The rural population of any state in the country, easily goes unnoticed, given to the advancements that the urban populace has achieved ever since the technological disruption in their lives. The rural population is mostly looked upon as a labour segment; this is the notion that Shri Veerendra Heggade wanted to eradicate from the society. A lot of initiatives have since been brought about to make a change in the standard of living of the rural population by providing them exposure to various ways of trading and financial aid to become entrepreneurs or to be employed, that will eventually lead to a betterment in their lives.
To kick start this movement, Shri Veerendra Heggade in 1982 put in place, a simple experiment based on barter. He adopted two villages through Shree Kshetra. To help them gain confidence, he promised them that Shri Kshetra would look after their basic needs, shelter, food and clothing, till they could sustain themselves. In return they had to promise that they would go back to tilling and farming their lands.
This barter worked wonders. The farmers began tilling their barren lands. Shri Heggade got together a handful of agriculture experts to work out the right formula to make the lands fertile. They interacted and guided the farmers with the right techniques to cultivate quick return crops like vegetables, pulses, paddy etc. While these helped the farmers to meet their daily needs, he realized these short term plans would have to be augmented by long term plans. The farmers were motivated to plant trees like coconut, areca nut, fruit trees etc. which would yield returns after a few years and provide them a sustained income.Within a short span the farmers of these two villages earned a level of self sustenance, beyond imagination.
With the phenomenal success these experimental steps achieved, Shri Heggade realized that it was time to knit the different initiatives into a single entity. This thought laid the foundation of Shree Kshetra Dharmasthala Rural Development Project (SKDRDP) in 1982. The developments that took place from 1982 till now, if exhaustively chronicled, could be accommodated in innumerable volumes. One needs to have a glimpse of SKDRDP activities and their achievements under the benign guidance of Shri Veerendra Heggade.
The Self Help movement that initially started in the Belthangady Taluk, has now encompassed within its fold twenty two districts of Karnataka – Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Uttara Kannada, Shimoga, Chikmagalur, Dharwad, Haveri, Gadag, Kodagu, Belgaum, Tumkur, Chitradurga, Davangere, Koppal, Mysore, Chamrajnagar, Hassan, Raichur, Mandya, Bellary, Bagalkot, Bangalore Rural. This programme has mobilized 3.5 million members in the state of Karnataka into 3 lakh SHGs.
Mahatma Gandhi firmly believed that villagers were the backbone of India’s social and political transformation. He religiously preached the concept of Gram Swaraj or Village self rule .It was a dream he cherished throughout his life time.
SKDRDP together with Bhoruka Charities established the Center for Rural Excellence (CRE) in Belthangady, to contribute to this dream of Mahatma Gandhi. This Center responds to the changing environment of the rural areas by offering various types of training to the rural manforce. It constantly helps them to identify their innate skills and trains them to put these skills to a productive use. The Center helps in rehabilitating the villagers, through their training programs. CRE complements the efforts of the Government and other financial institutions who have introduced various income generation programs for the rural folk to foster their standard of living.
The success of this experimental initiative had a ripple effect. The farmers of the surrounding villages were surprised by the success these two adopted villages had achieved. Soon they joined the movement and the crusade gathered momentum.
However, the spill out of this exercise was shortage of farm hands to assist in farming. Realizing this, Shri Heggade took the campaign to the second level. He realized time had come to bond the farmers in a co-operative movement. He picked up 5 to 8 farmers from each village and formed a group. He motivated them to work in each other’s field by rotation and develop their holdings. This way he overcame the problem of hiring farm labour at prohibitive cost. Simultaneously he helped the farmers bond with each other and share their problems and look for active solutions. A nucleus family became an extended family, cooperating with one another for mutual benefit. This was the first lesson in co-operative farming. These groups were referred to as Pragati Bandhus or Partners in Progress.
The success of the two initiatives inspired Shri Heggade to move on to the third level. He realized that the limited knowledge of the farmers had to be augmented by expert advice and that too through people they could believe and identify themselves with.
To achieve this objective, Shri Heggade literally handpicked a group of youngsters from these very villages. To ensure the youngsters truly wanted to be part of the movement, only those who readily volunteered for this exercise were picked up. These volunteers were put through intensive training sessions conducted by Expert Agriculturists and Executives from the local Banks. The subjects taught ranged from farming techniques, soil testing and conservation, optimum utilization of available water for irrigation, sanitation and basic banking procedures.
Armed with this knowledge, the youngsters were sent back to live in these villages and guide the farmers. They were referred to as Seva-Niratas. They became friends and guides to the farmers and their families. Over a period of time they became the vital link between Shri Heggade and the farmers. Refresher courses are held at regular intervals to help the Seva-Niratas be abreast of the new developments taking place in the farming sector.
With farms becoming productive, returns started coming in. To ensure that money thus earned was not misused by the farmer, Shri Heggade through his band of Seva-Niratas, taught the farmers the values of collective banking. They were encouraged to open a common account in the bank that could be collectively managed by them or their representatives.
To operate this money, the Seva-Niratas taught the farmers elementary banking and maintenance of accounts. The bond nurtured between the farmers through collective farming was leveraged to take them to the next level of progress through this banking movement.
The Pragati Bandhus – Self Help Groups in modern parlance- formed in the second step of the movement – were taught the advantages of Collective Banking, by teaching them to develop themselves and their farming techniques with the help of this collective saving. The Self Help Groups soon realized that the pooled in money could also be utilized for their personal emergencies too. However they were cautioned that money thus borrowed had to be returned within the stipulated time. What began as a collective labour in one another’s fields soon blossomed into a co-operative movement with the Seva-Niratas playing the pivotal role.
To stay productive and competitive, the farmers had to be aware of the latest developments in the field of Agriculture and Farming Techniques. Coordinating with different Government Agencies, leading Agriculture Equipment Manufacturers, Suppliers of Seeds, etc, SKDRDP began organizing Annual Three Day Krishi Melas. These Melas help the farmers to get first hand information on the developments taking place and also interact with the various Agencies connected with Agricultural Produce.
Having rehabilitated the farmers, Shri Heggade turned his attention to education realizing that illiteracy both among the children and adults was hampering the growth in rural areas. He went back to the participatory method employed in the earlier initiatives. He convinced the villagers through his Seva-Niratas that education was extremely vital to their all round growth.
Having done that, he leveraged the experience gained by SKDRDP through its active participation in the adult literacy program conducted by the National Literacy Mission, New Delhi to lay the foundation of yet another movement empowering the villagers with education. He called this campaign Jnana Deepa. He made sure that a team of experts from SKDRDP with representatives of the villagers visited schools existing in the villages and gave him the conditions of these schools. School Buildings that had suffered neglect were soon restored. Additional infrastructure in the form of lighting, desks and benches and primary teaching aids were added. Essential facilities like drinking water and proper sanitation were provided. In most cases sports goods, toys and a good play ground were also added. All this was done with the active participation of the villagers to instill in them a sense of responsibility. Having restored the infrastructure, full complement of teachers required for each school was appointed. Wherever there was a shortage of teaching staff, more teachers were employed.
Having done this, the villagers were motivated to send their children to school. This also helped in reducing the dropout rate in schools that were already functioning. The classrooms are once again echoing the chatter and laughter of happy children. Having done this, the next step was adult literacy. Making use of the existing schools, adults – both men and women – were counseled to attend these specially designed literacy classes. This literacy program has helped in restoring the self confidence and instilled a sense of achievement among the rural folk.
Most of our villages lack basic sanitation facilities, which force the villagers to foul up the areas surrounding their villages and create unhygienic living conditions. To overcome this unhealthy practice, SKDRDP has launched a drive – one house one toilet – in all the villages coming under its patronage. Through their health check up camps SKDRDP has spread awareness of good sanitation among villagers. As a follow-up step, it has actively involved itself in subsidizing the construction of toilets. Hundreds of villages have benefited from this program and many are in the process of adopting the drive.
Often, poverty forces a person to live a life of destitution and hardship. It’s even worse when he dies unknown and uncared for. However, every individual has right to have a decent last journey. Perhaps the lack of this important facility prompted Shri Heggade to launch the Rudra Bhoomi project in villages and towns. Once again with the active participation of the people, SKDRDP built over 420 crematoriums by providing financial aid and technical guidance. These crematoriums, use silicon chambers which ensure quick cremation and also ensure low fuel consumption. A Crematorium Betterment Committee maintains these facilities.
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