The village of Gangadevipally in Telangana's Warangal district, which lies off the Warangal-Narsampet road, seems like any other village at a first glance.
Villagers move around leisurely, while cattle tied outside houses, graze on some hay.
However, as one looks up, a CCTV camera is seen on a streetlight pole. A little further ahead, an ATM-like machine is seen, which turns out to be an Any Time Water (ATW) machine, where villagers swipe their cards and 'draw' their drinking water needs for the day.
Inside the compound of the gram panchayat, social messages like "United we stand, divided we fallā and āUnion is strengthā are painted in Telugu and English on the walls.
Gangadevipally is a model village, which boasts of many achievements.
Besides implementing 100% prohibition, Gangadevipally has 100% literacy between the age group of 15 to 50 and is also open defecation free with a toilet in every house.
The whole village follows family planning with each family having a maximum of two children. Each child is also educated, completing at least high school.
Besides providing purified drinking water and a personal tap connection to every household, the village has a large green cover, thanks to one of its plantation drives undertaken years before.
But such distinctions would not have been possible, if not for years of hard work, leadership and cooperation from all in the village.
"In 1975, Gangadevipally was just a small hamlet, affiliated to the Machapur village. Most of the land around here, was constantly being allotted to other communities, and we were in poverty," says Koosam Rajamouli, a former sarpanch of the village, who is highly regarded by the villagers, as the man who turned the village around.
Even until 1980, Rajamouli says that alcohol was a major problem in the village, as people consumed local-made liquor, which would often result in fights in homes that would spill onto the streets.
"More than anyone, it was the women who were suffering, as the men would spend even the money put aside for their children's food, for liquor. In 1980, I decided to call a meeting of all the villagers in the city, including the stakeholders, and appeal to them. It was no use," he says.
At the time, Rajamouli recalls that there were regular raids by excise officials, policemen and 'goonda' contractors, who would barge into the village. They usually ended up detaining women, as the men would outrun them.
"Those who had money, could bail their women out from the police station, but what about the others? Even if they tried to change their lives after that, they were morally judged and branded for their time in jail. There were even incidents of suicide due to the harassment," Rajamouli adds.
Fed up, Rajamouli gathered all the villagers in 1982, and asked them to see where their lives were heading, and urged them to āsave their villageā.
"It was the women who supported me the most. They would work in the fields all day, go back home, finish all their household duties and gather at 9 pm. Sometimes, meetings and awareness programs would go on as late as midnight, but no one complained. One by one, we convinced everyone in the village," he adds.
Today, Rajamouli says that villagers have to travel far to drink, and if they do indulge in a drink or two occasionally, the social stigma around alcohol consumption in their village ensures that they go home quietly and not create any ruckus.
In 1990, the village faced its next big hurdle.
"All the wells in the village that we used for drinking water had dried up, and the ground water severely depleted. There was one community well built by the government, with two access points, where people started lining up for water. Even though we added two more access points, there was a shortage of water," Rajamouli says.
Rajamouli says this continued for a year.
"I still remember, I would see people walk many kilometres, and fetch three containers full of water, by balancing it on their head. It really troubled me that we had no solution to this problem," he adds.
In 1991, on the suggestion of an acquaintance, Rajamouli visited a nearby village where they had installed an overhead water tank. However, he observed that the tank was not built by the government, but an NGO called 'Bala Vikasa'.
"I immediately approached them, and asked if they would help us out, and they agreed, but set down some conditions," he says.
The NGO stated that the villagers would have to be united in their demand for the tank, and they would have to pay for 10% of the total cost besides contributing to the initial labour, with each household paying an equal amount.
"I convened a meeting the same night, and everyone agreed at the time to pay Rs 1,000, but for two years, no one paid up," Rajamouli notes.
Troubled by inaction, Rajamouli wrote down the names of all the villagers, and divided them into groups of roughly 10 households each. He then asked each group to elect someone, who would represent them and take decisions on their behalf.
"Then everyone went back to work, and only the group leaders remained. I told them that each one of them were responsible to ensure that the households in their group paid up," he adds.
The leaders formed the first committee in the village, titled the āDrinking Water Committeeā, which exists to this day, with 31 members at present.
Within two weeks, the money was collected and villagers began digging the pit for their first tank in 1992.
"We chose a spot, moved a temple, and a family that lived nearby, on the assurance of a free drinking water connection and set up temporary lights. many villagers came together and worked into the night, and dug the pit. An engineer from the NGO came soon, and by 1993, we had our first water tank," Rajamouli says.
Today, the committee holds an annual meeting with all villagers, and every rupee is accounted for. There are strict rules laid down, from the diameter of the pipe to being absent for meetings.
Since then, another tank and a water purification plant have also been set up.
(The water purification plant)
Today, the committee has close to Rs 5 lakh in its bank account and ensures 20 litres of purified water every 24 hours from the ATW machine, for just Rs 1, while an additional can of water costing Rs 4.
In November 1999, there were more than 200 households in the village, and only 11 families had toilets.
"The Collector visited us and said that if we managed to build more than 100 toilets before the next visit on January 26, 2000, we would be given Rs 10 lakh from the development fund," Rajamouli says.
For the next three months, villagers borrowed cement, pipes, bricks, commodes and doors, on an assurance to pay back the lenders, and worked day and night to build toilets.
"There were reluctant families, but we would gather outside their house and announce that we were building a toilet for them because they couldn't. Their ego would be challenged, and they would immediately get to work," Rajamouli adds.
By January, the task was done, and the sanctioned money was used to lay roads through the village.
However, Rajamouli soon faced another challenge.
"When we built the toilets, the youth and the women immediately started using them. However, the older people would still go to the fields. We tried everything from slogans, banners, plays, songs, but still this continued," he says.
The older men claimed that they were raised to defecate in the open and were reluctant to change their ways.
"We formed teams and waited at 5am in the morning, and started catching these people. Besides a fine of Rs 500, their names were announced publicly at the panchayat till they started using the toilets due to shame," an amused Rajamouli adds.
In 2003, the village officially became Open Defecation Free (ODF).
Within the next decade, the village also worked to ensure that an English-medium education up to the High School level was set up.
"We are very proud that we are able to educate our kids. In my time, studying to Class 3 or Class 5 was tough. Now, more than 300 children, including some from neighbouring villages come here to study," Rajamouli says.
The villageās achievements have taken Rajamouli to many places, including foreign countries, addressing crowds on the potential of local governance.
"While I had started only with the intention of improving the standard of living in my village, I could not have done it without the cooperation of all these people. People also have to understand, that just talking about it is not enough. A lot of hard work is required, before any change happens," he adds.