The kaccha roads connecting villages to the block, no tap water, a quack who is in high demand, mud houses, people huddling in groups of 3 or 4 to enjoy hookahs and agriculture as the sole support pillar were some of the impressions in my mind as I headed towards a village in Gogunda block of Udaipur, Rajasthan as these were a few things I had witnessed during my previous visits to rural areas in western UP (Uttar Pradesh). But this time, my understanding of the same evolved a bit more. The obvious perception of a dramatically bad condition of a village turned out to be false. It was time to have multiple images of rural India in my mind, and complete some of the incomplete ones.
Firstly, the connectivity of the village from the main road attracted me, specially the fact that the quality of roads was even better than some of the roads in big cities. However, the inter-connectivity among neighboring villages can be improved. On entering, initially, there were well-built houses, like the ones we see in urban areas. A number of those were magnificent enough to give a tough competition to the bungalows in cities, both in terms of quality and design. Only a handful of 8-10 houses were made of mud. Each type of construction was done in clusters, bringing out the uniformity which reminded me of poor housing structures in residential colonies and urban slums.
As we moved further, and had not seen any medical centres yet, I was curious to find out if the quacks were in high demand here as well. We came back to the village repeatedly for the next 3 days and the conversations with the residents during this time gave me a brief overview of how the healthcare is accessed here. They did not mention anyone like a quack but said that they prefer to go to the government dispensary/hospital, 2-3km away.
Next was water availability. It was also, as you may have guessed by now, completely different from what I had seen earlier. Every household had a proper tap water system in spite of the fact that the village had no access to any lake or canal nearby. A certain section of economically well-off people, with the help of Panchayat had set-up tube wells and installed a water pipe line providing a connection to each household. In return, a minimal of Rs. 50-100 per month was being charged by the owners. I saw the value of collective action among people to tackle their own problems.
The most common thing that comes to one’s on the mention of rural India, is agriculture. The common belief is that agriculture is the only medium to earn livelihoods which wasn’t the case here. Wheat is the only crop they grow, mainly for personal use. A large section of people work in Udaipur and a lot of them migrate to Delhi or Bangalore for stone work. While in some cases, it may be the need to move to big cities but it also shows the willingness and openness of people here, to experiment with new opportunities contrary to staying limited to agriculture and remaining confined to their village. It can be said that rural India is as much ready as urban India to take the country forward. This balance will maintain the stability even in times of uneven growth.
Lastly, the image of people sitting in groups with hookahs and discussing various topics/issues was something I really wanted to see here as well but I didn’t. Even in urban areas, such spaces delight me, common areas where people can gather and relax. Those conversations open a space for the community to share ideas and evolve. During four days of our visit, we were not able to find even one such group.
My previous observations and the new ones may not be contradictory but two sides of the same coin. Creating a perception about all the villages based on a couple of visits will do injustice to all of them. It will create another single story when there are thousands of such stories which need to be heard to gain an overall understanding.
It is important to go deeper and know the rural areas that form the soul of our country. They are trying to move ahead and at the same time, keeping their traditions alive. As far as I’m concerned, I intend to take many such trips to different villages to build my understanding and ultimately see a complete picture.