I had never heard about Dewari Gowada, until Venkat Sunderam, the Chairman of the Lodge Elysium Masonic Charitable Trust, of which I am a member, discussed a proposal to electrify this village. Devari Gowada is located in a remote area of the Aravali Hills in Rajasthan and forms a part of the famous Siriska Tiger Sanctuary.
Some of you must have read about an age-old institution called Freemasonry in
Dan Brown’s best seller “ Da Vinci Code” . The Elysium Trust is a part of that organization and hence it would be appropriate to say a few words about the Freemasons in India.
Freemasonry is one of the world’s oldest secular fraternal societies. It is a world-wide organization based on the principle of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. It is a society of men committed to upholding moral and spiritual values. Its members are taught its precepts in a series of ancient rituals which involve the customs and tools and allegorical guides of the stone masons. It seeks to make good men better and there by make the world a better place to live in. Freemasonry has been in existence in the present form for nearly 280 yeas and for over 250 years in India. Some of the famous freemasons include, Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Sir Winston Churchill, Leonardo Da Vinci, Swami Vivekananda and C Rajagopalachari to name just a few.
Dewari Gowada is one of those remotely located villages which do not have the basic facilities of water, electricity, sanitation and health-care. Hence we decided to help these villagers to move from darkness to light. As a first step, the trust whose sole objective is to undertake and support charity work, organized a golf tournament at Qutab Golf Course to raise funds. A few corporate houses showed keen interest in the project and with the kind kick off of Kapil Dev, the great Indian ex-cricketer, the tournament was held on November 1, 2007. It was sponsored by a German MNC, Conergy, one of the leaders in the solar energy industry. This event coincided with the centenary celebrations of the parent Masonic organization, the Lodge Elysium.
The cluster of three villages has around 500 villagers who live in huts and “ Kutcha” houses. The details of the project were discussed with the suppliers of the solar energy equipment. The planning of the project implementation took some time and in the first week of July, 2008 we were all set to move the equipment to the village. However, it was far more easier to plan than to implement it.
Dewari Gowada, is located in a hilly terrain. The route for the 237 kms journey is Delhi- Mannesar-Bhiwadi-Rajgarh. The roads are excellent in this stretch. From Rajgarh to Talha, the roads are tolerable, but after that a stretch of fourteen kms has no roads at all. Moving the equipment to the destination was no easy task because of the swampy and muddy tracks on which sometimes even the heavy jeeps get struck.
With great difficulty, we were able to transport the heavy equipment to its destination. After the excellent work executed by some of the technicians, the villagers cheered loudly when the village kitchens and rooms were lit brightly for the first time in their lives.
After three months, as a follow up to the implementation of the project, Venkat and I planned a visit to the village on October 11, 2008. We met Mahadev, the head of a local NGO – “Vikalp” at Rajgarh . He was waiting for us with half a quintal of sweets to be taken to the village.
The journey from Rajgarh to Talaab, a small town on the way was uneventful except for the circuitous roads lined up with greenery leading to a small village called Nandu. Since our Hyundai Verna car was not capable of handling the hilly terrain, we hired a Commando 4 wheel drive Jeep.
The journey was a riot of colours with dozens of peacocks all around. Though I had seen an occasional dancing peacock in the country side, seeing them in such large numbers here was a great joy. Partridges, a rarity in Delhi, were all around the area.The fauna and flora of the region was simply amazing. Cows, buffaloes, deer and monitor lizards were a common sight too.
Our first halt on the way to Devari Gowada was a small old temple, which had also benefited from the electrification of the area. The priest an old man with typically priestly appearance , long beard and “jatta” type of hair, welcomed us and showed us around the temple. We took Hanuman ji’s blessings before continuing our journey.
The scenic beauty on the way was awesome. Tall green trees covering the hills created an excellent landscape. On the way we saw a make shift worship place, where we were told that a Mahatma ji had been doing his Yoga Sadhna for ages, his only companions being peacocks and langoors. I wondered how on earth in this secluded place, a part of the Siriska sanctuary, where at times leopards, cheetals and wild boars have been sighted, this Baba ji could continue to pursue his solitary goal.
The population of Dewari Gowada comprises mainly of Gurjars and Meenas. Since it is a rocky area, the cultivation of crops is scarce. Their main occupation is animal husbandry. Most of the villagers are involved in rearing of cattle on the forest fodder. In some patches they are able to grow grains like Jawaar and Baajra to meet their domestic needs. Some vegetables are also grown on periphery of the farms. Other than this, there is hardly any cultivation
Unfortunately, the social scene in the village was abysmal. Women and children act as beasts of burden, while the men while away their time idling, puffing the “hookahs” or consuming hooch! Atrocities on the women are wide spread. I saw at least two dozen women carrying the heavy load of dry wood collected from the nearby forests for the kitchen. This is a daily routine for them. Things like LPG gas are unheard there.
Moreover, it was disturbing to see many pale faced children, most of whom appeared to be underweight and malnourished. It was shocking to know that some of the families found it difficult to provide evening meals to their children. In this context, I read somewhere that out of the 88 countries judged on the hunger index, India ranks 66, way behind China (15), Sri Lanka (39) and Pakistan (61).
The situation is bleak in the field of education too. There is only one primary school in the area, which also has no teaching staff at times. The children wishing to pursue middle school education have to cover the distance of several miles to Nandu or Talha on foot. Even the so called bright students, at times have no choice but to turn to their ancestral occupation – animal rearing.
I recalled a poem by Sahir Ludhianavi, which read:
Jaraa mulk ke rehbaron ko bulao,
Yeh kuche, yeh galiyaan yeh manzar dikhao,
Jinhe naaz hai Hind par unko lao,
Jinhe naaz hai Hind par wo kahan hain,
Kahaan hai, Kahaan hai, Kahaan hain.
We finally reached the village Dewari Gowada- at around 12.30 p.m. The villagers, perhaps dressed -up for the occasion, had gathered at the primary school awaiting our arrival. The sarpanch (nominated head of the village) welcomed us warmly and the oldest member of the community tied coloured threads around our wrists and put a “tilak’” on our foreheads. A thanks giving ceremony followed and the statement of one of the elderly villagers moved us deeply when he said “ I had never imagined that during my life- time I would be able to see the electric light in our houses.” Another old villager said “though India got independence in 1947, for us this auspicious occasion came on the day our huts were lit.” For them it was like a dream come true.
The village folks relished the 50 Kgs of sweets we had taken with us and the children were happy when we distributed footballs, volley balls, badminton sets and cricket bats amongst them. I was surprised to know that some of the children had never seen a football in their lives. It was a joy to see them hitting , a tennis ball with a cricket bat. We had also carried some clothes for the villagers, which were handed over to the sarpanch.
The village head, Ram Dayal requested us to help with the health-care, which was non-existent in the village. The nearest place to get even the basic medicines was Talha, which was twenty five kms away. The villagers have to carry all the patients to Talha for treatment too. The sad reality is that many patients pass away even before reaching Talha. Immediately we requested Mahadev to arrange for a doctor from Talha to visit at least once a fortnight for medical check-ups and provide whatever basic medical assistance could be given. We plan to get in touch with some pharmaceutical companies, who could provide OTC (over the counter) and other commonly used medicines for these villagers.
The efforts put in by the Lodge Elysium Masonic Charitable Trust are a small step. Government agencies are probably doing their best to combat these problems. But more still needs to be done for the welfare of the down-trodden villagers. I reckon all of us need to do whatever we can do for these villagers. One of the other ways in which the help could be given is to ease their water problems.
We reached Rajgarh at around 5.00 p.m. and before calling it a day passed by the Rajgarh Fort, Alwar City and reached Delhi around nine.
Later that night it gave me a great sense of satisfaction to know that the children of Dewari Gowada would be sitting comfortably in their huts turning over the pages of the books under their new electric light.
Thank you for being with me on this journey to the Aravali Hills.
p.s. This post was originally written for circulation to the Freemasons of North India, but considering my attachment to this blog, I couldn’t help publishing it here.