Saturday, 24 May 2014

Rural Development- the need of a paradigm shift

As part of a programme related to women empowerment, I happened to be in a village of Eastern Uttar Pradesh along with my colleague. The programme was organized at the residence of teacher, who retired as a headmaster recently having gained a reasonably well economic status to build a spacious concrete house for his family. The women assembled were sitting at the front yard of his home and the discussion led to the issue of sanitation and hygiene which is a burning issue for both government and non-government organisations. The Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan (NBA) was the core of the topic and my colleague asked the teacher “Mastergee aap ke ghar me souchalay hei na?’( if the teacher had toilet at home expecting an affirmative reply). The fact was otherwise and my colleague made few comments sarcastically to draw the contradiction of a huge residence of a man with reputation and high status without a toilet. As most of the rural people, he did not attempt to defend himself for the ‘mistake’. I was sure that he was neither moved by the comments in front of the women in the village nor became aware of the need of having toilet at his residence. 

It is important to analyze how the government and non-government organizations attempt boosting rural development. The central and state governments introduce several rural development programmes which are doomed to fail or incapable of bringing real change in the lives of rural populations suffering from multiple deprivations. There are serious flaws even in the design of MNREGA, the internationally acclaimed flagship programme of the UPA for rural employment and poverty alleviation.  For Non-Government Organizations, rural issues gives ample opportunity for the implementation of various projects. The questions arises if they address the core concerns with a comprehensive understanding of the complexity of the issues, psychology of the people, geographical peculiarities, cultural and religious influence upon the target grop, and ultimately the nature of human being that resist a radical change in the way of life due to several reasons.

In general it can be seen that both government and non-government oglimprganizations try to address the outer world of appearances that captivate our eyes without focusing on the inner life of the target group. The life which is hidden from our view is very different from the outer world of appearances and it is harder to understand. To understand the glimpse of reality one has to go deep into the history of human evolution, the psychology of the individuals living a life which is not completely designed by them, the impact of power structure, cast, and the geographical peculiarities. Mostly the organisations and people working in the development sector are unmindful towards the fact that each target group has a history of their own and a way of life that have been followed for years in the community. No one can live a life completely disconnected from the influence of ancestors and their socio-cultural context which is the ‘DNA’ of the mind and attitude of the present generation. 

To eradicate open defecation, launching a scheme to provide financial assistance to build low cost toilet does not hit the nail on the head, instead just create an additional room at the premises of the people  at the expense of the state (of tax payers). That is why most of the toilets constructed by the government are unused or used as cattle yard or keeping wood and other household materials. And also the headmaster in the story did not construct a toilet in spite of having sufficient economic support to do so. 

If the government could succeed in the implementation of at least half of the post independent rural development schemes and programmes, no NGO would have been able to find scope for designing a project for the rural population. Disadvantaged and vulnerable sections of rural population, especially in the north western region of India continues to be a ‘sacred land’ for experiments and investment through multitudes of schemes of projects for the development agencies. 

Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) without people’s participation, Schools without teachers who are not committed to the community, School Management Committee (SMC) without the participation of parents, and many right based  schemes of rural development such as MNREGA, Indira Awas Yojana, Nirmal Bharat Abiyan, several social welfare schemes do not attempt to address the core issues of the rural development instead just act as painkillers that does not cure the real disease. 

All the development activities of both government and Non-Government Organizations are doomed fail unless they understand the process of change and the core issues of underdevelopment in the rural areas. Ultimately the development sector is working for people not for machines that would respond to our directions immediately. The development sector should spend more time to understand the people, their past and present, attitude, and most importantly the rhythm of their life than designing numerous programmes/schemes and projects from distant places.

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