Sunday, September 27, 2015

Life is a journey that often takes you back to where you belong!

I spent my entire youth visiting villages - both close to the city and remote ones - to mobilize people around protection of natural resources.  The books in my Sociology Master Degree classes had not satisfied my urge to learn the society. My real learning started in these villages, when I discovered wonderful traditional knowledge systems to manage water resources, forests and agriculture.  I never stopped and with meager resources kept motivating more and more people to revive their traditional systems of rain water harvesting that had been decaying owing to lack of support and encouragement. 

People had lost hopes in their own sustainable systems.  But when they got a single ray of hope they regrouped and got energized again.  We succeeded in reviving hundreds of ponds, tanks and structures of other sizes, relevant to the local ecological setups, with complete people's participation.  Even we succeeded in bringing back renewed life to some rivulets. They owned the process and we achieved what some outsiders had then said was an impossible task.  We almost drought proofed several perennially drought prone villages.  The financial support that we had raised from various sources were limited.  But we were able to retain people at their villages and work on their own fields; and benefit out of the farming that were now more diverse and natural than before. 

I kept on working silently and as a crazy passionate fellow in villages for long and it is only in the year 2006-07 that people started to know my works from a release in which we claimed 'Odisha to turn a desert in 150 years.'  Before that also I had raised some very vital issues and, as I always claim, was perhaps the first man in the state to have brought ‘climate change’ to the mainstream of discussion.  When I talked about drought in the forests, early flowering of various forests and horticultural plants, changed behaviour of various species and most importantly the coastal erosion in Bay of Bengal way back in early 90s, people had not taken me so seriously back then.

The note on Odisha’s desertification also fell into deaf ears of the government but by then the media had started to know me.  I must say, it is due to support from the friends in media this issue caught attention of many.  At that time, even though internet was just peaking up, thousands of internet news sites all across the globe carried our study.  The local and national media took it up very seriously and as a result people from across the globe started to know me.  Back home, some in the government and some even in the civil society (mostly the ones based out of Bhubaneswar) termed me a ‘crazy’ fellow, yet again.

Thankfully, I got more support than opposition on the ‘desertification’ issue. It was a cautionary note to the government and public based on research done out of government's own statistics.  Then a number of television pogrammes covered our interventions.  The ETV profiled me as 'Jala Purusha' and devoted two episodes on our efforts in a special programme.  The NDTV profiled me as 'Water Man of Odisha' and 'Climate Crusader' and eventually in 2010 conferred me with the first 'Green Hero' award that was given away by the then President of India.  The Hindustan Times profiled me as “Odisha’s Conservation Master.”

Later, Universities and Civil Societies from abroad started inviting me to speak on ‘climate change, water harvesting and related issues’ and the journey has been busy yet interesting.  In the mean while I have received several awards and recognition and have also refused many more because of some 'conflict of interest' and 'ethical' issues. 

Then came a phase in life where the recognition of my efforts at the grassroots led people at various corner to expect a larger role from me.  I too thought it was time to be a 'watch dog' and sometimes a 'barking dog' to defend our precious and fast extincting water resources including Rivers and Water Bodies.  This has led me to be involved more in research and advocacy efforts.  This also means I have got less time to go back to villages.  I have however tried not to miss even a single opportunity of going back to villages to encourage them in their efforts as well as learn from them.  And each time I go to the villages, I have something new to learn from them. 

Wonderful are our villagers.  They already practice a 'low carbon lifestyle' to achieve which countries are spending billions in debates and negotiations.  Climate change impacts are real and our villagers have the solutions.  However, we have decided not to learn from them.

Today, when I got a chance to revisit Kharamal village in the foothills of Gandhamardan ranges, I was so happy to see a happy Sitaram Majhi, a man from the Gond tribe.  He has grown from where we had stopped our intervention and now is a successful water harvester and champion farmer.  We worked with him from 2005 to 2009 and then some govt. programmes too helped him to continue and expand.  Before 2005, he used to migrate out to other states to work in brick kilns.  Now he earns 1500 to 2000 rupees each week from selling vegetables alone in the local market.  From one water harvesting structure, he has now grown to own two. 

I am so happy and deciding to go back to my grassroots works again, even while continuing my current networking, research and advocacy efforts. Hope to get more companions this time. Back in the early 90s, when I started these efforts, I had more challenges then company. I always have had the blessing of having very good friends in life who have helped me all along. My family members have also cooperated a lot. I am ever indebted and obliged to all of you who have been part of this journey and have always encouraged and supported me. Hope our journey will see more support now as more people know me and the benefits of our actions are visible.

Hope is my only asset, water my destination. Are you with me?

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