The Shivganga movement and Jhabua’s water problem

[cmsmasters_row][cmsmasters_column data_width=”1/1″][cmsmasters_text animation_delay=”0″]   The ShivGanga NGO, independent from the usual Missionary or Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram (the Hindu nationalist tribal front) networks, has come about as an answer to the Jhabua district’s grave water problems, which made life difficult for the local Bhil/Bilala tribals. Basing material self-reliance on cultural self-respect, the movement makes use of the tribals’ own cultural resources to motivate them for village development. So, for “harvesting” water, it lets the villagers take inspiration from the myth of Shiva’s blessings to Bhagirath bringing the Ganga down to earth, applying each of its motifs to the various aspects of development, e.g. labelling the required technology as Jata (Shiva’s matted hair). It is one of the more successful among tribal development schemes. Jhabua is a tribal-dominated district in westernmost Madhya Pradesh. Unlike some tribes who lived in isolation until recently and were culturally quite distinct from Hindu society, the Bhil and Bilala tribes (more than 87% of Jhabua’s population), living near the Vedic heartland, has been in touch with the Brahmanical culture since Mahabharata times. As a consequence, their religion is partly specific to them, partly generally Hindu. There is also a Christian minority, though the process of conversions has largely stopped. The tribals have a profound cultural heritage, including religious and social rituals, traditions, arts, crafts and human values. During the British Raj and after Independence, there has been a systematic effort to culturally neglect and economically exploit this innocent population. A tangible problem for the population is the paucity of water, with lowering underground water levels and the waste of otherwise opulent rainwater (+900 mm/year) making life ever more difficult. Most of the rainwater is drained out because of the hilly terrain and rocky soil, leaving the area dry for 6-8 months of a year. The major hurdle in the development of that region is the non-availability of water for cultivation and other purposes, partly due to deforestation. As there is no provision to retain this rainwater, the villagers who are basically small cultivators can take only one crop a year. As there is no other source of income, hundreds of thousands of villagers have to displace themselves temporarily to neighbouring cities to work as labourers for their livelihood. This aggravates the problem of the children’s lack of education, poor health care facilities and other social evils.
The Shivganga Samagra Gramvikas Parishad (SSGP, Shivganga All-Round Village Development Council) makes use of the tribals’ own cultural resources to motivate them to develop. It seeks to establish social leadership of young trained development workers from among the locals during cultural and traditional festivals. Training is given in 3-day camps locally and 7-day camps in the nearby cities of Indore and Bhopal (Vananchal Sashaktikaran Varga), making them Paramarthi-s (“spiritual leaders”). They learn village organization, setting up cultural activities, and how to identify and solve problems; so far-reaching 6000 youth from 700 villages. Advanced training consists of visits to the Police Station, Court, various offices etc., to learn how to deal with officialdom. Gifted youngsters are given further training at an engineering college in Indore. Consequently, they, along with villagers decide their developmental priorities and work together. Thus the motivated villagers join SSGP and conduct developmental activities like constructing water bodies, organizing training camps for skill development, organic farming etc. For mass awareness and education, village libraries are established. The result is that Gram (village) engineers, in consultation with the villagers, make a plan of rainwater conservation and rainwater harvesting. The villagers take an oath to work voluntarily for water conservation. During the months of April and May, thousands of villagers join hands to work together for over two months continuously. A Jalayatra (“foot march for water”) is organized every year in Jhabua to increase the awareness of the need for water conservation and harvesting. Thousands of tribals march on foot around the city with Geti (pickaxe) and Favda (shovel) to motivate other people to work for water conservation. A yearly event of coming together and working together for rainwater harvesting called Halma is being organized since 2010 at Hatipawa hills, Jhabua.In 2010 more than 1500 volunteers, in 2011 more than 8000 village volunteers and in 2012 more than 12000 volunteers worked together, with the inspiration of Parmartha Bhava (“spirituality”). The SSGP is independent of the usual Missionary or Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram (the Hindu nationalist tribal front) networks and receives no money from abroad. It is exclusively rooted in Western Madhya Pradesh, i.e. Jhabua itself and the nearby Indore area.