By Sudeep Pagedar:
In recent times, we’ve all heard and read a lot about development in Gujarat – development through the extensive reach of Information and Communication Technologies or ICT4Ds. The common reader may well be impressed by the catchword – for it is intended as precisely that, but it’s always useful to put terms like these into context. So, what exactly does it all mean?
Development, as a concept, was first put forth in the year 1942. Since then, development has largely been understood as synonymous with ‘progress.’ It is not surprising then, that post 1947, an independent India began to talk the rhetoric of necessary development. This kind of ‘development’ came at the cost of the lives and livelihoods of crores of Indians with rapid and heavy industrialization becoming the order of the day. Subsequent governments only continued this policy, eventually bringing the nation to a point where progress had become an end, in itself, rather than what it should have been – a means to an end. It became, and now is, progress for the sake of profit – and thus: ‘Pragati’. It’s a vicious cycle. As development expert Esteva puts it, “Associating with development converts participation into a manipulative trick to involve people in struggles for getting what the powerful want to impose on them.”
The 1980s saw the rise of the first critiques of development not just as a concept, but as practice, too. The notion of re-development then came about a decade later in the 1990s, coinciding with the beginnings of what we today call sustainable development. The 1990s were the years during which Information and Communication Technologies truly gained prominence as a medium for furthering the goals of development. While there is no doubt that ICTs were appropriated by the establishment for pushing forward its idea of what development meant, it should be noted that ICTs in no way were passive entities that served to further the growth of the BIG (Big Industry & Government) combine. They can and have been used in order to further the kind of development that leads to social change, too.
Among the first things that come to mind when one mentions ‘ICT’ is the Internet. This is because of the manner in which the IT construct has been peddled. Indigenous forms of technology and ways of communication are, even today, seen as less important than Western methods and techniques. The production of knowledge itself is oft deemed a domain of the West, and consequently, the knowledge-based tools needed for progress and development can only be provided by the West- or its global proxies.
However, here’s the good bit – rather than expending energy and resources combating such a point of view, many agencies and organisations that engage with ICT4D choose to work around it by using the internet as a medium. They adapt their projects and initiatives such that the end-users are empowered by the Net, rather than becoming entrapped within it. Independence, then, is the natural progression.
So, the next time you hear or read about any radical new model of development in Gujarat or anywhere else, don’t form an opinion about it too soon. Find out the answers to these, first: does it empower the end-user, and is it sustainable?
Sometimes, when it comes to the world outside the promises of politicians and in the claims of chief ministers, the simplest answer is often the best one.