Insights Of My Rural Stay In Malda-RLLE 2017 – XSRM
(RLLE, an integral pedagogical component of the MBA-RM Program of Xavier School of Rural Management is mandatory for all students. Animated by the conviction that students of the MBA-RM must have the willingness, capacity and drive to learn from the lives of people with whom they are going to work, is the main component of RLLE)
My 45 days of experience living in Eklakhi Village in Malda, West Bengal was learning and unlearning of my past prejudices and views. It was exactly the kind of experience, which is needed to grow as a person. My time there made me learn and realize the importance of building relationships and helping others.
I have understood that in the classrooms whatever we have been taught is to simplify and generalise things since we categorise people based on their socio-economic and cultural differences. However, we fail to realise that each village is different and so is its people’s perspectives. It cannot be “a one size fits all” scenario. Empathy and Rural communication are two very important assets to be learnt as a Developmental practitioner. For me, the strength and bond of human relationships were quite strong in the village. You need to understand and empathise with them on a deeper level to connect with them. For me personally, at first, they were quite apprehensive while talking to my RLLE partner and me as they thought us to be people from the government. However, later on, they connected well with us and welcomed to their houses with open arms. I remember once, we went to a BPL household whose yearly income was around 40000 rupees however he made sure that we were given milk tea and he himself gave us fresh milk from the one cow that he had. We were astounded by the level of hospitality since in the urban households it is difficult to get even a glass of water without asking for it. We never asked him anything yet he went out of his way to welcome us warmly.
In Dokkhin Chitkul or in Eklakhi village the people over there are not moulded by the outside world. Hence their culture is completely unaffected by the onslaught of advertisements and prejudices regarding life. For them living a good life is all about strengthening the human bond and treat each other with kindness. The trust and understanding among them are such that they buy things on credit and pay later. Their idea of entertainment is chatting with each other with some tea and hot samosa. In Bengali, this phenomenon is referred to as “Adda” or an informal gathering. From exchanging different stories to solving their daily problems, these informal gatherings are quite productive.
My meetings with our Reporting Officer, Mr Shibesh Das was quite enlightening. He was the secretary of RCHSS (Rajadighi Community Health Service Society) and worked very closely for the development of Eklakhi village and its surrounding areas. He was a Schoolmaster earlier and garnered tremendous respect from everyone over there. From him, I learnt a lot about sustainable and organic agriculture as he himself practised it in the self-made kitchen garden. He made me understand the priorities of life which were also reflected in the simple ways and living of the people of Dokkhin Chitkul.
My views regarding food is another very important aspect that has undergone a drastic change after 45 days. Earlier I used to prefer fast-food a lot. However seeing how animals like goats, chickens and so on are often treated as family members even having pet names.I decided to be more compassionate towards them. Eating home-cooked food daily also helped me to shed more than 10 kilos in my 45 days over there. Now I am planning to make more prudent food choices, read the food labels and try to reduce eating fast-food.
I also got accustomed to the pace of life in the villages. I developed a sense of patience over there and did not have to use my smartphone regularly. In fact, each day as I went to the village, I left my smartphone in the room. The farmers of Dokkhin Chitkul take great pride in their work. I was fortunate to see the entire process of potato cultivation. The love and care with which they did their work made me realise that work for them was not only work but a devotion.
Meeting Deepti Mukherjee was another profound experience for me. She was a 60-year-old frail lady who worked for the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) for more than three decades. Her husband died in her twenties and she had to raise two daughters alone in an unknown place since she was a native of Eklakhi village. She saw the entire Eklakhi village evolving when there was no electricity and people had to go to their houses after 5 pm because of dacoits. She was instrumental in early childhood nutrition in her village and has helped two generations to reach their correct weight and height and prevent fatal diseases related to malnourishment. She made sure that children got their polio drops and other necessary vaccinations. Even with a meagre salary, her after determination and commitment for the improvement of the community.
Surveying for me was another experience, which helped me to connect people on a deeper level. An article “If I were to conduct a village study“ by Deep Joshi, one of the founders of PRADAN (Professional Assistance For Development Action) helped me a lot since it taught me to conduct a village survey as if you are living in the village itself. Hence conducting surveys for more than 50 households made me deeply understand their social living conditions, their needs and wants and their issues at large. There were BPL households who in spite of having BPL cards had an issue with inflated electricity bills despite having BPL electricity connection and being deprived of the benefit of schemes like the Indira Awas Yojana (Housing scheme for the poor) or Swacch Bharat (Cleanliness campaign where toilets are built for the poor). The experience also made me understand that change is gradual since 100 percent electrification was achieved only in 2012 and the proper dirt road was only constructed in 2011.
I would like to conclude that in the 45 days over there in the small village of Eklakhi in Malda district I have developed as an individual by imbibing the virtuous values of village life and learnt to differentiate what is authentic and what is superfluous. After coming back, I have maintained contact with Shibesh sir and other members of the organisation through social media and even telephone calls. It is my endeavour now that I do not forget this life-changing experience, kindness received and the values that I have learnt from the various people that I have come across in the village. I do not know where my future will lead me to but I do know that these good-hearted people in the bottom of the pyramid should be benefitted from whatever and whichever work I am fortunate and capable to do. Ending my experience with a quote from Harriet Jackson Brown Jr.
“Life doesn’t require that we be the best, only that we try our best”.