Gandhian model of sustainability which emphasizes a lot on village based development and sustainability pathways provoked thoughts on me after completion of readings of some of the research literature on life and activities of Gandhi. Though many of his experimental practices can be criticized and not accepted by my inner self but it still intrigued a cherished desire of going and travelling to villages of India in a bullock cart. My left part of the mind was associating a journey to Indian villages through bullock cart as a metaphor of a road to sustainability. But the law of association was not completely implemented. The travel to the villages with the spirit of “Mera/Humhara Gao, Mera/Humhara Desh” happened. But it was not in a bullock cart but rather in a Tata Indica.
The travel itself taught so many principles of sustainability and like always opened the real institutional schooling for me. My colleague, friend Saswata and I used to start a day’s travel in an INDICA from 9.30 a.m. in the morning that ended in the evening. While going through the well maintained highways, we found out how natural compartments of boilers have been made by villagers on the roadside. In these boilers, agri residues are being burnt to provide the heat that is used for making gur, jaggeries on the road side. Three different levels of temperature blocks are maintained where the agri residues are used to provide different levels of heating. The raw sugarcane juice is going through these three sets of heating procedure after which edible colours are mixed to form “Gurs”. The colour of the juice was changing as the pure raw sugarcane juice was passing through the three sets of treatment process at different boiling temperatures. Saswata and I had the sugarcane juice as well as the “Gur”.
Saswata came up with an idea that if the emissions from this residue burning could be reduced by burning lesser amount of agri residues. Some of the heat source from agri residues can be replaced by solar and other forms of renewable energy. The road side “Desi” “Gur” unit was having a chimney too from which emissions were coming out. I was thinking whether solar energy potential for the place is enough to generate enough heat that is required in the entire process dealing with the conversion of juice to gur. Still, had a feeling that a part of the heat energy can come from solar energy.
May be the first step of juice to gur conversion using certain amount of heat from a certain temperature (which is the lower one in the three stage process – with each subsequent stage having a higher temperature than the earlier one) can be carried out with the energy provision from renewable energy sources like solar. This can reduce the use of agri residues and can help in subsequent fall in the amount of burning of agri residues. The principle used was so simple that it made me feel that science close to nature is smooth and appealing at the same time.
Daily proceedings of a production process is also guided by the streams and principles of science that are embedded in nature itself. Often, we from the city, through our cosmopolitan, speculative and interventionist nature make the working principles complicated which are simple in the lap of the gift of nature.
We met farmers with different levels of landholding starting from 2 acres to 20 acres of land. They told us what are the crops they are growing. Crops grown are mostly rice, wheat and also in some places people have moved towards mixed farming and growing potato, flowers, cauliflowers along with rice and wheat. Most of the farmers are well off and own consumer goods like freeze, car, motorcycle. They are living in their “Pacca” ancestral houses also and getting engaged in businesses and often managing their living through sale of milk and dairy products.
Farmers lease out land and also employ labourers in their fields at wages that are determined in the panchayat/gram sabhas. There is no intervention of the panchayat in the daily farming activities. Farmers have freedom in taking their own decisions and manage farming in their own ways. There is participation of female members as well as from Schedule Cast in the Panchayat though a sense of male domination in the decision making of households, farming was felt.
The reason why I am iterating these facts are because sustainability which has the domains of social, economic and governance were addressed in a mixed way as found through the field visits. These villages in Punjab are doing well in terms of their economic, governance indicators. Gender balance also started coming in the local level governance units because of government introduced policy of woman participation at the Panchayat. However in terms of land entitlements, there is a bias. Most of the land entitlements are in the name of the male members of the family. Women are married at an early age and so the land is always in the name of a male member which is passed on to them through an ancestral lineage. So there is a scope of gender empowerment in the village society of Punjab.
The best part of the villages is that they are well connected to highway through roads running in between the rice, wheat and farming fields. This reduces the transportation cost of taking the produce from the farmer field to the nearby mandis. Good road infrastructure immediately thereby has a curtailing effect on the dominance of middlemen between the farmers and mandis. Most of the farmers are taking their produce to the Mandis by themselves which reassured our above intuition. The farmers are also realizing good declared prices of the government for their agricultural produce that they are carrying to the Mandis.
The farmers also stated about their good health condition and satisfaction, happiness regarding the school and health care services that are very nearby to their houses. Many of the healthcare provisions are coming from private health care centres which are nearby to these villages.
However in one of the domains of sustainability viz. environment, some lacunae could be found. Most of the farmers expressed about the reduction in the water levels every year which is enhancing their motorized drilling costs. On an average there has been a drop of 2 feet water level every year. In some villages the water has gone down to 40 feet below the ground.
Some of the farmers with low land holding also suggested the expenses for motorized drilling have gone up substantially due to fall in the water level. Many times, they are not able to match this rise in expenses through the income from sale of agricultural crops and livestock products. This is a need of concern for future.
But there were brighter pictures that were offered to us in this “Road to Sustainability”of us through the Indica. We travelled as far as Wagah Border and went to a place called “Attari”. On way we stopped in the “Golden Temple” and “Jalianwalabagh”. What I liked about “Golden Temple” was the absence of any security checking in the religious place. In today’s violent terrorism stricken world, security checks often shout at us about lack of trust, faith that over the years we as human beings have bestowed on humanity. But an absence of it in the “Golden Temple” made me feel happy and enjoy a sense of freedom generated from the positive spirits of humanity. The “Sangeet” and the spirit added to the serenity in the mind and helped in an emotional upliftment while we visited “Golden Temple”. Just very near to this, Jalianwalabagh reminded us of brutal forces that jeopardized the social terrains of sustainability and humanity way back during our freedom struggle. We did not stop in the lanes of history for long and moved on towards the Wagah border where more facts addressing sustainability was waiting for us.
We saw the first international station of India viz. Attari where the train from Pakistan comes and enters the Indian territory. Luck was on our side and we actually saw a train with passengers from Pakistan. They waved hands to us and we also did that in return to that. Gradually we moved near the barricaded nomans land that doesnot belong to India and Pakistan. The flag of our neighbouring country was flying in front of me and I was not able to accept that some metres ahead it was a different country although it seemed to me the same in all respects. Trucks from Pakistan were unloading salt and the ones from India were unloading vegetables. I was convinced with the fact that this exchange is so crucial for the sustainability of both the nations. The emotional vibrations of the people waving hands from the train made the feelings stronger. Parallely, it raised the conflicts of the various identities within me. The self within me was not ready to accept that there is a different nation out there in the other side of the boundary which is so similar to the geographical features of this side of the boundary. Whereas the national, external identities, objects outside was continuously saying that another nation exists. I was thinking how a balance has to be created within the two even to bring in sustainability in the thinking process of the humanity. While I was lost in this, the conscious mind realized that we have to come back to Jalandhar to catch hold of our train. The travelogue pages ended over there.
This travel opened many doors, questions and brought in answers also in the working areas of sustainability. The only pinch of salt was that I got those answers through the mechanism of travelling in an exosomatic, mechanized transport – “Tata Indica” but not in a bullock cart. May be the answer for future sustainability models lie in this balancing of exosomatic, mechanized dependence of human race along with the essential gifts of nature.