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AGRI-CLINIC & AGRI-BUSINESS CENTER: AWARE has been approved as Nodal Training Institute (NTI) by MANAGE (Government of India, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare) to conduct Training in Agri-Clinic and Agri-Business for Unemployed Agricultural Graduates /Diploma Holders/similar qualification. The training is for 60 days at Pujyashri Madhavanji Agricultural Polytechnic, at Aswaraopet Campus, Khammam District.... Read more...
Integrated Rural Development Program
AWARE and Madhavan by Kushwant Singh
As you drive from Charminar along the Srisailam highway, after passing Falaknuma palace and the mazhar of Pahari Baba on your right you come into the open country typical of the Hyderabad countryside: green undulating hills strewn with boulders and lakes. Twenty-four Kilometers along the road you come to Bhagwatipuram. This is not the name of a village or town but a landmark of Andhra Pradesh destined to become famous in India.

You turn right into an avenue lined with young coconut trees. The first thing you notice is a stupa-like structure raised in the memory of Kamakshi Amma, an 88-year-old lady from Kerala who was cremated here 2 years ago by her only son P.K.S. Madhavan, the builder of Bhagwatipuram. Next, you see a small pillar marking the site where P.N. Bhagwati, retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, laid the foundation stone of the institution named after him. On your left is a grand looking building which is in fact a students’ hostel. A few yards along it is a tiny two-room cottage which serves as the residence-cum-office of Chairman Madhavan.

Madhavan is a character everyone in India should know about. He is a 47-year-old Nambodri Brahmin and a bachelor wedded to an institution called AWARE, an acronym for Action for Welfare and Awakening in Rural Environment, which he gave birth in 1975.

The first place Madhavan takes you to before you see anything else is a platform in a mango grove named Vishvam, their meditation centre. All around are emerald green paddy fields with snow-white egrets hunting for frogs. A fresh cool breeze blows across.

It is in the mango grove, I learnt something about Madhavan from his own lips and from Vanaja Banagiri who was once on the staff of the Society and now looks after the publicity for AWARE. Madhavan was a student of anthropology. He came to Andhra Pradesh to do file work among Chenchu tribals for his doctoral thesis. He saw the wretched state of ignorance and poverty in which they lived: large numbers were forced to sell themselves and their sons as bonded labour to land owners from whom they had borrowed money. He also saw how government grants for their betterment were frittered away by babus and less than two per cent actually reached the people for whom they were meant. He was stung by remorse and felt that gathering material for a thesis was another way of exploiting poor people’s wretchedness. He put aside his academic work and decided to dedicate his life to the welfare of tribals (Chenchus and Lambadas) and scheduled castes. He gave priority to make them aware of their own rights and fight for them. In the last 17 years, AWARE has spread its activities to over 2,000 villages in Andhra Pradesh, five hundred villages in Orissa and an equal number in six other states Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. It has 700 full-time , 1200 part-time and 25,000 village volunteers. It has in fact become one of the most powerful revolutionary forces in the country.

Madhavan in a medium-sized, light-skinned balding man in glasses. You don’t discern any revolutionary fire in his eyes till you hear him speak. That morning there were upwards of 150 young tribal men and women in the assembly hall being briefed on the Penal and Criminal Procedure Codes and the Constitution. They were being trained to become barefoot lawyer who would go back to their villages in remote jungles and instruct their fellow villagers how to cope with the police, moneylenders and landlords. Believe it or not, the most rapacious exploiters of bonded labour are card-holding members of the communist party. After their teacher had spoken, Madhavan took over the microphone. Although I could not understand a word of what he said in Telugu, a language he picked up since he migrated to Andhra Pradesh, I could sense how he held his audience spellbound with his oratory. I saw more of it at a round-table meeting under a thatched roof where Lambadas and scheduled castes from drought-stricken villages in the neighborhood had assembled to discuss their plight and seek guidance from Madhavan.

Instead of speaking himself, he asked their elders to spell out the difficulties. There were over a dozen Lambada ladies decked in all their silver jewellery and arms encased in white plastic bangles from wrist to elbow. I had known them as Banjaran-gypsies, they are in fact forest dwellers who come to cities to work as labourers. Their women had none of the silly coyness of our middle-class girls. I asked them their names; they asked me mine and repeated it to make sure they had got it right. They told me of the drought, dried up wells, withered crops and starving cattle. “What will you do for them?” I asked Madhavan. I Know what the government will do, promise them on building roads, which the rains will wash out and give rice, which won’t last them a week. “We will make them clean up their tanks to store rainwater; we will teach them elements of dry-land farming, how to raise silkworms, teach their girls Kalamkari and other skills which will fetch them money. They have to learn to earn.” he replied.

“Anyone who joins AWARE has to promise not to drink alcohol or smoke,” said Madhavan. “I have no hang-ups about other people smoking or drinking; I offer my guests drinks. But if we drink and smoke ourselves, with what face can we tell villagers not to go do so?”

Young Delina, dark, dimpled, statuesque Keralite Christian draws my attention to posters on the wall and translates the message in Telugu: ‘Kick out the landlord and kick the drink habit’. “AWARE is committed to prohibition,” she says. Landlords pay labourers in jowar and toddy or arrack. They made them habitual drunkards. Madhavan confirms that in villages where liquor has been abolished, villagers work much harder, earn more money and are happier.

After a quick snack of idli, dosa and upma prepared by Delina, we go round the 80-acre training township of Bhagwatipuram. It was at one time barren land on which not a blade of grass grew. Surveys made by experts declared that there was no subsoil water. Madhavan staked his reputation and pointed to several spots where he felt water would be found. It has today over a dozen tube wells pumping out a constant stream of potable water. It is carried by pipes with holes to give each individual plant what it needs, not a drop is wasted. Villagers are shown how the same quantity of water can irrigate four times the land by the drip method. Seeing is believing, they have drip farming in practice in their villages.

In the two hours, that I spent in Bhagwatipuram I could only get a vague idea of the magnitude of the work being done by AWARE. I did not get to any of the schools, clinics and hospitals started by it and now handed over to tribals to run by themselves. They have even a boat hospital which plies on the Godavari to treat tribals living in its remote upper reaches in dense rain forests.

Where does the money come from? In the beginning, many foreign institutions financed some projects. Madhavan made them self-sufficient and even money generating. He organized saving banks, which the tribals operate themselves. Needless to say politicians who did not like his growing influence leveled wild charges against him for receiving foreign money. He accounted for every penny he had received and convinced them that when AWARE is fully operational, it will become fully self-sufficient. He realizes that an institution has to have sound foundations and must not rely on any one person to survive. “It is not the individual who matters; it is not even the institution that he sets up that matters. What really matters are the seeds of self-help sown in the minds of men and women. Once they germinate, they will sprout and ensure continuity.” Madhavan may not be here tomorrow. AWARE may cease to exist. But nothing will stop the onward match of the revolution that we have started in the lives of the downtrodden from gathering speed.”

THE HINDUSTAN TIMES (Monday, August 24, 1992 and Monday, August 31, 1992)