Toward a Unified Metaphysical Understanding: Hope in the midst of loss - An inspiring story    
 Hope in the midst of loss - An inspiring story
2007-07-10, by John Ringland

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I've been busy building a system theoretic ontology in OWL - I doubt if that'll make sense to many people - I'll explain another time - but below is a very uplifting story I came upon on the net here - it's also a great metaphor for many things.

Hope in the midst of loss

[This is the story of] the river Arvari - which till the early Nineties had dried up. Today, it flows quietly in the scorching heat, despite scanty rainfall during the past three years.

How the people of Rajasthan, which has no perennial river running through the State, brought back dead rivers - Rupa, Sarsa and Arvari in Alwar districts - to life for their own benefit is a story that needs to be told and retold, as a lesson to others in practising simple traditional wisdom.

It is a story of people who did not give up facing the environmental problems in their area - chronic drought, degraded land, distress migration and poverty. Neither did they get bogged down by the administration.

The ecosystem of the Aravalli range, which earlier sustained the region, has been ravaged since the Seventies. Monsoon run-off washed away the top soil, crops failed regularly, women trudged long distances to fetch a mere pot-ful of water, not a single blade of grass could be seen for grazing cattle, aquifers emptied. Through the Seventies and Eighties, Aravalli lost 40 per cent of its forest cover and each year, four per cent of the Aravallis was becoming a wasteland, according to reports.

The fate of the entire region was such that, recall old-timers, the richest and the poorest of the villages were the same as far as their economic condition was concerned. Ecological destruction had caused economic and social degradation. Yet nothing was more dramatic than the transformation of the villages along the banks of the dried up Arvari in the following years.

It was in October 1985, when five young men arrived from Jaipur to Kishori village in Thanagazi Block in Alwar district - declared a "dark zone" by the State then, owing to lack of water. They belonged to Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS), and NGO. Though not quite realising it the men had actually come to the right place at the right time.

Talking to The Hindu, the TBS secretary, Mr. Rajendra Singh, reminisced: "It was like coming to a battlefield, not knowing whom to fight. Then Mangu Ram Patel, an elderly man from nearby Gopalapura village, told us to talk less, dig tanks and build johads to get results."

It was an eye-opener for TBS representatives. Before they lost rights over their common lands and forests, the people of the region had a rich tradition of building johads - small earthen check-dams which capture and conserve rain water, improve percolation and recharge groundwater. The tradition was still alive in the collective subconscious, but yet no one was willing to come forward and help.

For six months, 15 members of TBS worked up the first talab (pond) and only after it got filled up with rainwater were people convinced, and word spread like wildfire in all neighbouring villages. Since then, TBS - which acts more as a facilitator now - with the help of villagers, has constructed 3,500 such water- harvesting structures in 650 villages of Alwar.

Between 1992 and 1997, the region received good rain and the direct result of conserving water in johads brought life to the rivers of the district. The Arvari, particularly, has become a lifeline now, helping locals contradict the myth that the present precarious drought situation is due to the failure of the monsoon alone. For those who judiciously harvested water, there is no drought - be it Rajasthan, Gujarat or Madhya Pradesh.

According to Mr. Rajendra Singh, despite poor monsoons since 1997, the basin of the Arvari has discovered perennial water, prosperity and abundance which is seeing the people through difficult times now. As against only seven per cent in 1985, the entire agricultural land is under cultivation now, while the milk production has increased ten fold. "Every single rupee invested in a johad, increases the annual income of the village by four times," he said.

The people have shown that without any Government support, they have rejuvenated a degraded landscape. They have shown that good water management means prosperity. It took only 20 per cent of the trapped rainwater to regenerate the place and revive the river.

Strict rules have been self-imposed to use both ground and river water. Water intensive crops like sugarcane are not allowed. To ensure that the Arvari remains clean and to solve any dispute, 70 villages have come together to form the Arvari Parliament.

Today, in all aspects, Alwar district comes across as a huge success story. "But then it was not without its share of hurdles," pointed out Mr. Rajendra Singh. If at all the Government did anything, it only created obstacles. In 1985, when the TBS volunteers constructed the first-ever johad in Gopalapura village, the State Irrigation Department immediately served a notice for "committting an illegal act" because under the law, all streams and rivers are owned by the State.

Later when TBS motivated the villagers to plant trees in the upper part of johad's watershed to prevent it from getting silted up, the State Revenue Department slapped a fine of Rs. 5,000 for illegally planting trees on its land.

Yet again, when the Arvari regained full flow and the ecology improved, the State Fisheries Department banned villagers for fishing but allowed private contractors. But each time the villagers persisted, fought and won because it was they who had earned everything for themselves.

The story of Bhaonta-Kolyala and its neighbouring villages only proves that the marginalised should not wait for a tragedy. The poor should not always have to pay a price for the Government's constant search for ineffective mega-solutions and critical neglect of micro-problems. The people only need to be given a sense of hope to achieve the impossible. Alwar's landscape, today, dotted with waterbodies and flowing rivers, is not a mirage in the desert. It is a reality to be made an example of.

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