Life under one man’s diktat rankles with Ralegan youth
JAIDEEP HARDIKAR IN RALEGAN SIDDHI
While Ralegan Siddhi holds Anna as a virtual deity, many among the younger generation here feel it’s time they began to come out of his shadow.
It isn’t that the villagers don’t respect him, but some of them feel it is detrimental in the long run that one man decides what is good or bad for them. The days of he-says-we-follow are over.
While the regard for the man credited with its transformation from the days of poverty and drought is still intact, young villagers, barring those associated with his anti-corruption campaign, have begun to dismantle the belief system on which the Ralegan Siddhi model stood.
Three decades ago, the village had rallied behind Anna believing he was a saviour and could never err.
Till 2000 Ralegan had had no time for elections: the villagers would simply accept Anna’s choice for sarpanch and the executive. The sarpanch would always be from one of the three most dominant families — the Pathares, the Maparis and the Awatis — all Marathas.
One hears stories that Anna would flog drunkards, prescribe vegetarianism, or ask people to stay away from films that he thought might be a bad influence. It was true in part but all that’s history, says Mapari Sr.
“We don’t have liquor shops but people do go outside the village to drink. Even in the past, prohibition was never total.”
Some also eat meat from time to time. But Ralegan still follows certain social norms it had set for itself in the 1970s after severe droughts. Like most villages around it, Ralegan is dominated by Marathas. Most households are small farmers with barely one to two hectares of landholdings; a handful has more than five hectares.
In the village of 2,317 (about 430 households), the Dalits and tribals together number just about 200. More than 50 of Ralegan’s youths, including Anna’s nephew, are in the army; several others hold government or private jobs elsewhere.
This inequalities reppurcussions were felt elsewhere. On August 24 2011, Indian dalits (members of the 'untouchables' caste), demonstrated against Anna Hazare at India Gate in New Delhi. Some 8,000 dalits rallied to protest against what they see as the elitist anti-graft campaign of fasting activist Anna Hazare. Dalit activists have challenged Hazare's campaign on several fronts, saying his efforts to force parliament into adopting stronger anti-corruption legislation poses a challenge to the Indian constitution