Next, we met the former sarpanch of the same village, Pawan Malvi. Despite being a sarpanch for five years, she lives in a kuchcha-pucca house. Pawan got married when she was barely 12 years old. After marriage, she stayed at her parental home and continued her studies till class 10. She could study no further and now she wants her daughters to fulfill this dream. She wants to make them self-sufficient and independent. Her son is pursuing ba from a college in Dewas and travels 25 km everyday to attend classes. One of her daughters is in class 11 while the other is in class eight.
Even though her elder daughter has turned 17, Pawan does not worry about her marriage. She wants her to study. When asked why, she replies, “If a girl gets educated and finds a job, most of her problems are automatically solved. More than boys, it is important for girls to get educated. An educated girl will educate her children as well.”
‘If they have work, why would they commit crimes?’
Bhairava Khedi, a village in the Tonk Khurd block of Dewas district, is chiefly inhabited by the Kanjar community. The village is situated 10-12 km from the district headquarters and for long, people have stereotyped the community as being a criminal lot. The community members themselves confess that till a few years ago, some of the members would indulge in theft and other criminal activities. They looted trucks in Dewas and adjacent areas. They even went as far as Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. But now they have left all of this and work as farmers.
Hardly anyone older than 20-22 years has ever been to school in the village. When asked about what made them leave criminal activities and start working as farmers, a village youth Akshay Hada replies, “Shortage of water had adversely affected farming. We were forced to resort to crime. But we are tired of it now. During the past few years, thousands of ponds and small lakes were constructed which led to a rise in the ground water level in our village. It had gone below 500-600 ft but now it has come up to 125-150 ft. Practising farming has brought prosperity and stability to our lives. The government has also extended support but unfortunately our children can neither get a job in the government sector nor in the private sector.” Asked about what kind of problems they face in getting jobs, Akshay says, “In police records we are still tagged as criminals even though we have been living decently for the past one decade.”
Another member of the community, Maneka Goden is pursuing her ba although her husband has studied only up till the fifth standard. She even helps out her husband at the dairy. Maneka is satisfied with the changed picture of the village.
Umrao agrees that his campaign has transformed the lives of the villagers. He is currently the secretary of the tribal affairs department in Madhya Pradesh. In Dewas, he is credited for the water revolution. “Life is getting back to normal in Dewas ever since the water issue was resolved.
People from the district often call and tell me how crime has reduced in the region. It is a pleasure to see Kanjars drifting away from crime and towards farming activities,” says Umrao.
Translated from Tehelka Hindi by Naushin Rehman