The origins of the field of social work can be traced to the days when the Church wielded considerable clout over what constituted right and what was considered wrong. During those times, friendly visitors were deputed by the Church and other charitable institutions to visit the poor and the underprivileged, and attempt to solve their problems, or at least lend them an ear to listen to their grievances.
This case study analysis is focussed on a significant arm of arm of social work, namely community work, and seeks to analyse the application of this form of social work, and its significance to society as a whole. This will be carried out through a detailed review and analysis of a case study relating to the subject, and drawing suitable conclusions thereof.
Community Work or Community Practice is a branch of social work that focuses on larger social systems and social change (wikipedia). It includes community organising, social planning, community development, policy planning and advocacy, and a number of other elements. Freire (1972) defines Community Development as the process of developing active and sustainable communities mainly based on social justice and mutual respect. Radical community development is committed to social and environmental justice. Its vision is that of a peaceful, just and sustainable world.
The case of Ralegan Siddhi, India
A number of community development projects have managed to overcome the complexities associated with the underlying processes, bringing to the fore, the people-driven model of community development. One of the most striking of these projects is the endeavour of Padmashree Shri Anna Hazare in Ralegan Siddhi village in India. A village largely characterised by an exodus of people to ‘greener pastures’, sickness, social malfunctioning in the form of illicit liquor and the ensuing domestic violence, and low levels of effectiveness and efficiencies on the domestic labour front, the village has, since 1975 when Anna Hazare returned, undertaken social activities such as planting of trees, terracing to reduce soil erosion and digging canals to retain rainwater through Watershed Development Programme (Kerr, 2005) under his able leadership. As a result, Ralegan has now been transformed into a utopian example of environmental protectionism.
The Occupational Standards for Community development identify the key purpose of community development work as working with communities to:
- Identify needs, opportunities, rights and responsibilities
- Plan, organize and take action
- Evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the action, all in ways which challenge oppression and tackle inequalities (Gilchrist, 2004).
Some of the main attributes of community development that are highlighted by the case of Ralegan are social justice, self-determination, working and learning together, sustainable community, participation and reflective practice. It is in view of the above, that the Ralegan community development episode has been adopted as the case study for the present brief.
The predominantly rural backdrop of a developing country like India means that its villages and the population residing therein constitute 60-70% of the nation. It was recognised by the forerunners of the independence movement in India such as Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekananda that rural development within the country could only become a reality if the common man participated in the development effort, especially those directly impacted by the current social state of affairs. This needs a revolution both at the individual level, and within the social psyche as a whole. It was against this backdrop that the movement at Ralegan Siddhi commenced in 1975.
The ongoing exercise of fostering rural development within the country required on role model, comprising a village where the general quality of life had seen a marked improvement on all aspects. While a number of individuals associated rural development with infrastructural improvements such as pucca roads, availability of utilities such as water supply, electricity and telecommunications and the alleviating of unemployment and migration concerns within a village, in reality, it is the affected individuals who should actually evidence the transformation as part of the development process. “Ralegan Siddhi”, a small village in Parner Taluk of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra is one of them. The village is truly self-sufficient using scientific means and resources, the villagers changed the face of Ralegan Siddhi, under the leadership of Padmashree Shri Anna Hazare (Brack, 2001), one of the major proponents being the Watershed Development Programme. Some of the changes initiated by Anna Hazare were to prohibit alcohol, provide for pure water to drink, rehab facilities for alcohol addicts and a unified approach to management of human and other resources within the Ralegan village.
Ralegan Siddhi – characteristics
Ralegan Siddhi is located in the Parner Taluk of Ahmednagar district in Maharastra. On the agricultural front, only 70% of the land was agriculturally suitable, with the regions of lower attitude characterised by patches of black soils mixed with pebbles and the higher areas having lower productivity soils which were unsuitable for cultivation. Besides, higher temperatures and lower levels of rainfall made the arable land even more difficult to exploit for the local farming population.
According to the 1991 census, the population of the village constituted 1,982 people comprising 310 households, with the sex ratio being 902 females per 1000 males (www.fao.org). Further, the main occupation for the majority of the people is agriculture, the lesser prominent being grocers, drivers, cobblers, barbers, blacksmiths, broom-makers, health workers, teachers, shopkeepers, flour mill operators, welders and bank workers.
The village before the development efforts
Prior to the commencement of the community development work at Ralegan, the village was notorious as a conduit of illegal alcohol and domestic violence. It was characterised by abysmal living conditions with impoverishment, ailments, lack of basic necessities such as pure drinking water and a very uncertain employment that was predominantly reliant on rainfall. The curse of debt had more or less trapped all of the villagers, with the inability to repay these debts pushing them further into the ensuing vicious cycle.
The over reliance on rainfall soon manifested itself in the form of a gross destruction of the surrounding jungles and an increase in the frequency of droughts afflicting the village, leading to a drop in the general standard of living to very low levels. As a result, a number of villagers resorted to alcohol as the easy way out, which in turn had twofold negative results – an increase in the domestic violence within households on the one hand, and a general increase in the level of goondaism among the youths of the village in general, further influenced by the high levels of employment.
This also resulted in an increase in the general level of inequality within the village, with a handful of the families being well off, primarily due to them being involved in illegal businesses and most other families impoverished in terms of general living conditions. This was further exacerbated by the drought and social vices such as drinking having taken their toll on their lives. This also drove a number of people to move to the cities and other greener pastures in search of a more stable means of livelihood, so they could service the debts with their money lenders and feed their families. There was shortage of water in the village, but to their credit, the village sustained itself by meeting its minimum water requirements from one or two wells. Development in all forms, including formal education took a back seat, anarchy thrived and the spirit of working towards the improvement of the community as a whole was lost.
In 1972, when severe drought struck most parts of Maharashtra, various Tata Trusts and Tata Companies formed the “Tata Relief Committee” (www.cfar.umd.edu). As a result, the committee initiated community development projects in six of the villages of Parner Taluk, predominantly engaging itself in the work of securing drinking water for the villages by tankers. Another accomplishment of the committee was its illustrious “food for work” program in these villages, actively supported by the Catholic Relief Society. What makes this whole turnaround an illustrious one is the apparent hopeless position that the village found itself in before Anna Hazare initiated the movement in 1975, and the marked level of improvement thereafter.
The above listed dismal conditions signal the significance of a holistic approach to community development in the villages, in view of the dispersed nature of issues affecting the villagers and the reaction to these issues. Development should be a sustainable one, which satisfies the basic needs of the target groups and paving a fruitful way for the future generation. Following are the approaches that Anna pursued to enhance people’s participation.
Initiating change at the root level – The Gandhian principle is that change should begin at the individual level. As the individuals change, the village will change, which will lead to the change of the whole country. To clarify, the Gandhian approach was more focused on self-practicing rather than preaching.
Creation of a sociable place – Despite all the issues, a common meeting place was created in a form of temple, which provided people with a forum where they could get together and exchange notes on common issues facing them, thereby fostering a sense of friendship, cooperation and communication among them.
Moral cleansing – Preachings of great people like Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave and religious ceremonies were arranged to enlighten the people.
Selfless leadership – Anna donated his property to the hostel building and his pension money to the village common fund. He stayed in the temple and eating the food cooked for the hostel boys. By seeing his selfless services, the village people also extended their contributions and support.
Problem identification – Given that the primary means of livelihood of the villagers was agriculture, and that one of their most pressing problems was the shortage of water, water scarcity was collectively acknowledged by one and all within the village as their major concern.
Socialization of costs and surpluses – Volunteers are the main component through which the labor costs can be minimized and it helped to develop a sense of belongingness among them. Special attention was paid to develop deprived sections.
Democratic decision making – Every new initiative was analyzed in the meetings. Thus, at every stage, people’s involvement is vital.
Need-based development – Given the identification of water shortage as the major anathema that had struck the village, a high priority was placed on watershed management, thereby placing a heavy premium on ensuring that every rainwater drop was trapped and effective drainage systems were developed within the village. This was also accompanied by engineering the crops to be grown in line with the local conditions and the needs of the village economy. Organic manure is prepared by the farmers by using human and animal wastes as well as crop residues. Similarly, solar streetlights, community toilets, biogas plant for cooking, well managed school were established and being run successfully.
Cooperative management system – To avoid any irregular and misuse of water, Water Ration Cards are maintained by the farmers, thereby building a self-discipline among the farming community to effectively utilise their respective allocations of water rations.
Women empowerment – The village development has also resulted in a marked elevation in the status of women in the society, which in turn changed the attitudes of men towards women. Mahila Mandals (Women Groups) manage the women-specific issues. Dairy management is done by the women of the village.
Facilitating village organizations – Village organizations have been developed for effective and smooth functioning of the activities. Each of these units is separately registered and is competent enough to take operational decisions. Thus, in all the above approaches, people’s participation is considered more imperative (Ledwith & Campling, 2005).
Watershed Development Programme – Key to their Success
Watershed development and management can be defined as the development, management and administration of the resources considering watershed as a unit. A watershed is made up of all natural resources in a catchments of a basin particularly water, soil, and vegetative factors (www.manage.gov.in). In short, it is the comprehensive development of the basin to make productive use of all its natural resources and to protect them on long-term basis.
The main aspects of this programme are: Afforestation, Live check dams, Gully plugging, Boulders, Earthen structures, Contour bunding and graded bunding, Land shaping, Percolation tanks and the Use of improved seeds for better agronomical practices. By this time, Anna had come forward to renovate the futile percolation tank. The water which was used to drain out earlier, now started percolating, thus replenishing the groundwater. The well had 30 feet of water. Similarly, 7 wells in that village got a new life that year. There is enough water even during summer.
Due to success of watershed development programme, the agricultural production increased and the per capita income of the village shot up from Rs. 271 in 1975 to Rs. 2,200. More than 40% of the households have an annual income of more than Rs. 48,000. More than one-fourth of the households have an annual income above 4 lakh rupees per annum. Ralegan exports onion worth 80 lakh rupees. The total agricultural production went up from 294.3 tonnes in 1975-76 to 1386.2 tonnes in 1985-86.
The World Bank Group has concluded that the village of Ralegan Siddhi was transformed from a highly degraded village ecosystem in a semi-arid region of extreme poverty to one of the richest in the country. People participation is the key word for all the work, which is done by the local institution of the people, by the people and for the people. The whole community takes part in all the stages of Planning, Execution, Evaluation and Asset maintenance. Thus the integrated effort of the whole community led to better implementation of this programme relevant to employment generation, thus satisfying the needs of the people.
SWOT analysis of CD* programme in Ralegan Siddhi
Every aspect in our life has its own Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Ralegan Siddhi is not an exception. So, SWOT analysis paves way for the further improvement of the whole community development programme.
Specific challenges for future improvement of CD* programme
- People’s participation and involvement is possible provided there is a committed leadership to educate, organize and motivate them.
- Voluntary involvement and sustained effort are the essential factors for a sustainable community development.
- Commitment with flexibility and innovativeness are necessary for success.
- Need-based programmes should be implemented to increase the benefit of the community.
- The poorer and the weaker sections of the society should be given importance to sustain their emotions and confidence.
- Any process aiming at people’s participation should be started at the individual level.
- The basic components of environment, particularly land, water and vegetation are the vital links to bring rural people together as their livelihoods are closely reliant on these natural resources.
Community development is a key to reviving local economies and communities. It is pivotal in the delivery of services and promoting participation and joint working. Popple (1995) suggests that community work typically is driven from two distinctive roots: benevolent paternalism and collective community action. Since 1975 under Anna’s leadership, Ralegan Siddhi has been evolving as a self-sufficient village and an elementary unit of social organization, displaying both these traits of successful community work. For many years now, Ralegan has been a byword for Model development. The success has made the Indian Government to request Anna to take up the program in 300 taluks (counties) of Maharastra state. The major elements responsible for the successful people’s participation in Ralegan are: emergence of local leadership and voluntary action. The more the people involve themselves in the activities, the more the sustainable development.