The Making of an Authority: Anna Hazare in Ralegan Siddhi
(I am posting a much longer version of my previous article that will also respond to some of the queries and comments. This article is based on my research, field work and interviews in Ralegan Sidhi since 1991.)
This article is focussed mainly on understanding how exactly the rural environmental works in the journey of Anna Hazare and Ralegan Sidhi are articulated within a coherent ideological framework, to acquire their legitimacy and authority, which are fed by, and fed into, some dominant political cultures of the state. Any political theory and practice, built on this framework, can open the possibilities of a strengthening of the conservative and nationalist forces. Certainly, the ideology of a rural organisation or a movement and its appeal is not based on a single plank. In the case of Anna Hazare and his programme, though the developmental and the environmental works form the core of its ideological structures, it includes other issues as well. At times it provides a different scale of activities to its audience, but eventually reinforces its principal ideological framework. Some understanding of the ideological DNA of the green villagers and the fellow environmental travellers also gives us an idea as to what elements of this endeavour and ideology motivate villagers and environmentalists.
The Historical Context of Maharashtra
Anna Hazare and Ralegan Siddhi are not a new addition to the social history of the Maharashtra state. Indeed, the movement has borrowed many features from the historical evolution of the region, and the political culture of the state, with which it negotiates at different levels. There are many factors at play, though three are of prime importance in the context of this paper: (i) nativism and regionalism in Maharashtrian culture and politics (ii) structure and nature of caste and class and (iii) agrarian economy and local environmentalism.
(i) In his pioneering work on Shiv Sena in Mumbai, Dipankar Gupta gives an overview of the nativism in the culture and politics of Maharashtra. He shows how the popularity and mass appeal of Samayukta Maharashtra Samithi (SMS) and Shiv Sena were made possible by relying on certain dominant sentiments among the Maharashtrians, especially regarding the exclusiveness and superiority of their culture and history. The Maratha empire of 18th century became not only a bastion of Hinduism, the Hindu pad padshahi, but was also the last haven for the indigenous population. In the early 20th century, it was initially under the leadership of Gopal Krishna Gokhale and later under Lokmanya Tilak, who revived Ganpati and Shivaji festivals, that the Maharashtrians tried to reassert themselves in the mainstream of India’s national and political life by reemphasizing the high points of Maharashtrian history. The SMS and Shiv Sena systematically tapped these sentiments. Shivaji was especially glorified and became a public God and hero. Religious public festivals, particularly the Ganpati festival, have also supplied a strong input in the creation of Maharashtra’s cultural identity since the 1890s. Ganpati was an ‘overcomer of obstacles’ and thus was a useful symbol for a protest movement. In contemporary India, the event has become a focal point for community and national identities in the making.
(ii) Western India under the Peshwa rule was a religiously hierarchical society. British rule reinforced caste inequalities by adding to the older religious authority of Brahmans a formidable new range of administrative and political powers. The nineteenth century also witnessed strong social movements of the low and middle castes against the upper caste dominance. The present jati pyramid of Maharashtra is composed of Brahmins, elite Marathas claiming Kshatriya ancestry, peasant Marathas (often known as Kunbis), artisan and service jatis, and Dalits such as Mahars. In a majority of the villages, Marathas are the dominant hegemonic caste and class, controlling economic and social orders. Estimates claim the Maratha-Kunbi cluster to be about 50 per cent in rural Maharashtra. They have used the policy processes of pluralist democracy to their maximum advantage.
(iii) It is partially possible to explain Maharashtra’s distinct culture on the basis of cultural ecology. The region witnessed a flowering of its culture when the environment was congenial, and the quality of life deteriorated when conditions were adverse. Other than the plateau like morphology, a significant feature of the state is the rainfall, as variability is high and droughts are common. Land reforms in the state were taken up in two phases – before 1965 and in the early 1970s. However, the implementation process was not only tardy; it revealed many imperfections. Uneven regional development, emergence of a class of rural elites and active social movements of peasants are other characteristics determining the rural polity of the state. Cooperatives, panchayats and educational institutions in villages are dominated by rich Marathas. They act as patrons, extending help in employment, benefits of government programmes and providing few positions in local bodies. Those who receive help feel subservient to them.
In India, various environmental movements, particularly since the 1970s, have been born in this rural environment. Some inspiring and persuasive leaders on the ground have emerged in the process. In Maharashtra, from Phule to Ambedkar and Baba Amte, from the protection of sacred groves in village Gani of Shrivardhan taluk to the building of Baliraja dam in Tandulwadi village of Sangli district, there have been several instances of rural local environmentalism. These historical complexities provide a background for the movement of Anna Hazare.
Ralegan Siddhi and Anna Hazare: A Profile
Ralegan Siddhi and its leader Anna Hazare are widely hailed. According to Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain, Anna Hazare has emerged as one of India’s leading environmental warrior. Another study says that social development towards an ethical and egalitarian society has preceded as well as accompanied development in Ralegan. Anna Hazare has received the Padmashree and Padmabhushan Awards, and others like Krishi Bhushan and Vasantrao Naik Award. Today Ralegan Siddhi village, in the Ahmadnagar district, looks fresh and green in an otherwise hilly, dry and dusty region. Ahmadnagar district, one of the largest in the area, is situated partly in the upper Godavari basin and partly in the Bhima basin. It has a total area of 17,035 square kms, number of 776,787 households and a population of 4,040,642, out of which the rural population is 3,236,945. Climatically, most of the district receives a precarious rainfall of 500-600 cms. Practically it falls within a chronic scarcity zone in which acute shortage of food and odder is a repeated occurrence once in three to eight years.
Ralegan Siddhi has a population of 2317, and 434 households. The total SC and ST population is 171 and 32 respectively. The caste composition of the village, consisting of 310 families, has always been even: except for 46 families of scheduled castes, all others are Marathas. The total geographical area of the village is 982.31 hectare. The distribution of land holdings is uneven. Out of a total agricultural area of 638.94 hectare, only 30 families have more than four hectares, 62 families have between two to four hectares and all the rest have either one or two hectares or no land. However, everyone had been suffering due to a lack of irrigation water and scanty agriculture. There were a few wells, which could irrigate only a few hectares of land.
However, under the leadership of Anna Hazare, the village evolved a different path of watershed development. Villagers constructed storage ponds/reservoirs and nala bunds in a series, along the 30 to 45 meter high hills, surrounding the village. Nala bunds were of different kinds, big and small, open and underground. Between these, extensive plantation was done. Soon the hills and the nearby areas were all covered with bunds, trenches, nalas and plants. In short, 31 nala bunds were done, with a storage capacity estimated at 2,82,182 cubic meters and covering an area of 605 hectares. Four lakh trees have been planted until date.
‘Water should not be seen on the surface, it should be caught hold and kept below’, was the guiding principle, in the words of Anna. Positive results were soon visible. The area of agriculture and yield increased, and the groundwater level, which was 100 feet down, came up to 40-50 feet. The wells and ponds also were filled and now even in a year without rain, the village is not without water. Shramshakti dwara Gramin Vikas (Rural Development through Labour) has been Anna’s slogan in all these years, which is now being appropriated by the state government, to design a rural development programme for the entire state.
We witnessed in the village several efforts woven around the concept of daan, i.e. offering, by the villagers themselves. The school and its attached hostel building came up due to such efforts. The school children had to offer shramdan as part of their daily curriculum. Thakaram Raut, Headmaster of the Vidyalaya, detailed how every morning children did the cleaning up of some portion of the village. Daan also led to a ‘Grain Bank’ in the village. Mobilising the villagers was an important strategy of Anna Hazare. He encouraged the active participation of people in the planning and decision-making processes of various programmes, so that ‘the village is built through the creative, productive and innovative hard-work of people themselves.’ There were 14 vividh karyakari societies in the village, dealing with forestry, water, co-operative, school, etc. Women ruled the village panchayat, so much so that all nine members of it were women. Santa Bai Maghari, sarpanch of the panchayat spoke about how they were elected unopposed according to the wishes of Anna, as he wanted women to contribute significantly in the village’s development.
The Meaning of Anna Hazare
A middle-aged bachelor clad in khadi, Anna Hazare lives in the village mandir, which he renovated out of his savings, after retiring from the army. ‘God is not in the temple and is realised through work. But the people gather at the temple, to create oneness in their task’, he explains. A person who possesses characteristics of public-spiritedness, honesty, simplicity, and self-sacrifice for the good of the community, and who holds absolute power and command in his village — this is Anna Hazare. His power seems all encompassing and has come through a long and dynamic process of interaction with his village, activists, bureaucracy and government. It is characterised by culture, tradition and religion, and deployment of natural and human resources, including persuasion, coercion, and possibly suppression.
A Belief System
The basis for the authority of Anna comes from a belief system, where the people following him consider it their natural duty to obey, and the exercising person thinks it a natural right to rule. The people justify their belief as rational and absolute, and follow the authority on a stable, durable basis. Ganpat Pidi Aaauti, a former village sarpanch for many years, narrates: ‘Whatever Anna says, we do. The whole village follows his words. Anna’s orders work like the army.’ For another villager, Lakshman Pathare, ‘Annajee is like God. Whatever work he will assign, I will fulfill. Annajee has become my nature, my habit. He is my heart.’
There is an absolute recognition of an authority locally, in several internalised ways. This authority stands on a common ground of moral values, which constitute its ideology. They become the structures of governance, and work as normative regulations, based on a wide consensus. They have a great bearing on the means to be applied and the goals to be achieved. Here they work through a central figure, who strives for social unity. Environmental issues can provide a basis to evolve a common consensus, due to their sheer intensity and appeal in a given situation, and in the process even become hegemonic.
Until 1975, Ralegan was marked by poverty, unemployment, migration, malnutrition, recurring drought and environmental degradation. In this scenario the watershed management programme was intended to be a uniting point that could subside and mix all the contending and conflicting elements into a common will. The Adarsh Gaon Yojana is an attempt ‘to motivate villagers in the selected adarsh (ideal) villages to integrate into their lives the principles of conservation’, remarks Anna.
To forge a common will, an all-pervasive concept of unity becomes a crucial factor for an environmental organisation, which can be created through logic and/or coercion. According to Anna, rural development must become a powerful instrument of national regeneration and for this the village people have to work together with the firm conviction that ‘Our Village Is One Family’. Unity becomes the representative of all interests, substituting all other structures of political institutions. Thus, in most of the villages under the program, for the first time in years the sarpanch of the village has been nominated through consensus. Elections are not welcomed. This is considered a significant step towards removing conflicts within the village and unifying it for development.
History and culture become reference points in the search for a common good. An environmental movement can use the given and accepted cultural symbols of a glorified mythic past to fulfill its needs of the present. They are part of the dominant value system, and can very well fit with the contemporary body politic. Anna declares:
“In olden days, our country had much wealth. We had a great civilisation. Our people were strong. Our villages were the place of mutual love, affinity and closeness. There was a lot of community work. Our mythology gives us a reference of 33 crore Gods…. Now we have lost our national culture, pride and spirit.”
Symbols of the past are referred to functionally:
Great men like Chhatrapati Shivaji could have easily led a luxurious life if he had accepted to be a Sardar of the Mogul kings. But he sacrificed it for the uplift and welfare of the ordinary people.
Force and Punishment
In the process of social transformation, Anna believes, advise, persuasion or counselling do not always work and occasionally force has to be applied. The fear of physical force works. However, it cannot be applied permanently and has to be replaced by a more durable moral force. Anna says that a social worker is like a mother. A mother nurses her child and on his mistakes slaps him. Nobody questions the right of a mother to slap her son/daughter and give punishment to her children. Even the children accept it. Similarly, a social worker cares for the community and selflessly works for their upliftment. Thus, he can occasionally apply force, and the way the community accepts other roles of a social worker, similarly it also takes the punishment.
An environmental authority has to use force to implement its laws, and to hold and strengthen trust in its authority. Force can be applied in many forms, physical and social, and often the simple persistent fear of its application regulates society. Force gives a safe and solid grounding to socially accepted values. Continuous use of force is justified on the ground that it serves a societal goal and a collective will. Its need is also internalised by many people, not only because it is seen as not targeting them, but also because they start believing in its worth. Force becomes an integral part of an environmentally sound and socially harmonious society.
When Anna Hazare started his work in Ralegan, alcoholism was a serious problem among the villagers. There were a number of liquor brewing units in the village. Anna decided to take up the issue, along with the watershed management programme. In a meeting called by him in the village temple, it was resolved to close down the liquor dens and ban the drinking of alcohol in the village. Many brewing units closed down voluntarily after this resolve. It reduced alcoholism, but some villagers continued to drink. Then it was decided that anybody taking liquor would be physically punished. Anna stated that there is a pole in front of the village temple. Many people found to be taking liquor had to be tied up with it and flogged.
It is not only Anna Hazare who proposes flogging and fear as essential parts of a green village; it has its wide audience. A moral authority using force also makes room for a social ethos, where it is put on a high pedestal. It is remarked: ‘Social consciousness against drinking has been raised to such an extent that a drunken person can be brought to the centre of the village and thrashed and no one will object.’ Flogging and fear become a part of everyday life and belief. Not only the authority employing it has the sanction to use it; others legitimise its use. Pathare Bala Sahab Ganpat’s accounts:
“In previous days, there were liquor brewing units in the village. They all are closed now. Annajee gives punishment to those that take liquor. The person is tied to the pole and flogged overnight. The gram sabha has decided to form a group of 25 youth of the village, who can also give this punishment to the drunkards. Only last year, two-three villagers were caught in a drunken state. Annajee and the youth gave them the standard punishment and then handed them over to the police.”
The use of punishment got its expression within the ambit of law and elected representatives. A vice sarpanch of the village, Kailash Pote, says, ‘I was drinking. I was also tied to the pole and flogged two-three times. It is normal. Annajee will try to make you understand once or twice and thereafter, he will beat you badly.’ The need for fear and punishment in the social organisation becomes all-pervasive. Anna states:
“Mere existence of a family planning law does not help; its rigid implementation is warranted. This law should be made applicable to all persons living in India, irrespective of caste or creed and if necessary by force…. We have had the practical experience of need of force while implementing family planning measures in Ralegan Siddhi and hence this conclusion!”
Religion and Religious Symbols
Religion and religious symbols are potent resources for legitimisation of a particular regime and authority. In a so-called environmentally sound ideal village, religion becomes a vehicle for transformation and imposition. Its embodiment in certain places/people legitimizes them. The command-obedience relationship also gets its rationale from the belief that a God or a temple is ‘supreme’ and any decision taken in front of them must be obeyed. An ideal village originates from the temple, the God or their power crystallised in an authority.
Anna Hazare began the village development work along with the rebuilding of the temple, which has been at the centre of his activities. A sense of collective identity had to be achieved and the renovation of a dilapidated temple, out of his savings from the provident fund and gratuity, proved the best way to achieve it. Anna thinks that this gave people an emotional unity, a sense of oneness, of an inner self with God. The village temple slowly turned into a place of village meetings, weddings and other religious ceremonies. A community and family feeling strengthened. In addition, a temple has an atmosphere of purity and sanctity. Decisions taken in a temple are believed to have the sanction of God and people are more likely to follow them.
Anna Hazare uniquely combines many aspects of religion. For him, religion is also ‘spirituality’ and ‘humanity is the core of each religion’. He also propounds that ‘just as we have the concept of God within the four walls of a temple, we have to enlarge this concept to perceive our village and the country as a large temple and the inhabitants therein as almighty Gods. We must worship them as we worship God.’ His God is not only supreme, but also reachable, which can be called, aroused and appropriated for contemporary needs. According to him, Lord Rama set an ideal before every citizen of how to conduct everyday life by his own example. It is possible to reincarnate a familiar, earthy God by a legitimate authority. Anna reiterates, ‘There is need for Lord Shri Krishna to reincarnate and save the country, in the form of united strength of intellectuals of good character active in social work, economic endeavour, religious guidance and politics.’
Rules and Codes
It is not only environmental rules, but also rules governing the entire socio-political life of people that make an authority acceptable. Those who make these rules and those who obey them are legitimate; others illegitimate/illegal. The rules should not only be comprehensive; they should be exercised in the broadest possible way. This is further possible if the rules and their adherence are ensured in an atmosphere of traditional patron-client relations. Anna Hazare is deeply concerned with rules and norms, which according to him, are benchmarks for an activist. He has a definite model for them:
“The daily routine enforced in the army such as getting up early in the morning, the jogging and the physical training thereafter, the cleanliness of body, clothing, living quarters and the neighbourhood etc. led to development of a disciplined life, benefits of which I am availing of even today. The habit of giving due respect and regard to the seniors by age, post, or competence was inculcated in us…This has helped me in conducting the village development work at Ralegan Siddhi according to the rules and regulations decided by us by common consent.”
Others reciprocate this language. Villager H.Y. Mapari, who used to be in the army, says, ‘This village works like an army. As a commandant, Anna orders and we follow.’ Likewise, 43 year old Lakshman Pathare says, ‘I am an army man and my ideology is the same as Annajee. Army’s discipline is the ideal. Obedience is your habit there.’
Five universal rules have evolved out of the developmental experiences in Ralegan. They are nasbandi (restriction of family size), nashabandi (ban on alcohol), charaibandi (ban on free grazing), kurhabandi (ban on tree felling) and shramdan (donation of voluntary labour for community welfare). It is mandatory for the villagers to take oath that they will follow these rules. The path of rural development here depends in a large measure on many other ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. No shop in Ralegan can sell bidis or cigarettes. Film songs and movies are not allowed. Only religious films, like Sant Tuka Ram, Sant Gyaneshwar can be screened. Only religious songs are allowed on loudspeakers at the time of marriages. Says Kailash Pote: ‘Last year a villager, who is a Mahar by caste and a driver by profession, got a dish antenna installed in his house and started watching cable. Anna scolded him severely and he had to apologise.’
Acquiescence is the key word here. People, as an individual and as a collective, give their assent to these rules. They are not always afraid of punishment. The initial persuasion and fear give way to a wilful acceptance. The external manifestation of acceptance is dissolved in internal believing, and the environmental regime in Ralegan thrives on this. It is emphasised in the village that the villagers themselves decided not to sell bidis in their shops; they themselves do not watch films or listen to film songs. However, the language of acquiescence can be highly brahaminical and hegemonic. The narrative of Anna Hazare on the importance of vegetarianism is a case in point. He first contextualises the issue within the Hindu philosophy. After deliberating on how excessive non-vegetarianism has led to human beings shedding their innate peaceful nature and acquiring aggressive and cruel characteristics of animal kingdom, how vegetarian creatures are normally peaceful and lead a harmless life unless provoked, and how our own saints have propagated a vegetarian diet from old times, he goes on to say: “We presented all these considerations to the people of Ralegan Siddhi and they were influenced by this to such an extent that there is no longer anybody who eats meat and all villagers have adopted vegetarian diet.” Dalits too have been targeted here. Says Anna:
“We used to go to their area sometimes and sat in front of one house. People used to gather there, wondering how this high-caste person has come to their place. This way, a faith relationship came into being. Sometimes we asked from them water to drink and had food together. Based on this relationship, we started telling them the reasons why people kept them at a distance. We said that the society condemns you because your living is dirty, your food habits are dirty, and your thinking is dirty. Therefore, you have to change. With such constant hammering, the Dalits were also made vegetarian.”
Accomplishment has been a hallmark of this environmental movement, which has consolidated the moral authority of Anna. Everyday discourses around economic achievements have strengthened this authority. As villager Mapari Ramdas says, ‘It was difficult to even feed oneself in the previous days. Now those days are over. It is all because of Anna’s grace that we are managing our family well.’ Sakara Bai Ganpat Gajare was a panchayat member for five years. She is satisfied that drinking has stopped, and the village is free from wife beating. The sense of accomplishments thus goes beyond the material and the physical, and provides a basis for a regime.
The real and perceived feeling of continuous accomplishment in Ralegan has two other distinct elements. Firstly, the village system can legitimately claim to make broader and long-term policies, covering not only the physical environment, but also the social, political and cultural life of the village. More important, achievement establishes it own institutions, justifying its own structure of governance. There have been no elections of gram panchayat in the village since the last 24 years. No elections have been held in cooperative societies as well. Anna expresses:
“In the gram sabha, representatives to the panchayat as well as of the societies are nominated. Elections were not allowed here, as they bring party politics and divide the people. Electioneering also destroys the unity in the village.”
Anna Hazare takes every possible opportunity to sharply question electoral and party politics and remarks that power and politics cause corruption. Those who wish to involve themselves in our anti-corruption movement, will have to take pledge not to get involved in party-politics, nor to contest elections. There is no space for formal structures of democracy here. In the village, there is no poster or pamphlet allowed during the state/national elections. No direct election campaigning can take place. Says Machindra Balwant Sendge, a villager, ‘In our village, the offices of political parties, their signboards or flags do not exist. We never allow them to be here.’
Anna Hazare believes in setting aims and objectives for the individual and the society. For individuals, they can be as hard as ‘dedicating his life entirely to his work’, and ‘ready to face death if necessary’. For the society, they can be as wide as ‘the achievement of an ideal village’ and ‘watershed development’. The environmental objectives become the driving force here, while means, processes, freedom or democracy take a back seat. To use the experiences of Ralegan at a macro level, the Government of Maharashtra launched the Adarsh Gaon Yojana in 1992. The programme, aimed at developing 300 villages in Maharashtra using Ralegan as a model, was spearheaded by Anna. The budget for each selected village was Rs. 50 lakhs. The funds were routed through the Adarsh Gram Office, headed by Anna. The objective of the programme was to demonstrate that an individual, a family, and a village can become self-sufficient, with sustainable use of environment.
Concepts of ‘an ideal village’ and ‘self-reliance and self-sufficiency as stressed by Mahatma Gandhi’ have been frequently used to legitimise certain policies in independent India, including the above. They profess their success on a strict following of certain principles, which are legitimised by personal authority and official sanctions conferred on them. The process of idealising and replicating an environmental model negate the possibility of holding any other version of rural development as truthful and correct. This value system denies the existence of conflict and contradiction, and places ‘natural’ harmony as the ultimate ideal.
Nation and Nation-building
Anna Hazare in the end states:
“I close this story of the village development at Ralegan Siddhi with the fervent request and hope that every village should achieve similar success and build our India into a strong, powerful nation. “
A colourful poster, carrying the slogan ‘Ideal Village, Ideal Nation’ is displayed in many parts of Ralegan. The idea of a strong nation is firmly entrenched in the consciousness and work of Anna. An environmentally sound rural development is an effective means to make that idea a reality. Nation is a matter of life and death for Anna. The meaning of a nation took specific shape in him at the time of the Indo-China war in 1962 and crystallised during the Indo-Pak war in 1965.
Narratives of war, army and enemy remain the core references in much of the discourse on nation and rural development in Ralegan. This has also something to do with the circumstantial fact that more than 200 people from this village are serving in the Indian army, and most of the families have at least one member employed there. In Ralegan, expressions like ‘national regeneration’, ‘wholesome crop of national glory through comprehensive rural development’ are coupled with others like ‘We have to hold the nation. Otherwise, Pakistan will grab it. That is why we consciously send our sons to the army.’
These thoughts can well merge with the rural development discourse in the village, ‘The way army jawans jointly attack enemies and control them; we can similarly tackle the problems here in the village.’ They continue to maintain their salience in the present by arousing an emotional cord of sacrifice, devotion and determination as an effective response to the nation today.
The concept of morality and subsequent codes/behaviours/practices based on it are important elements in Anna Hazare’s notion of environmental and rural development. An author remarks:
“Anna’s leadership is ‘moral’. Ralegan’s example has shown that moral leadership works with the people even 50 years after the death of Mahatma Gandhi. Sacrifice has always been highly valued in Hindu philosophy.”
There is a strong personal basis to Anna’s concept of morality, which has evolved with his life experiences. This has been often highlighted. However, there is very little emphasis on his concept of morality being and becoming a basis for a strong nation, where morality is defined through a pure cultural environment. Anna’s concern with the moral is couched in his discourse of the nation, ‘Nurturing moral values is essential for nation building.’ The moral preaching of Anna developed as an encompassing tool for influencing the villagers. Slowly it became an integral part of a moral regime, not only to get rid of liquor, smoking or non-vegetarianism, but also to exercise control over the private and the public, the personal and the political.
Anna Hazare’s sense of morality is wide-ranging, spelling out details of everyday social life. At various points he says, ‘People should have good samskar to do service. They should believe in nishkam karmayog'; ‘Differences between the rich and the poor will remain, but the poor should get some share of the prosperity’. For school children there is moral education and practice, comprising physical training, body building, patriotism, obedience, samskars and Hindu culture. Doing surya namaskar and chanting Om is regular for the students. For women, it is stressed that they should certainly look after the household but they must also participate in activities intended to help their community and country. It is stated, ‘Woman is the Universal Mother, The Great Mother. Many such Great Mothers have given birth to Great Sons — Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, Swami Vivekananda for instance. She is also a symbol of purity, sublime as well as innate strength. She can, if she means it, make a God out of a mortal being and build a model, healthy society.’ Morality here is integrated in such a way that directs the everyday life of a society in a hierarchical moral order.
It is significant that much of the problematisation of morality of children, youth and village is done in the context of influence of western, modern culture. ‘Western lifestyle’, ‘modern development’ and ‘invasion of western culture’ invariably emerge as repeated expressions, signifying the collapse of morality in modern India. Further, the external environment, like the ‘indecent’ cinema posters, TV, or video shows of ‘undesirable’ moral values, ‘lurid’ songs and ‘pornographic’ books on the roadside stalls are viewed as undermining the integrity of people. Alongside runs a parallel anxiety about the integrity and health of India as a nation-state, due to falling moral standards. The unification of these two anxieties under the fold of morality speaks in a voice of well being for the villagers, but is intimately associated with a precise regimen of nation.
In Ralegan, there are a few Mahars, Chamars, Matangs, Nhavi, Bharhadi and Sutars. Barring a few STs besides them, the rest of the villagers are Marathas. Since the beginning of his work, Anna has been particularly emphasising the removal of untouchability and discrimination on caste basis meted out to people, who are popularly referred to as Harijans here. There have been several efforts on his part to do away with the ban on Harijans’ entry into the temple and to allow them to take water from the same well. They are associated with committees, formed to run the village affairs, and take part in several village functions and festivals. Occasionally, they cook or serve food to all the villagers and even perform puja. The village once repaid the bank a loan of Rs. 75,000, taken by Dalit families. In many economic programmes, they have been chosen to be the first beneficiaries. The concept of ‘village as a joint family’, or all inhabitants of the village as ‘almighty God’, has prompted the villagers to pay attention to the problems of Harijans.
However, Dalits have a different perception. Kailash Pote, a landless Chamar, gives a different meaning to village, family and Hindu religion:
“We do not call Ralegan Siddhi a village. We call it a family in which Annajee is the headman and we are the people who provide service to the family. Here Hindus mean Marathas only. We Chamars and Mahars are never called Hindus. How can we claim that everybody is equal here? People who have land or jobs in the military have a different level of development. There is a lot of difference between them and me.”
Lakshman Dondiwa, another Dalit, was injured in police firing in the course of an agitation for electricity in the village many years ago. He still remembers how Anna took care of him like a mother. He and other members of his caste are now free from the clutches of moneylenders and he is a devotee of Anna. However, he goes on to remark: ‘We have food, clothing and house now. But that is all. There is nothing more to it than that. Shoes are for feet and will always be placed there. We will never be able to go ahead beyond this point. The village ethos is like this.’ 25 year old Kailash is landless. He knows driving and has a licence for it, but he survives on wage labour. He utters: ‘I was poor before and am poor now. We were starving in the past and the situation has not changed for me. I cannot even afford the education of my children. I cannot even open my mouth. Whatever is said in this village, it has to be followed.’
There are three houses of Matangs in the village. They are still tied to their traditional occupation of making brooms and ropes. They are also agricultural labourers. They have some forestland, but according to them, it is only giving fodder for cattle. One of them remarks, ‘We get work in the village. However, it is barely enough. We need some support, work or job. Since there is no alternative, we try to be happy.’
Mathura Dharmagadka was a vice sarpanch until last year. During her time, there was an all-women panchayat for five years. She remarks:
“We women learnt how to run the panchayat and since there was no male member, we could speak freely. However, we cannot do anything about the wage difference between male and female labourers in the village. A male labourer gets Rs. 50 a day, whereas it is only Rs. 30 for females.”
Namdeo Arjun Mapari, a poor Maratha, also has a dissenting note. He has two acres of land, but it is mostly rocky and unproductive. He and all his three sons work as agricultural labourers. He comments: ‘We all worked for the development of the village. I did shramdan along with other villagers. Our village and watershed programme are world famous. However, in our land and well, there is no water. We have not benefited from all the water flowing in the village.’
There can be many explanations about the way Dalits are placed in Ralegan. Within the locality and community, they are largely still tied to their traditionally given status and occupation. Simultaneously, possession of land, utilisation of water, labour relations and wages, and other forms of power exist and work against the Dalits. Notion of Dalits being ‘dirty’ still prevail. And the village republic works in such a way that broader values and codes assigned within it are never challenged. Dalits’ own perceptions are clearly formed as much from authoritarian discourse as from their own contesting experiences.
The integration of Dalits into an ideal village has two components in Ralegan. One is to assume that they were always there to perform some duties and necessary services and that their usefulness justifies their existence in the present. Anna expresses:
“It was Mahatma Gandhi’s vision that every village should have one Chamar, one Sunar, one Kumhar and so on. They should all do their work according to their role and occupation, and in this way, a village will be self-dependent. This is what we are practising in Ralegan Siddhi. “
The other component is hegemonic, designed to get Dalits into a brahaminical fold. It is not only manifested in the way food or dress habits are propagated; it is prevalent in several other forms. It is significant that the Organiser, the mouthpiece of RSS, carried a series of articles on Anna Hazare and Ralegan Siddhi, in which the writer expressed his deep admiration for the model being followed. Regarding the incorporation of Dalits by Anna, he remarks:
“Anna-saheb Hajare imprinted on the minds of the villagers that, as children of the same God, any discrimination on the basis of one’s birth would be reprehensible to Him…. To start with, the young workers called a meeting of the Harijans in the village. Together they decided to bury the bitter memories of the past and start a fresh page of social equality and harmony. On their part, the Harijans decided to give up carrying of dead animals, eating their flesh and also vices like ganja, gambling, etc. The meeting was followed by efforts for cleanliness and sanitation in their houses and their neighbourhood and imparting of healthy samskaras to their children.”
Anna Hazare’s concern for Dalits works at many levels. One is the ritual organised for the Dalits, to integrate them into a whole. Here the ritual centrality of the dominant caste is significant. These rituals also come through his totalling discourse on purity and pollution, in which is embraced political and economic power. Here we can also see the importance of practices of gift giving, for the cultural construction of dominance. In Ralegan Siddhi, the position of Dalits is grounded not only in rituals or in a language of integration, but also in the concept of a united family, cemented by the continuous reference to religion, the centrality of the dominant caste, and the authority of an environmental leader.
In spite of the apparent diversities that characterise the various elements that make up Anna Hazare and Ralegan Siddhi, we find that there is an underlying thread of unity in the ideological system of a green village. Authority and its legitimacy is the key to Anna Hazare. Not only is this authority deeply rooted in the dominant socio-political tradition of the region; it is often blind to many basic and universal issues of rights, democracy and justice. There are other obvious limitations. Even when the personal moral authority genuinely motivated, it is difficult to imbibe, evolve and transfer personal moral authority to independent successors and followers, as there is a basic lack of a plural and democratic culture.
The legitimisation of a moral authority is necessarily complex and variegated. This legitimisation at times is also an interactive process between the leader and the villager. Achieved as an outcome of a long journey, it is contingent, dynamic and continuously defined. Its cultivation is also non-ending. However, a command-obedience relationship is the basis of this ideal village, which is seen as legitimate, as it is rooted in shared norms and values, in established rules and codes, in the exercising of power for the promotion of a community’s common good, and in serving for the unity and integrity of the nation and nation-building. The sustainable use of natural resources in the village legitimates the belief of the villagers in the moral right of their leader to issue commands and the corresponding obligation of the people to obey such command.