Last week part of the GRAVIS team visited the field and met Gorakhram Bishnoi, the Sarpanch, or leader, of Mansagur Village in Osian Tehsil of Jodhpur District. His village consists of 566 households and nearly 3,000 people. As Sarpanch, Gorakhram Ji also acts as the president of one of GRAVIS’s 825 VDCs, which is comprised of about a dozen community representatives, almost half of which are women.
We spoke to Gorakhram about a number of topics, from Prime Minister Modi and crop failure compensation to the future of traditional drought mitigation technology. Generations of indigenous knowledge equip Gorakhram’s community with a variety of strategies for coping with drought, including storing emergency water supplies, grain and fodor as well as predicting drought patterns based on historical trends. However, Mansagur village also incorporates modern technology, like weather monitoring systems, that allow farmers to record the information necessary to prove their crops were damaged in order to receive compensation from the government. More remote villages who either do not have access to government data or whose local weather is inaccurately represented by that data (for example, if there is rain where the governments monitoring system is but not in a more remote part of the Thar) are unable to prove they are owed compensation when their crops fail. To help improve crop-failure reporting and communication between rural farmers and government officials, VDCs advocate for farmers in their village and ensure those who are owed compensation receive it.
GRAVIS is a unique non-profit in a number of ways, but their focus on community empowerment and the way Gram Swarajya—Gandhi’s principle of village self rule—is integrated in all of their programming is an essential ingredient to their success. Village Development Committees are a key component to GRAVIS’s commitment to this philosophy. Every village where GRAVIS works has a VDC, a group comprised of various community representatives that acts as an intermediary between GRAVIS and the rural community. VDCs have a range of responsibilities including managing village funds, selecting development initiatives, supervising projects and allocating wages and materials.