Smoke-free kitchens, productive farmlands, abundant natural resources and active participation of people in local administration — these are some of the features that make over a dozen villages in Belagavi district stand apart. Life has changed for the better in these villages that are located on the fringes of forests in Khanapur, Belagavi and Hukkeri taluks of Belagavi district. Take Kattanbhavi in Belagavi taluk, for instance. The verdant landscape and confident people do not remind one of the tough times the village had to undergo just three decades ago.
“We are equipped with knowledge, know our drawbacks and believe in our strengths. As a community, we want to improve the village life in all possible ways,” say farmers of Kattanbhavi, pointing at the village water body that brims with water. The pond, desilted through voluntary work (shramadana), stands as a fine example of community effort. The concept of enhancing rural livelihoods through active participation of people was introduced in this region by Shivaji Kagnekar, 67, a social reformer, who has successfully explored the possibilities of sustainable rural development.
It all started in the early 1970s when Shivaji, a BSc student, quit formal education to work at the grassroots level with the avowed objective of empowering people. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave, Shivaji made it a point to become a part of the village, where he was working, and consider it his home. In those days, these villages were ridden with poverty, illiteracy and other socio-economical problems. Only a few people owned land and others worked as labourers. The farming methods aimed at only short term gains. Overdependence on forest produce had led to the decline of forest. Deforestation had affected the availability of water and quality of soil in the villages. Shivaji moved from village to village, creating awareness about the importance of proper management of natural resources.
While he led from the front, he ensured that people take the ownership of activities. The initiatives are inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” The turn of events made villagers realise that if they want to improve their living conditions and work towards it, nothing can stop them. Shivaji became a link between the outside world, specifically government and the villages, and made sure that they get the best opportunities to become self-reliant.