By Arti Manchanda:
It has been more than six decades when at the stroke of midnight, our country woke up to freedom but still good governance is evaded in most of the rural India. There are two nations that live within our country; India and Bharat. My development job has given me an opportunity to look at Bharat closely. My idea of Bharat was contrastingly different from what I actually saw. I had the view that charity and philanthropy can lead to development. Yes, they can but not always because you are making a temporary impact in the beneficiaries’ life, which will not last forever.
I heard many stories and case studies when I joined the organisation. The organisation works on the principle of community contribution in all its projects to make them partners in change and instill a sense of ownership in them. During the initial days when the organization made inroads into the villages and held community meetings, people were found saying, “Humne to lena hi seekha hai, deena nahi.” (We have learnt to take, not give) and that government or some external agency were responsible for their well-being. My idea of development changed. I was sure that development is not something that can be achieved overnight and that behaviour change wasn’t as easy as I thought. It was a slow process which started with building rapport, having their buy in, making them partners in the process and further passing on the ownership to make the interventions sustainable.
In the villages in Mewat, one of the most backward districts of Haryana, the fight against corruption takes a different turn. The state of governance is full of apathy and neglect. One of the key reasons of poor governance is low awareness on the rights and entitlements under various government schemes. Health systems have failed; educational institutions are ineffective; ration shops don’t function well and much more. Village by village, people report about whether the day care center is operating properly and whether full range of foods required to be served to school children under the Mid-day Meal program are offered. Earlier, on some days, the day care worker did not show up, and sometime the children were served only wheat porridge instead of the full range of foods that are mandated for Mid-Day Meals but there has been a metamorphosis going on.
This metamorphosis owes itself to a unique methodology of learning by doing. It teaches the villagers to know about their rights and entitlements and demand when they are not fulfilled. Mid-day meals weren’t cooked for months together and the supply of ration to schools was improper and inadequate. Likewise, personal gains overpowered the greater good at Anganwari and Public Distribution Shops. At the feedback meetings, villagers reported about whether the right amount of monthly rations of wheat, kerosene oil and sugar have been distributed under the Public Distribution System. Sometimes there are delays of months in distribution of the items or only two of the three are provided or the amount is less than the law states. Everyone believes that the government provided the items and that they were siphoned off before reaching the beneficiaries.
But now, villagers are monitoring the situation. Mothers take turns checking every other day on the meals at school and the day care centers. They take note of how much wheat is distributed. Now, they speak up when something is wrong.
They notice that their watchfulness and efforts have led to improvements in the operation of the public services. Below poverty level households have a right by law in India to an electricity connection. In some of the villages, eligible families do not have them. In two recent cases, villagers filed RTI complaints and heard back within the permitted 30-day time period about the matter. In both cases, the family was informed it was on the list to receive the connection within a month. One response mentioned that no one was home when the electrician came; the other response offered no reason. The RTI request successfully caused the officials to go on record that the connection would be given. And both the households have received the connections now.
The requirement of the present day thus presents itself – the people of India need empowerment through knowledge; it is now imperative for the citizens to be aware of the happenings in their surroundings and also of their rights, duties and powers. If each citizen of this Bharat achieves this enlightenment, the India we wish for may just be seen beyond our dreams.