This is a story of a village named Pipra, more popularly ‘Mardan Rai Ka Pipra’, in Bihar near Sasaram. Sasaram is a district town famous as the birth place of Sher Shah Suri who ruled India for 5 years and built the famous Grand Trunk Road linking Dacca to Peshawar. Sasaram also gained nationwide attention when Babu Jag Jivan Ram, the famous cabinet minister in Nehru era, selected it as his constituency in his bid to get elected to Lok Sabha. In those days, Pipra was not connected with any road. However, since it was near a canal, the canal served as a road to go from and to Sasaram. In 1967, the year when Bihar had it’s most infamous draught, electric poles were erected but the village never got any electricity. To start with, because of ignorance and rivalry, some arrogant and ignorant farmers did not allow the installation of transformer fearing it would pose a fire hazard. Once abandoned, the dream of providing electricity to Pipra remained just that. A dream. It never got done even though many people at various times tried very hard through the local MLA and MP. Unlike electricity, Pipra did get connected with Sasaram with two-way metal roads under some World Bank or a similar scheme around early 1990s. However, in this past 5 years, the conditions of the roads have deteriorated as there was little or no repair or maintenance done after the construction. There are a few mini-buses that ply twice or thrice daily between Pipra and Sasaram, except in the rainy season. Passengers including women and kids board them at their own risk.
Over the last 10 years, farming of paddy and wheat has improved and has produced higher yields more so after a recent renovation and widening of the irrigation canal that is fed by water from Sone river. Landholding has reduced; the number of households has increased after partition in joint families. Most of the land holders appear to be happier, when I compare them with their status in 70s. However, I fear that in the next few years land holding will be further reduced and folks will not be able to sustain their families. On the good side, as a few indicators of prosperity, most of the houses of landholders are of now made of bricks with concrete roof. With an approximate population of 2000, Pipra can boast of having about 45 tractors and even 2 harvesters. Some 50 family also own motorcycles, and some 20 use TV powered by solar battery that also powers light bulbs at night since there still is no electricity. Quite a number of families have their own toilets. Surprising as it may sound, but even in this 21st century, their are folks in Pipra (both men and women) who still use open fields as their personal restrooms. Needless to say, during monsoon season, the situation gets worse.
With modern equipments like tractors and harvestors available, the possibility of employment in farming work has reduced tremendously. Today it is very uncommon for the land owners to engage manual workers. In the old days, a lot of people were engaged in farming, the exact number varying with the amount of land available for cultivation on yearly contract. Today with harvestors around, most of the manual work earlier done by workers in the past is carried out by these machines. Agents of Mill-owners buy and carry away the grains straight from the machine’s outlet on trucks and tractors. Today, you will not see any bullocks being used for ploughing or any other type of work. Folks in the village use cows and buffalos mainly for their milk these days. However, households are finding it more and more difficult to keep them. To make matters worse, there is no milk collection facility through any dairy nearby. In other words, families cannot enhance their monthly earning by selling their extra milk. Reality is that besides a total of 2 months in a year, folks in Pipra basically sit idle and have nothing much to do.
Pipra does have a primary school. However, the teacher remains missing for most of the time. Even though salary of school teachers has increased substantially, salary of primary school teachers remains pathetic to say the least. Moreover these teachers are not as sincere or knowledgable as the teachers of our days. It would be a fair assessment that this is the state of affairs in most (if not all) government jobs. More surprising and worrying thing about this is that parents are not at all enthusiastic about the education of their children due to lack of employment prospects. However, mothers today are very keen to get their daughters educated although the reasons are not exemplary. See the idea here is educated girls have a better chance at getting a decent bridegroom for themselves.
In the 70s, two students from Pipra got into engineering colleges, graduated, and got employed in respectable companies near. However, no one since has faired very well in pursuing higher education dreams. On top of it, the elders of the village seem to have poor opinions about those two engineers as well. Turns out, these two were not smart enough to have have earned enough through ‘ooparee amadani’ (under table transactions). As a result, not a lot (or atleast not enough) was reinvested back into Pipra in the form of big houses or lands. The fact is people who leave their homes in villages like Pipra and make a life for themselves in big cities never come back and share/reinvest in the success of the village.
The other day, on my regular morning walk, I met some youngsters who were running on the banks of a newly built canal near my house in Noida (near New Delhi). I intitiated a conversation with them. I was interested in knowing what they were ‘exercising’ for. They said that they were practicing with the hope of joining Indian defense or police force. They went on to say that while being fit is definitely important to seek their goals, what’s really needed is a huge sum of money to be paid to some agents thereby ensuring their selection. I was disappointed. This corruption in the system is cheating many deserving candidates out of well deserved jobs. For many unscrupulous persons, this has become the a very lucrative business.
What can be done to engage more people in useful and productive activities in villages? What can be done to get electricity in the village? What can be done to get roads repaired and to keep the same in good condition as are found in big cities? What can be done to improve the quality of life in villages like Pipra so that successful individuals retire and come back and spend their retirement fortune in their village?
Why can’t some one take a lead and start a weekly market in some open space which is easily available? Why can’t some one take a lead and get engaged in poultry and piggery? Why can’t someone start more dairy farms in villages so that some more people get engaged in the business of milk and related products? Why is it that the farmers don’t switch over to vegetables and some fruits? Perhaps all this requires a changed mindset and new inititiatives by some good NGOs or dedicated persons from government agencies. The answer to our problem is not to have more and more villages like Pipra get abandoned and everyone moves to some big cities. Villages like Pipra are not few and far between that they can be ignored. The country needs a comprehensive strategy if they want this insane exodus from villages to big cities to stop. This is not helping anyone – not every individual makes it “big” in a city, cities are becoming more crowded and villages (and the few that stay back) are getting more and more isolated from the main stream.
A Shining India is ludicrous if Rural India and those who live there are not made an integral part of the country’s future goals and ambitions. As I alluded to earlier, people living in these villages form a huge chunk of our nation and anything which improves their living conditions, their prospects, ensures that their aspirations are met in their very own backyard will be good for them, the village’s economy, the economy of the big cities and the economy of the country as a whole.
Perhaps the Prime Minister of the country must make this his mission – “RE-FOCUS ON OUR VILLAGES AND MAKE IT ATTRACTIVE FOR PEOPLE (FROM OUTSIDE AND INSIDE) TO INVEST AND COME STAY’. He may even create a new ministry headed by the most acceptable and effective member of his team.