LATE Dr Dwarkadas Lohiya, popularly known as Babuji, and a group of youths in the 1970s, were seeking solutions to the socio-economic problems of rural communities in Maharashtra. After several experiments, they concluded that it was possible only through economic change. The result was ‘MANAVLOK’ – abbreviation for Marathwada Navnirman Lokayat.

Thirty-nine years later, now under the leadership of Aniket Dwarkadas Lohiya, the voluntary organisation has brought an immense change in the lives of rural communities through its holistic approach to agriculture and water conservation. It is also involved in river rejuvenation, desilting of dams, providing seeds and fertilizers to the farmers, leadership building and mobilising local resources and making their best use.

In this chat with GiveIndia, Aniket Dwarkadas Lohiya shares his 25-year journey with MANAVLOK, the organisation’s activities and much more.

GiveIndia: What are some of the biggest lessons that you learned from your 25+ long career in village development and social activities?

Aniket Dwarkadas Lohiya: The biggest lesson was, I found happiness in helping others. I learned that humanity and acts of kindness are always there to fight against problems, and the only thing we must connect is the gap between those in need and the giver. I have learned over the years that there is an inbuilt fuse in all of us that cuts off our supply of happiness unless we share it with others. Sharing is, in fact, a natural instinct in humans. It helps us create trust, which is a prerequisite for security and happiness.

Manavlok 1 - Rural communities' uplifment in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra is the focus area of MANAVLOK, and it aims to achieve it by harnessing local resources

The second lesson we learned is that only technology can’t solve all the problems, but humans together can. Most of the youngsters today are trying to find the solution in technology. But technology alone will not solve the climate crisis, prevent recurring wildfires, heal social divides or resolve social inequality. Only a concerted effort to reset our economic systems and willingness to make hard choices about priorities will solve most problems.

GI: Tell us about MANAVLOK’s relief work during the Covid-19 pandemic?

ADL: MANAVLOK has and will always be ready to work at the forefront of every possible situation to aid, support and assist the needy in times of a crisis. During Covid, we provided over 39,000 masks, gloves and hazmat suits to the needy, we helped with a 30-bed central oxygen & suction system to one of the largest government hospitals; we established 16 Covid care centres; introduced mobile dispensary vans for rural areas in Beed district of Maharashtra, supplied 2022 litres of sanitiser and 5000 disposable napkins for women.

We also offered food and accommodation, financial assistance and agricultural aid. As we work in rural areas, we guided farm producers towards at-home delivery of fresh farm produce thus avoiding crowded markets and public spaces and this resulted in fair pricing to farmers for their produce.

MANAVLOK is committed to continued support of the rural communities, and mitigating the effects of Covid-19 for now and the future.

Manavlok 4 - Rural communities' uplifment in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra is the focus area of MANAVLOK, and it aims to achieve it by harnessing local resources

GI. Monsoons have been harsh in recent times with frequent floods. In what ways is MANAVLOK helping the farming community?

ADL: The effect of floods is being exacerbated by unplanned urban growth and environmental degradation, driving millions from their homes and causing widespread damage. We are trying our best to serve the affected.

Recently we served in the Konkan region and also in Sangli. Many villages were damaged due to floods in the Sangli-Kolhapur districts. We started rescue and relief work in the 13 villages of the Sangli district. Our support included the distribution of fresh meals, grocery and essential goods kits, blankets and bedsheets, clothes for daily use, drinking water, medical support, ambulance service etc.

GI. You travel a lot as part of your work. But are there any rural areas you would like to visit?

ADL: I love to visit one of our watershed works at Pathan Mandwa village in the Ambajogai block of Beed district. A watershed is an area with a uniform drainage pattern. A watershed unit can ensure the sustainable development of an area by empowering people as they can manage their own resources.

Manavlok 2 - Rural communities' uplifment in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra is the focus area of MANAVLOK, and it aims to achieve it by harnessing local resources

Ambajogai block in Beed is a hilly terrain with an annual rainfall of only 630 mm. Here 95% of farmers produced just one crop a year before we started our micro-watershed project. With effective utilisation of rainwater, there is an increase in the yield of kharif crops and farmers have successfully reclaimed about 1,000 hectares of wasteland, too. This can soon turn into the food basket of Marathwada if every farmer adopts these micro-watersheds.

GI: You have been forced to eat only four things for the rest of your life. Which four items would you choose? And why? Are there any memorable associations with them?

ADL: I will go with bhakari (Jowar or bajra roti). It is truly wholesome food brimming with iron, fibre, protein and a few trace minerals. I like Chatani (made of groundnut and spices) and thecha (made of green chillies and garlic) to go with bhakari. And last but not the least, my most favourite shrikhand – a Maharashtrian sweet dish made of strained dahi (yoghurt).

I still remember that during my childhood, shrikhand was always made at home if we had any guests or relatives coming over. Sometimes, I simply hoped that we would have guests just to relish shrikhand. I could eat it throughout the day. The shrikhand made by my mother, late Dr Shaila Lohiya, was my favourite. I can still feel the sweetness of the dish.

Interviewed by Sruthy Natarajan


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