Change Agents of Ghodi Mukund

Women farmers emerge as inspiration, leading through agriculture

By Dev Kotak

Several villages in the Palghar and Nashik districts of Maharashtra have shown proof of growth and success through transformation under the Integrated Village Development programs. A partnering of organizations to deliver on the requirements of two particular hamlets is a grand show of the synergy between Project Chirag and Diganta Swaraj that have helped the hamlets overcome their basic problems of access to water, electricity, education, health and sanitation, issues they have long lived with.
Remote in itself, Mukundpada is separated from Ghodipada by a fast flowing river. But the two villages function as twin hamlets, extensions of one another, and their problems were addressed with an Integrated Village Development Project. Ghodipada, comprising 70 families and 400 people and the adjoining Mukundpada, with 13 families and 100 people, have faced 10-12 hours of load shedding, made worse through the monsoons with no electricity at all.
Villagers and the cattle used the same water source, river Wagh, and the villagers would dig pits near the source, waiting for water to rise up, and skimming the top layer for clean water. The problem of migration in these villages has been common. Majority of the village population migrates post monsoon as they have no income generation activity in the village, as their farming is monsoon dependent, and due to lack of access to water. The IVD provided this village with drinking water, access to water for irrigation, home, street, school electrification, and toilet blocks.

This intervention was led by Project Chirag in alliance with their grassroot partner, Diganta Swaraj Foundation.

Initially, there was reluctance among the villagers as land is the only asset we have. But when they [the NGOs] explained their plans to us, we could see that it would bring about substantial changes in the area and end our sufferings.

Initially, there was reluctance among the villagers as land is the only asset we have. But when they [the NGOs] explained their plans to us, we could see that it would bring about substantial changes in the area and end our sufferings.

The women in Ghodipada and Mukundpada are gutsy and glorious. They are immensely inspiring for bringing about revolution through agriculture in Mokhada block of the Palghar district in Maharashtra. Villages so cut-off and once deprived of something as basic as access to drinking water, now have water in their farms to boast of. Success in agriculture has largely helped the residents of these hamlets shape their life and improve lifestyles.
For the residents of Mukundpada, the smaller of the two hamlets with only 13 families, the journey is nothing short of treacherous. One has to go downhill from their village, cross over a flowing river (it is unimaginable to even take this route during the monsoon) and climb uphill to Ghodipada, doing this on repeat for every necessity.
This is what Shanta Bhoye, a lady farmer braves every alternate day, all for a better life.

The plant works on ultra-filtration technology. It’s power-efficient and a good idea for a village that suffers from the irregular electricity supply, he adds. Furthermore, the overhead tank is connected to taps across the village.

Bhoye, who cultivates and sells Rajgira leaves (Amaranth), Bhindi (Okra) and Methi (Fenugreek) to nearby villages on a small patch of farmland.. Her life, she says, has changed after the arrival of accessible water. From poor health and no income, she now earns nearly 250 rupees a day and has nutritious produce to supplement her family’s diet. An inspiration for the other women of the village, Bhoye urges the villagers to focus their energies on agriculture to better their lives, instead of migrating for work.

Having said that, the filtration plant has improved the lives of the womenfolk. “Now with at least six taps installed in the village, we don’t have to go to the lake. Our body and feet don’t hurt and, most importantly, it saves us three hours daily,” says a woman on the condition of anonymity. The extra time has allowed a few of them to now work as housemaids in the adjoining areas.

The availability of clean drinking water has led to a drop in the cases of water-borne diseases in the village. “Earlier our stock of 50 tablets (for cough, fever and dysentery) would last for about two months. But our last stock lasted for eight months!” said the resident ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) worker.

The tap water facility was followed by the construction of public toilets in the hamlet. This has brought down the instances of open defecation and made the women feel safer.

“Earlier, we had to wait till the dark or venture out very early in the morning to the fields. And it was always embarrassing to take someone along to relieve ourselves. [But] after the construction of toilets, we don’t have to worry about our security,” says another woman anonymously.

People like Bhoye have emerged as true leaders, inspiring other village women to involve themselves in agriculture. When she was told by other women that the men of their households are drunkards and do not contribute, she asked them to have a ‘so what?’ attitude, pushing them to instead, take the mantle to bring about change themselves and enter into farming for better sustenance.
Like world over, women here too are slowly but steadily emerging as drivers of growth in their hamlets. Inspired by Bhoye, as she comes from a different village to sell, wading through a river and crossing a dangerous path. Seven women of Mukundpada and 22 of Ghodipada are now engaged in group farming, shining a spotlight on the collaborative and cooperative element of progress.
When male farmers migrate to Satpur and Nashik for jobs, the women are left behind in the village. The group farming supplies them with an insurance crop, signalling their empowerment and financial independence.
Change is evident, and has certainly emerged amidst several hardships faced by them.

These sustainability programmes have addressed the issue of migration in this tribal village. Labourers, who had returned to their homes during the pandemic, now grow and sell their farm produce in the open markets.

However, education does remain a challenge and it has suffered further because of the pandemic. On the one hand, schools and junior colleges within the Zila Parishad aren’t fully equipped to impart e-learning. On the other hand, many children haven’t been able to take online classes since the lockdown because their parents do not own a phone, leave a smartphone.

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