Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cancelled Meeting: Blessing in Disguise


The NREGA work site is also known as, strangely enough, the 'famine'.
Cementing began there yesterday. The start of pukka work means that everyone will most likely leave at 2 pm. No more study sessions under the shade of the neem tree.

Instead, we sat under a canvas tent, a hot breeze bringing in dust and heat waves. A few women studied for a while, only to be interrupted with an order: "Cement mixers, you're up!" Next, it was those in charge of carrying rocks. Each group of women had their duties, between which they squeezed in a few scribbled words. The men didn't appear to be doing much other than squatting by the dug-up trenches.

Our New Classroom

The Sarpanch was supposed to come today. He did not. Rather, he could not. Every NREGA site in his jurisdiction was missing the large water tank needed for cement work. The tanks were never delivered. When we called Ram Singh he was sitting in his office, swarmed with angry villagers. Thus, today's meeting was cancelled. The villagers temporarily routed water from a well and didn't get off until 3:30.

"When the Sarpanch comes tell him to put a hand pump here." Nandram pointed to the field directly in front of his house. Yes, he told the Sarpanch about the hand pump many times before. He'd see to getting the pump installed this time. No, he didn't feel a need to speak with other villagers to reach a consensus. "Everyone will want the handpump to be near them. Why should we have to go to the other side of the village to bathe and wash our clothes?" We explained that if all the villagers specified different locations for the handpump nothing would get done. Nandram was unfazed by the prospect of inaction. "Fine, let it be that way. We'll keep living as we are."

There are farmers in Vidarbha who walk many, many kilometers to get water. Here, people complain of commuting a few hundred meters. "Everyone complains," Nikhil explained later. "Even people in Delhi who get water from a faucet for 'only' 12 hours a day." Nandram's issue really wasn't about distance; It was a 'my side-their side' conflict. Earlier, I sensed this between Shreeji ka Kheda and Kalyanpura. Now, it was evident within the village itself.

I'm glad the Sarpanch meeting didn't happen today. After my disheartening conversation with Nandram I envisioned the meeting as a "me first" directed argument amongst the community. I doubt if a productive, unanimous stand would ahve been taken on any issue. The cancelled meeting was a blessing in disguise. Since tomorrow is a holiday it gives the villagers another day to think about issues and reach a consensus amongst themselves...that is, if they think about it at all. Nikhil and I plan on minimizing our participation in this meeting. The smaller our role, the better.

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