Discussions over Tea (Of course, cutting maar ke)

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

THE ONE NATION : The seeds of a revolution


When I think of rural innovation in India, I think of kurta-clad professors working on schemes or mad-hatter projects, most of which will never see the light of the day. Like most of my peers in college who laughed their way through a course on the grass-roots revolution, I was prone to scepticism. That changed somewhere along the way. I started believing that the growth of this country wouldn't come from the millions of software engineers we produced every year, but it would come from every farmer's child we educated to learn about the world out there.

I feel proud when I see the revolution happening, but am depressed when I see it not being captured in the Indian media. While the media goes on about wishing the Salman Khans, the Rekhas, the Amitabhs on their birthday, these glorious stories sometimes go unnoticed. Sometimes it takes a foreign column like MSNBC to capture the revolutions that take place, where the ToIs, the Rediffs, the Indian Expresses don't reach. This is one such story .... and as usual, here are the good parts.
  • Their village is still far from a road or a power line. Yet, for the past year, dozens of 40-watt light bulbs have begun to glow in the mud and bamboo huts after the sun sets.
    The villagers have found that electricity grows on trees � specifically the seeds of the Karanji trees in the nearby forest, which they're turning into biodiesel fuel to power a generator.
    Instead of going to sleep at sunset, children are now busy practicing their alphabet in the community center each evening, writing their names on black slates and showing them to proud village elders, who never went to school.
  • Until about 10 years ago the Kolams hunted animals for food and lived in isolation. The state government then weaned the tribe away from hunting and they now keep poultry and cattle.
    The electrical system has brought further change, and people from other villages in the forest are coming to see the lights of Kammeguda.
    At sunset, the generator starts up and lights about 60 bulbs in 35 households, the 100-square-foot community center with bamboo walls and the village's single lane.
  • For cooking, lighting and heat, most villagers had to use firewood or kerosene, a dirty-burning fossil fuel whose sulphur and carbon monoxide can cause skin irritation and respiratory problems.
    Kammeguda's 120 inhabitants have put that behind them.
    ''Years ago, they lived primitive lives. We worked with them patiently to change many of their practices,'' said Raj Prakash, an officer with the government's tribal development agency, which began working with the Kolams a decade ago.
    ''They started wearing full clothes, putting their children in school, vaccinating them against diseases and cultivating crops. Now, electricity has made them ask for more.''
And that is the true revolution..... which of course, happens only in India.

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