When Sangayya Rachayya Hiremath and his American wife, Shyamala, arrived at Medleri, a remote village in Karnataka`s Dharwad district, three years ago, they were met by scorn and mirth from the villagers. Speaking for the village, Shivappa Halliki, a teacher in nearby Aremallapur village said: "We gave them only a few months to get disgusted and go back to America. This would be like a short holiday."
Their attitude was not surprising. The 39-year-old Hiremath had just thrown up a highly paid job in the US mid-western city of Chicago, where he was head of the operations research division of a multi-national firm, to pursue the chimera of rural development in his homeland. Apart from adjusting to the dramatic changes in his environment-from the highly urbanized atmosphere of Chicago to the sleepy, shingle-roofed settings of Medleri-Hiremath had taken up the unenviable task of improving the lot of this drought prone village whose people had known nothing but abject poverty.
Changing Attitude: Today, three years after his arrival, Hiremath`s dream seems to be becoming a reality. The changes, however, are not clearly visible. The houses that dot the barren landscape have not changed their earlier shingle-roof façade. Drain water cuts furrows through the unpaved streets which become a muddy mess during the monsoons. The spectre of drought still haunts the farmer annually. What has changed, and dramatically, are the attitudes of the villagers –and this is the result of Hiremath's work.
The changes fit into Hiremath's basic philosophy. He says: "Development is primarily the development of people, not merely of goods, services and things." His interest in rural development comes from knowing rural poverty firsthand. Born in Ron taluk, about 100km away from Medleri, Hiremath was the youngest of seven children. His father died when he was four years old and the family saw days of acute penury. After finishing from a high school in Bijapur, Hiremath graduated in mechanical engineering with the aid of scholarships. Being at the top of his class, he was offered a scholarship by Kansas State University where he did a master;s in operations research, after which he worked with several banks and corporations.
At this time he read newspaper report that quoted a United Nations survey which had found that the Indian Government spent something in the region of Rs.80,000 on each engineering student. The report had a great impact on Hiremath and he says: "I felt an obligation to contribute back to my country the knowledge and skills I had acquired because of the subsidized education." He became actively involved in the India Development Service (IDS), a society formed by India expatriates in Chicago in 1974, to promote rural development activities as well as small industries. Meanwhile, Hiremath had met Mavis (who later changed her name to Shyamala), a Peace Corps volunteer, and married her not only because they shared many ideas but also because of her willingness to settle in India.
Familiar Place: Initially Hiremath thought of setting up an industry in a rural area but gave up the idea because he felt that it would become just another enterprise without any lasting involvement in rural development. It was then that the couple decided to return to India and initiate development in a small village to begin with. Hiremath started on an extensive tour of India and had lengthy meetings with other organizations involved in development like the Bhagavathula Charitable Trust in Vishakhapatnam, the Social Work and Research Centre in Rajasthan and several Gandhian institutions. He realized that he would have to work in a place where he was familiar with the language and customs and Karnataka became the natural choice. There was need to form a core of urban volunteers drawn from different professions to initiate development and as a result the India Development Service International, Karnataka, was formed in 1979, funded mainly by the Chicago group.
The IDS philosophy about development was clearly laid down. It viewed development as basically a partnership between all the members rather than a donor-receiver relationship. IDS was to play only a catalytic role in the development process and local leadership was to be built at each step. Charity would never be doled out. Instead the approach would be: "If you give a man a fish to eat he will eat for a day. If you teach him how to fish he will eat it for the rest of his life."
Instead of dumping external capital, local resources would be tapped so that the villagers became self-reliant. Now would Western technology be imposed to speed the process of development? Instead appropriate technologies to suit the condition in the chosen area would be developed. As Hiremath puts it: "The idea was to build an alternate structure of power as the present socio-economic structure was hardly conducive for developing persons from weaker segments."
The selection of a village to base their project was done systematically. The group felt that focal village could have a cluster of 15 to 20 villages within a 10 km radius because interdependence is the rule in rural areas and no village exists in isolation. Apart from this they felt that not only should the village be poor but should have a large number of socially and economically deprived people. More importantly the villagers should feel the need for development. After a careful survey, Medleri (population:5,071) in Ranibennur taluk was chosen as the project centre and the cluster of 21Villages around it as the area to be covered.
Promoting Interdependence: The IDS did not chalk out any blueprint for development. Instead they wanted the villagers to identify their needs and work out ways of fulfilling them. At the first meeting convened by them, a group of 50 villagers had assembled in Ranibennur and their main questions was: "How much money are you willing to give us? What are your development programmes for us?" When IDS told them that it has none, the villagers were taken aback.
It was when they realized that IDS was serious about its objectives that the villagers said that health is their first priority as the nearest hospital was in Ranibennur about 15kms from Medleri. So IDS appointed a Doctor and started a health centre in a small hut in Medleri. The villagers expected their treatment to be free but were surprised when IDS said they would be charged according to their capacity to pay. The villagers understood the philosophy and when an immunization camp was organized instead of the straggly crowd that normally came, the whole village turned up.
The success has led to the formation of the villagers' own health care programme, the Voluntary Health Worker (VHW) scheme and the entire village contributes towards the cost. The VHW's are appointed by a village health committee consisting of 6 men and 6 women and their primary duty is to educate the people about family planning, hygienic, nutrition, ante-natal care and promote all this through audiovisuals. Some of the main diseases of the area are leprosy, gastro-enteritis, whooping cough and scabies. As a result of these camps the health of the villagers has improved considerably and last year no case whooping cough was reported.
Welcoming Initiative: A typical example of the new awareness that has transformed the people was evident first fortnight when about 30 women gathered under the thatched roof a dairy co-operative shed to discuss how the local block development officer could be persuaded to lend loan to them purchase milch cows. A year and half ago there was neither a cooperative nor had the villagers ever had the courage to demand loans from the Government. But because of the persistent nudgings of the Hiremaths the villagers not only set up a dairy co-operative but they are now demanding government schemes to improve milk schemes.
Development was initiated only when the villagers identified the area they would like improved and used their initiative to get started with the help of IDS. When Lambani women said it was difficult to take their buffaloes to Ranibennur to treat them, the dairy development project was launched. Apart from prodding the government to start veterinary health unit at Medleri, short course were introduced from women at the nearby Krushi Vignyan Kendra where they were taught about animal health care, artificial insemination and fodder development. The women decided to set up a co-operative so that they could market the excess milk. Said 55:year old Basamma Nanjappa: "Before the co-operative was established no one used to supply good milk nor was anyone willing to pay a high price." Everyone in Medleri seems to have got into the self-help spirit. When the women wanted to start a milk testing and collection centre they threw out an obstinate tea shop owner who refused to move out from the shed although they had started paying rent for it. Today the Medleri women market milk for prices varying between Rs.2.40 and 2.80 a litre.* Most of them are demanding artificial insemination so that better breeds can be developed.
Similarly the village sheeprearing project was started in response to a need. As about 60 per cent of Medleri's population are shepherds and weavers, these two areas were given specific priority. Like the health worker, sheep assistants were trained by the Government's sheep and wool development officer to go to the shepherds and advise them about how to maintain a good flock. Because of a massive sheep immunization camp organized last year, Medleri's flocks survived even though the ones in the neighbouring taluk were killed by an attack of rinderpest.
The IDS has helped in other areas too:
IDS is careful that the village folk do not become too dependent on them and have been repeating that they may soon leave and initiated development elsewhere. As a 48-year-old teacher, G.G.Shetter, put it: "IDS had taught us how to wash our face. If we continue ourselves, it will become habit and then we don't need IDS."
(Courtesy: India Today Dec. 15, 1982)