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The Oasis of Ralegaon Sidhi
Nana Patekar's move to help repay the debts of drought stricken farmers in Marathwada and the move of Aamir Khan to adopt two villages through his Pani Foundation reminds me of Anna Hazare's pioneering work to contain drought decades back.

We know Anna in recent years more for his India Against Corruption movement, which helped in birth of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), now in power in Delhi. But far older and possibly more enduring legacy is his work in his native village of Ralegaon Siddhi near Ahmednagar, once as drought-prone as large parts of Maharashtra today, receiving very little rainfall in a place where temperatures can reach 44 degrees in the summer months.

When Anna Hazare returned here after retiring from the army as a Havildar and a truck driver after surviving a near fatal accident, he believed that God had spared his life for a purpose. This was 1975 and Ralegaon Siddhi was a place of poverty and hopelessness.

The consequence of the abuse of the village's natural resources joined with water shortages and soil degradation was that this small village of about 2,500 people, mostly farmers, was no more suited to agriculture. There was no industry nearby and alternate employment opportunities were nil. This led to a situation where 70 per cent of the households in the village were living below the poverty level and also led to people having to struggle to find drinking water during part of the year.

Also because fodder wasn't to be found, raising livestock was not a possibility either and this added to their struggle. People borrowed substantial sums of money where they could, promising to pay it back, but often they were not able to and went into a cycle of debt, not unlike what is being seen today. A lot of consequent problems arose too.

One was distress migration. Drought stricken farmers started leaving Ralegaon Siddhi in search for employment and the possibility of earning a living elsewhere, a logical choice given the situation they were in. Those who stayed back were made to work long hours for a paltry pay. Alcoholism was rampant and brought more poverty for those who stayed back. This led to vandalism, fighting, theft and a sharp rise in domestic violence.

Society was breaking down. Children weren't being educated. Local government officials, quick to seize an opportunity became corrupt; taking money that was sent by the government as aid and assistance and keeping it for themselves.

How Anna addressed these multiple problems to convert it into a virtual Oasis in the middle of nowhere with a mix of Gandhian doggedness, paternal discipline and setting a personal example is a long story, but it demonstrates that broken societies and systems can be reformed and made to work if there is enough public demand for change and a determined and committed leadership to work to bring about change.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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