Every village has thousands of stories to tell, each having different dimensions and textures. What we might find common in the seven lakh villages of India might be the issues of poverty, unemployment, inequality in terms of caste, class, occupation and so on. The greatest challenge in social development is bridging this gap and building an ecosystem where everyone lives with dignity. Effective implementation of the decentralization process will be critical in the development of village economy.
Thoor village, located on the outskirts of Udaipur city has a lot of complex issues in terms of resource sharing, allocation and possession of land, interaction among each other and more. Thoor is not your stereotypical village but rather, has a semi-urban nature in terms of development prospects. There is a great opportunity of tourism in the village. The role of Panchayat, as in most other villages, is critical to the community here as well. Its developmental aspects need to be addressed with a certain level of sensitivity. Understanding the topography of the village which is surrounded by mountains and has a tropical climate with semi-arid soil with rivers is critical to agriculture. The role of nature and climatic conditions is important in shaping the lives of people.
Thoor predominantly consists of farming community and there is strict division of land ownership where ‘Patels’ and ‘Dangis’ are the owners of land and employ people from other castes as laborers working with them.
Bhils or Bheel community is one of the castes that occupies the lower strata in the society and works under the landowners since they don’t have agricultural land of their own. They are also classified as indigenous tribes. Climatic conditions play a vital role in livelihoods. During the summer season, they are forced to find alternate employment which leads to many sections of Bheel community working in marble factories and fitting works. Usually, it’s the men who go out to work there while women stick to the seasonal nature of agriculture and find employment on others’ farms and fields.
The daily wage of labourers on agricultural fields is typically Rs. 200 per day and marble work fetches around Rs. 350 per day. This shows a stark difference in the earning as well as spending patterns of the community. As per Bhils‘ understanding, in village development, the role of Panchayat is of a facilitator to provide water, electricity, build roads and ensure proper drainage system. There is absolutely no space for the Panchayat to resolve conflicts. Community members mutually deal with their differences themselves and reach a conclusion. Internal disputes are usually resolved by elder people which also leads to certain social norms being followed. For example, consumption of liquor is prohibited – this is an accepted norm in the community.
There is a significant difference in terms of possession of wealth within the Bheel community which can be identified through construction of houses and even wedding expenses that vary from 1 lakh to 7 lakh rupees. While talking to a community member, we got to know that they have a unique underground water storage system that helps in combating water scarcity whenever there is a shortage. The government also supports with water tanker service in times of need.
Bheel community mostly eats vegetarian food. They celebrate festivals like Holi and Diwali. If you ever visit Thoor, you can experience the beautiful traditional folk dance form Ghoomar, of the Bheel tribe.
Women in Bheel community are also involved in animal husbandry. They possess cattle wealth which they mostly use for domestic purposes. Most of the women are involved in household chores when there is dearth of agricultural employment. Education is considered important for the current generation and children in the community have access to study in government schools. Penetration of banking services is low, also for the reason that Bhils spend most of their money as and when they earn it. The monthly employment in terms of the number of working days is lesser for marble workers as they have to take voluntary leaves given the hard nature of work. This puts them in vulnerable position especially when there are health hazards.
The families then end up borrowing money from money lenders and become indebted to them since they won’t get formal loans because of lack of collateral security.
The local government especially Panchayats can play a significant role in improving the situation of the community by providing resources, making formal credit services available, giving health insurance and unemployment allowance. There is evident apprehension about the nature in which Panchayat operates with the community when it comes to financial services. A lot of government schemes that are put forward for the betterment of the community are not being properly implemented. The Panchayat needs to proactively work with the people in the community to enable them to access health care, education and finance. Inclusion in terms of participation in the decision-making process will be critical for individual social development and overall development of the village in the years to come.