STORY OF SUSHILA
An Ecological Approach to Development
I am Sushila. My husband’s name is Baswane. I am 30 and he is 35 years old. We got married 15 years ago. We have four children, two girls and two boys. Kavita is my eldest daughter she is 13 years and studies in 7th Std. Laxmi comes next. She is 11 and goes to 5th Std. Our sons Ashok and Harish are aged 5 and 3 years and they go to the kindergarten in the village.
We belong to the tribal community called Naik. Our tribe is also known under the names Berad and Valmiki. During the British colonial period our tribe was listed as a criminal tribe. When there were cases of cattle lifting, illicit liquor making or dacoity our men folks were rounded up and harassed by the police. I felt sad about it. It is said that the sage Valmiki who wrote the world famous epic Ramayana was from our tribe. I feel proud to hear that.
When my parents told me that I was to be given in marriage to Kattanbhavi village I was scared. I thought that I was condemned to misery for life. I was told that Kattanbhavi village had no easy access to drinking water. Women had to walk 1.5 km down the valley to fetch water. Getting firewood for cooking was another major issue. Jungles close to the village had vanished. It meant a long trek over the barren hills in search of firewood. I did not have a say in the matter of my marriage. I just had to nod to what was already settled by the elders. I considered myself lucky, when I learnt that my husband had a small job in Gogte Mills in Belgaum and some land.
Life in Kattanbhvi was tough. With great difficulty we eked out a living from the little land we had and from the wages my husband brought home. I took care of the children, made numerous difficult and tiring trips for water and firewood, did all the cooking, washing and house cleaning and also worked on our land during rainy season and went for wage labour at other times. I used to be up by 5 am and could go to sleep only by 10 pm.
rom the year 1992 I saw a lot of changes taking place in our village. Fr. Joe, a Jesuit priest and social workers from his organization Jana Jagaran, were frequent visitors to our village. Jana Jagaran conducted night schools for the school dropouts and the illiterates. They motivated the elders to undertake a watershed programme. From 1993 Jana Jagaran along with the people of the village initiated many works in the village for rainwater harvesting. We understood that rainwater harvesting was the only solution to our drinking water problem and deteriorating environment. We learnt about the importance of counter trenching, land levelling, terracing, gully plugs, check dam, mud dam and a-forestation. We got regular work with wages under this project.
Slowly the face of the village began to change. The watershed project helped in recharging the ground water table. The problem of drinking water is fully solved. We have now many more trees in the village. The barren hills look greener. The yield from agriculture has increased three folds. There is plenty of fodder and grass for the animals. Many young people who migrated to cities in search of work returned to Kattanbhavi.
Jana Jagaran had told us about the usefulness of biogas plants cum toilets. But due to lack of water in the village only a few families came forward initially to build biogas. But when the water problem was solved many more families built biogas plants. Many families bought milk animals.
With the wages I earned from the work in watershed programme and a small loan from our women’s self group I bought a cow. I too wanted to build a biogas plant cum toilet. But I was hesitant. I found the idea of cooking on gas produced from dung and night soil difficult to digest. Social workers of Jana Jagaran Shivaji and Ishwar tried to convince me. They took me to the houses of Karevva Naik, Laxmi More and Bharati Bhandurge. These neighbours showed me their biogas cum toilet units. They made me drink tea and taste food cooked on biogas stove. It tasted as good as any other tea, any other food. But I was still confused.
Once Fr. Joe, Director of Jana Jagaran came to my house. He asked me, ‘Sushila, on what do people in the village normally cook?’ I replied, ‘On fire wood, on kerosene, and some on petroleum gas’. Joe did not agree! He laughed and said, ‘Nobody cooks on firewood, kerosene or gas, but everybody cooks on FIRE and fire is holy and sacred. It is the great purifier. When gas is lit there is no more gas but only fire and it is on fire that everybody cooks’. Joe took me to my neighbour Karevva’s kitchen for a demonstration. He opened the gas tap but did not light the stove. The place stunk of rotten egg. Joe said, ‘This is the smell of biogas and I don’t like this stink’. Then he closed the tap. The foul smell disappeared. Joe held a lit matchstick over the stove and opened the tap again. There was a beautiful blue flame over the stove but no foul smell. Joe said, ‘What you see now is not gas but fire, and we cook on fire’.
This did the trick and I decided to have a biogas cum toilet unit. The cost of it was Rs. 14500. Jana Jagaran mobilised Rs. 8000 from the government by way of subsidy. I contributed Rs. 2000 by my physical labour. The rest was the contribution of Jana Jagaran. My plant is already five years old. It is working beautifully well. I feel happy and proud. I never thought that this intervention by Jana Jagaran would bring in so many changes in my life and help me to come out of my poverty and misery. Because of the biogas cum toilet unit:
I have easy access to efficient cooking fuel
I do not have to make cow-dung cakes, dry and store them for fuel
I am saved from the hellish smoke in the kitchen
I do not have to scrub the cooking vessels to remove the soot
I have a modern gas stove for cooking
My greatest problem, finding privacy for toilet needs, is solved
I have access to a large quantity of organic manure
My land has become more productive
Now there are trees on the field bunds and on the hills around
There is better sanitation and hygiene in the family and village
It is no exaggeration to say that biogas cum toilet units brought about a mini-revolution in my village. It has effectively arrested the deterioration of ecology by putting an end to cutting of trees and helping us to plant more trees. The increased availability of organic manure made our land fertile again. The increase in fodder and crop residues encouraged us to have more milk animals. More milk, more water, more crops, more trees, more job opportunities - my village is becoming richer. I am happy that I am in Kattanbhavi.
Allow me to tell you a little more about my village Kattanbhavi. It has a population of 1344, male 600 and female 744. Yes, there are more females than males in my village. Jana Jagaran contributed a lot in improving the status of women in our village! There are 157 houses in the village, out of which 135 houses installed biogas plants and 80 houses attached toilets to their biogas plants. There are another 15 families in the queue waiting their turn to get a biogas cum toilet unit built.
I talked of the mini-revolution brought about by biogas plants in my village. But it is not limited to my village. It has spread to hundreds of other villages. When I go for festivals and weddings I keep my eyes open and look for biogas plants and I find them everywhere. When Joe and Ishwar visited us recently, I asked Ishwar, the co-ordinator of Jana Jagaran Biogas Project, ‘How many biogas plants have you constructed?’ Ishwar replied, ‘Jana Jagaran has to its credit 7000 biogas plants in the villages of Belgaum District.’ He added, ‘During the last decade Belgaum District constructed and commissioned more than 52000 Biogas Plants. Belgaum was declared again and again the 1st district of the country in the promotion of Biogas Plants.’ Ishwar gave me the information that Belgaum District was assessed to have the potential for the construction of over 834,000 family based biogas plants.
This information tickled my curiosity. So I asked Ishwar again, ‘What would be our national potential ? Ishwar said, ‘Sorry, I have no idea, but let us ask Fr. Joe.’ Joe had the answer ready. He said, ‘The Advisory Board on Energy in its report, Toward a Perspective on Energy Demand and Supply in India in 2004/5, has estimated the Indian potential for family-based biogas plants at 16 to 22 million. These plants can deliver the energy equivalent of 13.4 million tonnes of kerosene oil and fertilizer equivalent of 4.4 million tones.’ I was amazed with Joe’s answer. I said to myself, ‘We have a bright future,biogas plant is the answer to some of our pressing problems!’
When Joe and Ishwar were relishing the tea I made on my biogas stove I thanked God for their friendly intervention in helping me to have my own biogas cum toilet unit and I dreamt of the day when millions of houses like mine would have, in their backyard, a small gas and manure factory with a toilet attached.
Fr. Joe Chenakala S.J.
PS: Kattanbhavi watershed has become a dream come true thanks to the generous help from Mossionsprokur and Mr. Rudolf Schleicher of Munchen