Solar Power, Sanitation, Empowerment & More: Stories From 7 Of India’s Most Progressive Villages

Solar Power, Sanitation, Empowerment & More: Stories From 7 Of India’s Most Progressive Villages

Psychologists and neuro-scientists often discuss the popular theory of how our brain creates its versions of reality. The overwhelming stimuli in the world is countered with confirmation bias and an elimination of what we perceive to be inessential to offer a narrow look at the world. Emotionally and socially speaking too, we form our own comfortable bubbles to settle and live in. This, however, cannot be an excuse which can be put forth when we question why rural India suffers a dearth of serious reportage and discussion.

With 68% of the Indian population residing in rural areas, a serious and fair reportage would show urban stories owning a minority stake in the public landscape rather than vice-versa. But for some inexplicable reason, the importance of rural India's voice seems to only be brought up in times of crisis, such as farmer suicides, natural or man-made tragedies, or sparse silver lining stories. More than 700 million lives and their stories are reduced to a set of issues and news-points, failing to capture any larger narrative.

Few initiatives like P. Sainath's People's Archive Of Rural India are changing our assumptions and conversation around rural life. In the past, we’ve chronicled a few other initiatives too which are changing the face of rural journalism and story-telling, and it's thanks to such path-breaking initiatives that we are able to present to you some of the most progressive and ground-breaking villages in India. From geek haven with free WiFi to pioneers in sustainable living, India's villages have much more to offer than the traditional stereotype of quaint, simple living.

I. Bekkinakeri, Karnataka - The Village Which Combated Open Defecation With Humour And 'Good Morning'

Image Source: World Bank
Image Source: World Bank

“He gave tips from the 'good morning' programme to eradicate open defecation practice,”

Image Source: World Bank

II. Mawlynnong, Meghalaya - Asia’s Cleanest Village Which Happens To Be In India

Image Source: Wikipedia
Mawlynnong, Swacch Bharat, Clean India

III. Dharnai, Bihar - India’s First Fully Solar-Powered Village

As the news of Greenpeace being placed on severe restrictions in India and possibly facing bankruptcy of funds trickles in, the reminder of Dharnai’s story will surely put you in a predicament if you have suspected the NGO of having unsavoury intentions.

Dharnai in Bihar shared the story of an atypical Indian village with dearth of electricity which was compensated through the use of diesel-based generators and cow-dung. The burning of solid fuels such as these are found to be hazardous to the health of the community, with 4 million people suffering premature deaths due to the household air pollution.

Greenpeace India partnered with Basix and Ceed to bring in a unique solution to this problem. With the support of the villagers behind them, Greenpeace installed a solar-powered 100 kilowatt micro-grid to meet the entire energy requirement of the village which includes 450 houses, 50 commercial buildings, 2 schools, 60 street lights, 1 health centre and 1 Kisan training centre. The system was put on test for two months and finally inaugurated in July 2014, thereby making Dharnai declare complete energy independence.

Image Source: Dharnai Live
Image Source: Dharnai Live

IV. Hiwari Bazar, Maharashtra - A Village Full Of Millionaires In A Water Conservation and Entrepreneurial Success

Popatrao Pawar Image Source: Tehelka

Pawar began by convincing the villagers that alcohol was responsible for making them poor and addicted and that the 22 liquor shops in the village needed to be shut down.  “Ours was a simple village with happy families. But lack of water turned our fields barren. Out of desperation, people started to drink, gamble and fight. Liquor had ruined us. When the illicit dens were closed, we knew there was hope,” 71-year-old Laxman Pawar remembers. He got the Gram Sabha to tie up with Bank Of Maharashtra and extend loans to poor families including those who used to previously make illicit liquor. But the biggest turnaround came from his water harvesting and conservation efforts.

With the idea of extracting every raindrop as it fell, he got the villagers to take part in a voluntary program under which they constructed 52 earthen bunds, two percolation tanks, 32 stone bunds and nine check dams. The use of state funds alone allowed the village to create resources for a water conservation effort which has transformed and enriched their lives. From 60 wells in 1995, Hiware had 194 wells in 2012 and from a per-capita income of Rs 830 in 1995, the per-capita income in Hiware stood at Rs. 30,000 in 2012 with 60 millionaires in the population of around 1,250 and a drive to alleviate the few Below Poverty Lines family in the village.

The water conservation and community cooperation has been closely followed by progressive gender equality reform, focus on education, religious harmony, a focus on health and family planning and a step towards energy solutions like Solar Power. Hiware Bazar now stands as one of the most remarkable examples of model Indian village and perhaps, even city.

The Watershed At Hiware Bazar

V. Punsari, Gujarat - The Model Village With WiFi

Image Source: Arabian Business

The media savvy Sarpanch and the village council have spent close to 14 crores from 2006-12 in development schemes, supported by selling off some plots of the village to certain schemes and an efficient management of the coffers, which have handsomely paid off. The village boasts of 24/7 running water and electricity alongwith being completely Wi-Fi enabled. There are CCTV cameras installed to manage the security of the town through a modern committee office. The two Wi-Fi enabled primary schools in the village boast of a record of no-school dropouts while the CCTV footage from the schools and the village is monitored by Patel from his IPhone. Besides this, the village has a proper drainage system with each house having a toilet, a primary health centre and streetlights.

In fact, Himanshu proudly states that the village offers 'the amenities of a city, but the spirit of a village'; we couldn’t agree more.

Changemaker Himanshu Patel
Changemaker Himanshu Patel Image Source: New India Express

VI. Mathur And Hosahalli, Karanataka - Two Villages On Vedic Terms Where Sanskrit Is Still Spoken.

Sanskrit,village, India, Mattur
Sanskrit,village, India, Mattur

The Brahmin and Vedic village will pique your interest even further when you learn about two brothers and a dedicated team which are proficient in CAD/CAM and computers and use it to interpret the palm and Shulba Scripts to decipher the bricks and other requirements for yagnas. The brothers are also dedicated to translating, interpreting and preserving the Sanskrit knowledge, where one will come across a reference to the Pythagoras theorem, something we talked about in India’s scientific glory. Infact, Mathur is credited with producing 30 Sanskrit Professors who are teaching in Kuvempu, Bengaluru, Mysore and Mangalore Universities.

While there are conflicting camps presently about propagating Sanskrit, either through re-interpretation and connection to the existing languages of the laymen or a puritanical view which insists that the language be taught as it is, the efforts of Mathur and Hosahalli Brahmins deserve to be recognised, if not exactly emulated. Considering they are blatant propagators of the caste system, we cannot entirely condone their placement in a compilation of progressiveness but there are aspects of their society that do deserve to be labelled as such. At a time where political and cultural leaders are busy trying to score points using Sanskrit, few can claim their true efforts in the interest of the language as these twin Kannadiga villages.

VII.  Kovalam, Tamil Nadu - A Village Which Surfs

Kovalam and the story of Murthy represents one of the most unique features on this list for the mention of one activity we don't associate India with enough - surfing. A continuation of sorts of our earlier story on the Covelong festival, Murthy Megavam yet again enters our article but this time as a pioneer who took his personal passion for surfing and spread it across his village.

Murthy was always drawn to the sea and like most boys in the village, he accompanied his father to go fishing so that he could stay close to his love. The common playing with waves changed when he saw a Sadhu surfing in 2001 and borrowed his surf board. Murthy has not stopped since - whether its borrowing surfboards of friends to interacting with the tourists and other like-minded surfers who come to the region.

Murthy Megavan- The Changemaking Surfer
Murthy Megavan- The Changemaking Surfer

With support from Arun Vasu, he started the Covelong Surf School in 2012 and has taught more than 1,000 people from all around the country on how to master the waves. But what Murthy is most proud of is how he and his friends have used the school as a tool for transforming lives. The team has reduced alcoholism, drug abuse in the community and regularly clean the beaches as well as assist the mentally ill people on the streets. They have even donated rupees 1.5 lakhs from the school’s earnings to educate children from agricultural families as well as conducted eye and health camps.

As traditional fishing is being challenged in Kovalam with the big trawlers taking up most of the catch and the fishermen being unable to go in the deep seas, surfing has emerged as Kovalam’s new identity. Murthy hopes that the way forward lies in establishment of cafes, homestays, food stalls and fishing rides along the beach as surfing in the village continues to attract scores of people.

Kovalam, surfing,India, Indian villages
Kovalam, surfing,India, Indian villages