On the 9th of this month, i was invited to be the Chief Guest at the inauguration of a new NGO. This NGO called SMART was set up to promote organic farming and give training to rural youth and farmers. What made the event special to me was that this NGO was being set up at Chinnadagudihundi near Nanjangud. For many of you, who may not be aware of the SVYM story, Chinnadagudihundi was the village that i went to in December 1984 as soon as SVYM was set up. It is a small village, 7 km from Mysore and it lies on the rail route between Nanjangud and Chamarajanagar.
I first went there in December 1984 on the invitation of a person from the village whom i befriended in the bus as i was travelling from Bangalore to Mysore. We set up a weekly clinic there and 4-5 of us with a post graduate went there on Sundays and ran the same. Running this clinic was our first real experience at social service. It was also one of shortest projects. It lasted exactly 5 weeks. January 1985 was election time. One political party claimed credit for inviting us to their village and for helping us with running the clinic. Another felt offended and demanded that we tell the villagers that they were responsible for the same. Caught in the crossfire, we made a quick exit, never to look back.
24 years later, i went back to this village. Nothing had really changed! The same people, the same stories of poverty and needs. The same dusty roads, poor hygiene and sanitary conditions. The only visible change was that the local school now had a compound and that the Zilla Panchayath had put up name boards of the village. The adage ‘that more things change, the more they remain the same’ seemed to be very true for this village. I interacted with the people. I recognized that the feeling of hopelessness, the caste equations and subsequent politics, the apathy and indifference to how they lived – all remained the same. They were waiting 25 years ago for a messiah, for a selfless political leader to arrive to ensure their development; today they are still waiting. My own convictions of ‘community driven development’ processes were running through my mind. Would any of it make any difference to these people? Can we really wake up people who are pretending to be asleep? Would this new NGO really be able to empower them and get them to making their own lives and destinies? Only time can tell…