Monday, February 08, 2010

Bihar’s Waterman

It took seven years and back-breaking work for Kamaleshwari Singh to dig a pond that would supply water to his village, reports

When water bodies in most villages in southern Bihar are shrinking and drying and villagers have to increasingly seek help from the state government, the story of a frail 63-year-old man has attracted attention from far and wide — mostly, however, from the people and nearly none so far from the Nitish Kumar government.

Kamaleshwari Singh, a semi-literate farmer of Manikpur village in Barh block of Patna district, surprised everyone who came to know of his feat. Over seven years, this man has dug a 60-ft-by-60-ft pond that is 25 ft deep, all by himself, using only a trowel and a bucket. He had to use a trowel, he says, because he could not manage to lift a spade.

Manikpur village, some 100km from the Bihar capital, is a back-of-the-beyond village that, like most villages in the state, has seen no development over the past two decades. Even bicycle tracks are non-existent here, let alone electricity and irrigation facilities in this village that has a population of 2,000 people. But Kamaleshwari’s achievement suddenly pitchforked Manikpur into the list of famous villages in Bihar. The pond he dug out of his farmland has been compared with the achievement of the late Dashrath Manjhi of Gaya district’s Gahlaur village, who carved a wide road from a hill. Manikpur village had no pond before Kamaleshwari decided to get one dug, thereby making a permanent source of water available to the residents of Manikpur.

What makes Kamaleshwari’s achievement more significant is that his initial inspiration for the job and his continued determination to keep digging for seven years came from his frustration with what he calls “nasty village politics”. He was not a participant in village politics. A simple farmer who owned 12 bighas of land 15 years ago and now has only five bighas, he got entangled in the regular tide of crime in his village and surrounding villages. His elder son, who kept fighting pitched battles for supremacy with gangsters in the nearby villages, was killed. Kamaleshwari had to sell seven bighas of his land to fight court cases. Thoroughly disgusted, he once decided not to fight any court cases and to rather concentrate on “something constructive”.

“I always wanted my village Manikpur to have a pond of its own. For years, when I was young, I tried to persuade villagers and even local politicians to help set up a pond in the village. But nobody paid attention to what I said. As I kept witnessing the people of my village finding it difficult to take proper baths and irrigate their farms close to their homes, something kept burning inside me as I was unable to do anything myself. I found myself getting falsely implicated in cases like violent crimes and even a murder in all those years. After losing my 26-year-old elder son, Siyaram, to gang war, I decided to forget all bitterness and start doing something constructive,” Kamaleshwari told TEHELKA. As he started digging for the pond on a field close to his house in the summer of 1996, the sun scorching his bare back and sweat lining his body, the entire village started laughing at him. “Children and elders alike kept looking at me and laughing. They even ridiculed me by calling me ‘Talabi Baba’. My own family tried to restrain me from this work, but I kept ignoring everything and got the pond ready in seven years,” said Kamaleshwari, who studied only up to Class VIII.

The 60-ft-by-60-ft pond has enough water even in summer for the villagers to bathe, wash clothes and feed their cattle. At the height of summer, the water level in the pond remains at over 10 ft, say villagers. “It is a boon that our village has now got a pond. We have only about five hand pumps in the village, so most villagers face difficulty in bathing, washing clothes and preparing cattle-feed. Kamaleshwaribaba’s work has made a big difference to our lives,” said Dinesh Singh, a farmer. In fact, the village, inhabited by people from various upper and lower castes like Rajputs and the Yadavs, has deep and complex caste divisions that disallow people from using one another’s resources. “But there is no caste division in the use of this pond,” says Rakesh Kumar Gupta, a villager. Although a river, the Dagrain, flows just 4km from Manikpur village, its water fails to reach the fields due to the absence of irrigation facilities. So several villagers find this pond a dependable source of water for irrigating their farmland close to it.

Kamaleshwari would start digging from 6 in the morning till about 7 in the evening everyday. “It was never easy to dig a pond with a trowel. I would dig some earth, fill it in the bucket and throw it away. I wanted to dig in the evening, but there was no electricity. There is still no electricity,” laughed Kamaleshwari. His wife, Draupadi Devi, said Kamaleshwari kept toiling at the field even when his family had to face grave financial constraints. “We had run out of nearly all our wealth after getting our three daughters married off. Then the murder of Siyaram and the false cases against my husband made us poorer. Jairam, the younger son, had got no work. But my husband ignored everything,” she said.

Kamaleshwari now lives with his wife, his murdered son’s two widows and three grandchildren. His scarce resources make it difficult for him to make both ends meet. “I want to do fish farming in this pond with the help of villagers so that we get fish to eat and make some money, too. But there has been no offer of help from the government so far despite our requests,” he said. With his love for gardening, he has planted fruit trees around the pond and there are now nearly 40 trees of mangoes, jackfruit and blackberries and some teak trees. The pond site often gets visitors from far and near. Kamaleshwari still works at the pond, trying to prevent it from silting. He still uses his worn-out trowel and bucket to dig earth and deepen the pond.

Even as stories about the pond and the old man’s feat keep being proudly narrated in various meetings of politicians and officials in Patna, local officials and elected leaders have hardly visited the pond. Neither the sarpanch nor the mukhiya have come calling, let alone the MLAs and ministers. There was some talk about recommending his name for felicitation by the government, but nothing has happened so far. “I want some development in this village. We need wires on the electricity poles, good roads and fish in this pond. I want to meet the chief minister at his Janata Ka Durbar in Patna soon,” said Kamaleshwari.

No comments: