Rovin Pushp

Rovin Pushp

Research Associate | VIF

3 Lessons from Jhabua

I had met Mahesh Sharma Ji and his team during PBC. I had liked their presentation and we had a brief discussion about their work. They told me that it is a community-led movement and the community reflects, thinks and solves its problems. Their presence made me feel good and I felt a sense of respect for them. Still, I was under the impression that few people must be leading this movement and others agreeing with them. And, the first rung of people (at most) will be happy and enthusiastic about their work while the rest will be less energetic and less creative individuals….

Like it happens, you know!! As a human being, I try to be non-judgemental but my mind has a task to do and it keeps generalizing the experiences…. Good thing is that it also feeds me with questions and tries to find meaning for new experiences.

During, first 2 days I realized after interacting with village level volunteers that they have so much to tell that the seven days we have kept for this learning tour aren’t enough. Also, each one of them gave me the same answers about challenges faced by their society, solutions community participation, halma, etc. They had so much of common understanding and so many common goals that it was difficult to distinguish between different narratives. And, this is where I started walking in this space with open eyes and ears. I felt that I was meeting a bunch of socially responsible leaders. Yet, in every sense they were ordinary – their clothing, food, education (in terms of degrees of course!), etc. I am compelled to call everyone I met as a leader as they were very clear about what they were doing, and they were consistently creating actions and progress in that direction).

I couldn’t hear or sense any signs of compulsion in their engagement with me or the work they were doing. I was surprised to know that all of them were not getting any financial or identity-related benefits from the project. Still, they are doing it for 12-15 years. They say that they are doing it for themselves. And they say it with such humility that it simply seeps in. They knew about the previous conditions and faults of lakes that they revived, how they choose a spot for lake-creation-revival, how to minimise expenditure, and how thousands of people will certainly come if a halma is ‘called’.

Halma – Some characteristics

  • Indigenous – It was part of their custom since many centuries. Due, to various reasons like market-based input, government welfare schemes, etc. it slowed down and discontinued in some parts.
  • Community led – There is no central authority for this practice. It is guided by moral and emotional force present in the collective consciousness.
  • Creative – Earlier this practice was used only for help in farming, family and social events. No one thought that it can be used like this (for re-creating & rejunvating ponds and water bodies)! But, when it was proposed most of them instantly said yes because it was being proposed around same principles.

Like most of us, they also have to earn their bread (that too under tough market conditions), take care of family members’ basic needs and health, engage in social interactions, attend marriages, birth and death ceremonies, etc.

Lesson 1– Leadership is a self-assumed position. It cannot be given or taken away from someone.

Leadership with a feeling of ‘parmarth’ is even better and they have adopted this thought as their guiding philosophy. It takes a lot to consistently work and think with this vision.

I was amazed to see that even after arrival of so many IItians, management people, government officials, TISS students, other professionals and experts…. People from this area still discuss and build their own plans, still there is apparently no communication/participation gap between people who plan and people who execute. Even if the core team gets any ideas, its their obligation to present, discuss and then take a call with people from villages. Even after a lengthy process of decision making, they have done far better than numerous other villages and blocks in terms of resource mobilization, community awareness, ownership, rural technology and sustainability of change.


Lesson 2 – As an administrator, one should not think on behalf of others while planning development activities. People should at least be consulted and they should be encouraged to understand the problem and explore solutions. An administrator should act as a facilitator and not as an owner.

I visited 8-9 farms and observed their farming practices. Still, many of these farmers don’t feel the need to put chemical fertilizers and pesticides. When, I asked they also shared that they can’t afford to buy chemicals. And thus, they remain satisfied with what they get. Some observations –

  • It’s very rare to find fireflies but it is still present in jhabua.
  • They haven’t moved towards monoculture of crops/monocropping. They still have at least 10-12 types of grains and pulses growing in their small village. One average farmer with a 2 acre land does multiple crops and mixes them while sowing. I saw peanut, tuar dal, mustard, til (both black and white), corn, jowar and other millets like kodo.
  • Jhabua naturals is a very good concept. It is owned and managed by farmers. Shiv ganga has roped in 100+ people from Indore to support and find market for farm products.
  • Some of the farmers are using drip irrigation, jivamrit, natural pesticides and compost to enhance the quantity and quality of their products. Their knowledge about indigenous agriculture is worth learning from….
  • Some of them have also started working on ‘Matrivan’ and they have developed a biodiversity-based land for conserving different species of shrubs, plants and trees. This also helps them to find fodder for cattle during summers.

Lesson 3– It was good the see the practical logic and experiences (that it is actually zero budget) of organic farming in this area. However, they need to find market and start processing their products.

Observation about school –

  • Government teaching job is again become lucrative. I met a young teacher from tribal community who has returned to his land after doing M.Tech and corporate job. Interestingly, he has good relationship with children which was evident in their conversation, Q.A and classroom work. I observed one class and also taught science and maths. It was a fun experience with teachers and villagers observing the process.