By Mayank Jain:
Development. One mention of this word and there will be claims to fame. Delhi metro, Solar powered villages, MNREGA; there are multiple contenders. But have we reached anywhere when it comes to changing the life of that person on the road who often goes to sleep hungry. The reality is darker than we think it is.
The truth is that women are harassed in the supposedly ‘safe’ metro trains on a daily basis, and gender equality is a far cry. Moreover, 1/3rd of the world’s 1.2 billion extremely poor, reside in ourÂ country and unemployment has begunÂ to rise since 2011. Why then do we have big hopes from ourselves? When even basic structures are not in place, aren’t we expecting too much from ourselves by hoping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals? The beginning was noble, almost 180+ countries joined in the goals with a promise of development and equity all around the world and it was not just in a few concentrated power centres. But, it is extremely important to analyze where we stand now and how do we plan to proceed from here.
Youth Ki Awaaz, thus hosted a hangout in association with Oxfam India and Wada Na Todo Abhiyaan with a panel of experts to discuss the way ahead for India toÂ achieve these development goals.
The conversation was lively and went beyond the surface of jargon. Among the participants, we had Dr. Shashi Tharoor (Member of Parliament); Shireen Miller (Director of Advocacy, Save the Children, India); Amitabh Beher (Executive Director, National Foundation of India); Paul Divakar (General Secretary of National Campaign, NCDHR); Parvinder Singh (National Campaigns Manager, Oxfam India). Vimlendu Jha (Sweccha) moderated the discussion.Â Primary education was taken up first since enrolment has climbed up to 98% but children drop out of schools and the rate hasn’t been arrested well. Dr. Shashi Tharoor took the lead on the question and discussed how dropout rates climb to over 60% as we move beyond primary levels. “MDGs were focused on primary education so that every child has at least a minimum level of awareness and initiation in education,” he clarified.
The pertinent issue of gender equality and empowerment was also discussed since purely material ‘development’ is doing too little to improve inclusivity and representation. Marginalized communities suffer the same fate of remaining eons away from being the beneficiaries of tons of schemes and policies that come with the misnomer ‘public welfare’.
Paul Divakar spoke about the need to improve policy making and bringing government accountability under the aegis of the constitution if we aim for responsible decision making. He also highlighted the missing framework of ethics and inclusivity amidst the entire the hullabaloo about financing and fiscal responsibility which deprives communities of their rights.
The conversation posed many important contradictions in the middle of debate and finding solutions to them is the key to achieve our development goals. Shireen Miller, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Save The Children India spoke about a similar contradiction which we see in the education system today. Enrolment has improved but children are neither staying in schools nor are they receiving quality education. She highlighted the culprits, “Mortality, health and education mirror the inequalities present in the country.”
Parvinder Singh who heads campaigns at Oxfam India highlighted the fact that inequality is not a part of the discussion yet. We see it as a far-fetched problem that affect us but Parvinder rightly pointed out that it robs people off their rights and voices. What we need is an engaging, inclusive debate on the way forward so that the goal achievement doesn’t become a functional process. We set these goals for human development; not only is it crucial but absolutely necessary that lives change for the worst hit if we dream of an equitable and just society.
A pertinent question is always raised about the missing elements of feasibility and reality from the Millennium Development Goals and if they are any more useful than hundreds of false promises that policy makers are in the business of making every day.
Dr. Shashi Tharoor informed about the aim of MDGs to push countries to do ‘something’ rather than nothing and they were never expected to fulfil all their goals. The process has begun and it will reach the due end in sometime but we have definitely made some progress, as it appears. These are “Millennium Development Aspirations, made to achieve over the long run.”
Amitabh Beher from National Foundation for India had another perspective to offer on the viability of MDGs. “MDGs are minimum goals for human development and should have been achieved. We should not be the ones making the moral choice of ‘who goes to sleep hungry tonight’.”
The important thing is to discuss and debate to keep the momentum going. We have come a long way but the way ahead is even longer and steep. Till the glass is full, it is always half empty.