is all because of the ponds they built. He also tells us that earlier they used to grow only soyabean, but now they cultivate several crops such as wheat, chick peas, tomatoes, chillies, amla and any more.
Another significant change that is noticed here is that families which could not afford to pay even the nominally priced government school fee, are now willing to spend 25,000-30,000 on their children’s education.
A villager Nagendra tells us, “There was acute shortage of water in Dewas during 2006-07. We would look up to the skies hoping for rain. On Umrao’s suggestion, we built a pond. It filled up with the first rains and for the first time in my life we grew two crops in the same season. Production increased and as a result we could also save money. Now, we can easily spend 25,000 on our children’s education.” Prem Singh says that profit has increased up to ten-fold because of the pond.
Tonk Kala has more than 125 ponds now. Prem Singh’s field alone has 30 of them. When asked about the benefit of these water bodies, he replied, “Earlier we had no ponds. But now we are aware of all the technicalities.” He further adds, “It is in man’s nature to learn from mistakes. In our village, people saw the harm that tubewells could do. Before 2006, all the profit from a single crop produced would be spent on fulfilling our water needs. We would be broke by the end of the year.”
The ponds have also helped in bringing up the receding ground water level of the village. Farmers who have cattle, tend to flush the animal excreta into the ponds, which not only provides fodder for the fish but also increases the quality of water. Mixing water with dung makes for an organic fertiliser. It has boosted the fertility of land. The crops do not depend on chemicals and fertilisers as much as they used to. Earlier, the water crisis had put a lot of people out of work, especially the small farmers. Now, even they have taken the lead and have constructed ponds on at least 10 percent of their fields.
‘Padhe Beti, Badhe Beti’
Most houses in Padilya, a village in Dewas, are pucca houses and appear to be built within the last few years. Economic prosperity has brought in an environment of harmony and prosperity to the village. Now the villagers stress on the education of girls. Women who could not attend school themselves, now want their daughters to get educated. They also have the support of their husbands and other family members.
The current sarpanch of the village, Seema Mandloi, best exemplifies this. She was studying in class eight when she was married off at the young age of 16 and had to leave her hometown, Ratan Khedi, for Padilya. There was no high school at either of the places so she had to abandon her education. Today, there is a senior secondary school in Padalya. After finishing school, students now even go to attend college in Dewas and Indore.
Seema Mandloi’s husband says, “During the past 7-8 years, our fields, dairies and warehouses have blossomed. The mentality of people is fast changing with improving work conditions. Everyone understands the value of education now. Evil practices like child marriage have been curbed. Drug abuse and addiction among boys has reduced though several government liquor shops have opened up in and around the village.”
When asked whether she plans to marry off her daughter, Seema replies with a smile, “We’ll think about it when she has finished her studies.” She further adds, “She will study at least till class 12 since we have a senior secondary school in the village.” Her grandfather who’s seated nearby says in a loud voice, “Yes, why not? She can study as much as she wants.” Seema Mandloi’s sister-in-law has also studied till class eight. She was 17 years old when she got married. Her daughter is studying in class 12 and wants to go to a college.