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Thursday, July 19, 2018

The bicycle diaries

They set out on cycles to visit over 300 hundred villages across four states in India.

Written by Pupul Chatterjee | Published: June 28, 2010 11:17:38 pm

A gritty group of cyclists journeyed from Pune to Chennai, à la Che Guevara,chronicling village life on the way

They set out on cycles to visit over 300 hundred villages across four states in India. The group that comprised three doctors,however,is not aware of Che Guevara or the Motorcycle Diaries ,but they have the grit and determination to change the world,sans his revolutionary ways.

“ The most remarkable village that we came across was Lungnur in Kolhapur district. Until the last three years,children here would walk 25 km to school. But now,the gram panchayat here is run by the educated younger generation. After seven years of deliberations and delays these people started a political literacy campaign and are now running the village administration,” says Rushikesh Khilare,one of the nine members of the group that set out on a cycle rally from Ralegaon Siddhi in Maharashtra to Chennai.

“ While in Lungnur programmes like watershed management are running very successfully,the neighbouring villages are still very backward. We had set out on a mission to enlighten the villagers,but instead they have enlightened and inspired us,” said Khilare,who has finished his MA from a city college. At the end of the trip they have realised that individual efforts by many young minds have brought about radical changes in these villages.

They started their journey on June 6 from Pune and have come back to the city after a 21 day tour that ended in Chennai. They carried out extensive studies of 189 villages,where they spent a considerable amount of time and have documented the efforts and problems of the villagers.

After repeated reports of suicides,there is some good news from the farmers of Andhra Pradesh. Khilare says that most of them use very updated technology. “They sow seeds of jowar etc one to two months before the monsoon,in smaller patches of land. When the rains come they transplant them to the farms. As a result their crops hit the markets sooner and do better business,while our farmers in Maharashtra are still waiting for the crop to grow.”

While they wanted to spread awareness about APJ Abdul Kalam’s vision of India at 2020,when they asked the villagers if they have heard of it,some said they had indeed heard about the T20 cricket,but had no clue about any such vision by Kalam. Some others said that they did not care for any such thing while their kids still went to bed on an empty stomach.

“ Such views did leave us dejected at first. The reality hit us hard. In places like Dharvad in Karnataka,children drop out of school to work in tea stalls and hotels in many cities. Tired of everything in the village,their parents sell their farms to settle for meagre jobs in the cities,” says Kiran Chavan,who is a final year student of BJ Medical College in Pune.

Illiteracy,alcoholism,tobacco and other addictions,apart from the fact that most government programmes don’t reach these villages,are some of the common problems in all the villages,according to the group.

“ Even students of Std X are addicted to tobacco. A child of Std IV cannot even write his name and goes to school only for the mid day meal. In fact the drop out rates are rising each year in these villages,especially in Tamil Nadu,” adds Chavan.

The group will soon publish a report of their study and meet Indian President Pratibha Patil and APJ Abdul Kalam. They will also submit a copy of their report to the Planning Commission. The report will include suggestions from their side.

When told about Che,Khilare said,“Indeed we have to learn a lot from people like him. I will not say that we want to change the world,but at least we will try to contribute in our own little way.”

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