Anna Bhagya – Article that appeared in the SOM, dated Aug 3, 2017

August 7, 2017 1 comment
Categories: Articles in Press, Musings

‘Indigenous tribal communities: Refashioning Development’ – An article that appeared in Deccan Herald dated 27 July 17

July 29, 2017 Comments off

Refashioning tribal devlpt DH July 29, 2017

Find the article below:

A few months ago, the Chhattisgarh government made an announcement that it will now provide 35 kg rice at the doorstep of each tribal family. A thousand kms away, the Karnataka government was grappling with solving the issue of land that the tribals from Diddadahalli had occupied and were claiming as their rightful due. Around the same time, we had Prime Minister Modi announce just after the UP state elections that he would like to see a ‘new India’ arise where the poor and marginalized had access to opportunities and not mere Government doles. While each of these give conflicting signals, one is sad that despite 70 years of independence, the country is still grappling with how to strategize and undertake development of indigenous tribals who constitute a little more than 8% of the nation’s population.

Article 366 (25) of the Constitution of India refers to Scheduled Tribes (STs) as those communities, who are scheduled in accordance with Article 342 of the Constitution. STs are mainly the indigenous population in India that the Government of India identifies as socially and economically backward and in need of special protection from social injustice and exploitation. The tribals are identified by the Govt. based on a community’s primitive traits, distinctive culture, shyness with the public at large, geographical isolation and social and economic backwardness. Tribal communities live in about 15% of the country’s areas in various ecological and geo-climatic conditions ranging from plains to forests, hills and inaccessible areas. There are 705 ethnic groups notified as Scheduled Tribes (ST) in India who live across 30 states and union territories. Tribal groups are at different stages of social, economic and educational development. While some tribal communities have adopted a mainstream way of life at one end of the spectrum, there are 75 Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs), at the other, who are characterized by a pre-agriculture level of technology, a stagnant or declining population, extremely low literacy and a subsistence level of economy

The central government created the Ministry of Tribal Affairs in the year 1999 to give focused attention to the social and economic development of these indigenous communities and has planned to spend close to INR 5300 crores in the current fiscal year on tribal development. While millions of rupees are being spent by Government, NGOS and Corporates under their CSR programs across the country, one finds it difficult to explain why the development of these indigenous communities has not been to the levels expected.

To understand this, we need to appreciate that programs are currently designed by non-tribal people who seem to be deciding on what tribal development should be. It is unfortunate that many of these ‘experts’ and bureaucrats are designing and delivering programs that many a time seems to be disconnected from the ground realities. Across India today, the tribals are at a cross road and are neither able to move away from their dependence on traditional economies nor are they able to integrate with the demands of the market. They are wrestling with change – both at the individual and at the community level and are neither able to let go off the past nor are they able to embrace the present. Programs that are thrust on them are forcing them to accept lifestyles that are unsustainable socially, economically and culturally. Caught between the devil and the deep sea, they are left vulnerable to the forces that continue to exploit them and are living a life of merely coping with the poverty that surrounds them. To make matters worse, most tribal areas are also rich in natural resources and they suffer the collateral damage created by large irrigation projects and extractive industries.

Interventions to develop the indigenous communities needs to begin with an understanding of the tribals themselves. One needs to appreciate that these are communities who have traditionally lived in communes under the leadership of Chieftains and have operated in the traditional economy. Moving from a hunter-gatherer situation to a mixed economy is culturally jarring and can have shocking consequences if not handled sensitively. The state’s planning and executing machinery has little time, patience or competence to understand the dynamics and power structures in the tribal areas and little appreciation of attitudinal and behavioral dimensions. This results in shoddy implementation of schemes and does not provide enough space for meaningful participation of the people. What is further disturbing is that all these schemes are not dynamic or responsive, and seem to be ‘urban solutions’ to ‘tribal problems’. Precious little consideration is given to the skills, knowledge and practices that could help in addressing tribal issues through grassroots perspectives. Seven decades of rapid acculturation and shoddy integration into the mainstream culture has left these communities in confusion. Forest conservation laws that they can neither understand nor find relevance in, has left them at a crossroad with neither a coping mechanism nor an alternate lifestyle. Economic and social demands of mainstream culture and life is forcing them to abandon their traditional methods which kept things simple and sustainable and adopt more expensive, government and NGO driven coping strategies which are neither culturally appropriate nor contextually relevant. These indigenous tribals can neither go back to the past nor have they successfully integrated with the present. The skills that they traditionally had no longer meet the demands of modern existence. All that exists is an insensitive and patronizing system that talks of their development bereft of the dignity that they deserve.

-Balu

Categories: Articles in Press, Musings

‘And i was ordained a Jenukuruba…’ – Article that appeared in SOM, dated 19th July, 2017

July 22, 2017 Comments off

‘Seeing God in Man’ – Article that appeared in the Star of Mysore on 5th July 2017

July 7, 2017 1 comment

The Joy of giving…

June 21, 2017 1 comment

There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
– Kahlil Gibran

Running a Non-profit anywhere in the world is not as easy as it sounds and is a difficult proposition. Apart from the image that the sector generates, the constant uncertainties of funding and resource mobilization, the lack of high quality talent, the changing demands of accountability & prevailing statutory laws, and most importantly the evolving nature of the world of social development itself, all pose great survival challenges. While all these factors make high demands, it is resource mobilization that takes away a major chunk of the time and energy of leaders of the non-profits. We at SVYM are also not immune to these pressures and we saw a major crisis that emanated last year.

The Government of India undertook a paradigmatic policy shift 2 years ago and decided to transfer 42% of its resources to the State Governments. While this is a major milestone in the history of India’s federal structure, it affected many non-profits like ours. The Indian Government decided that ‘social development’ is mostly a state subject and the states now needed to fund all such development programs from their own resources. In line with this thinking, funding to SVYM for running the tribal hospital, tribal school and the mobile health unit was abruptly stopped from last year. While this sent our programs into a toss, we could not suddenly stop health and education services to the indigenous communities. We felt truly caught between the ‘devil and the deep sea’ with the Government funding stopping on one side and the communities not being able to or willing to pay for the cost of services on the other. This is the time when we truly understood that in the last three decades and more of SVYM’s existence, Indian philanthropy had also evolved and matured. This was also the time that the people of India in general and of Mysuru in particular, rose to the occasion and donated generously to ensure that our health and education programs do not cease to function.

Though India has a long tradition of philanthropy, most charity has been focused on religious giving. Until the 1800s, giving in India was largely religious in nature and motivated by the search for individual salvation. Later, philanthropy also began to be directed toward social causes such as education and women’s rights. Throughout the 20th century, leading Indian industrialists established foundations and other charitable institutions of national importance, some of which were partly inspired by the country’s freedom movement. The last decade has seen a major shift in the number of people who are donating, the causes that they are supporting, the new CSR act that has come into place and the changing nature of Non-profits themselves. Donors are also contributing more and donating to a larger pool of non-profit organizations, giving philanthropy a much higher public profile. All of this has put philanthropy in India significantly ahead of that in other countries with similar levels of prosperity. This growth trend is showing a continuous upward trajectory. In fact, more than a third of current donors expect their donations to increase in the next five years. And as the nation implements the corporate social responsibility (CSR) regulations under the new Companies Act, there will be a positive disruption in the philanthropy space, bringing in more corporate donors and bringing about greater accountability and transparency.

Bain’s ‘India Philanthropy Report’ mentions that 28% of the adult population donated money and 21% donated their time in 2013. This means a staggering increase of more than 100 million more Indians making donations in cash or time than in 2009.  Media reporting of philanthropy is also now double what it was five years ago. What in 2009 was a tiny sapling is now a resilient tree in bud, awaiting its first blooms. The November 2012 ‘India Giving Report’ by Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) found that philanthropy in India has the potential to soar in the next decade, with more than half a billion-people giving for religious and charitable reasons each year. Overall the report found that most people in India—84% of the 836 million adults—give at least once a year. What is remarkable is that philanthropic donations in India are ahead of donations in other developing countries. India is a global outlier, with a larger percentage of its population making charitable donations than other countries at its level of prosperity elsewhere in the world. As a consequence of this growth, India is now No. 91 on the World Giving Index, up from No. 134 in 2010. In a few short years, India has moved from the bottom to the middle of the pack.

To sustain and grow this interest in philanthropy, there are several issues that non-profit organizations also must address. Donor apathy and a general mistrust of non-profit organizations and their operations are widespread. The space is dominated by a large number of “disconnected” donors who donate out of guilt or due to personal relationships rather than a personal connection to the cause. They demand low overheads due to their lack of faith in non-profits and this generally affects the quality of the services rendered by the NGOs. There are also a large number of small non-profits that lack adequate transparency, sophistication and organizational capacity, which make them less credible to donors. Non-profits need to develop better accountability & transparency measures, put in responsive reporting systems, deliver to communities on the social commitments made, build sustainable relationships and learn to use technology and social media to communicate their successes to their stakeholders. Government’s decreasing spending on social development needs alternate but efficient and effective partnerships to emerge in the non-government and private space. This can happen when genuine, transparent and accountable non-profits partner with this growing number socially conscious philanthropic minded individuals, foundations and corporate entities.

The constructive evolution and growth of the Indian Philanthropic scene gives organizations like SVYM much needed confidence that our work will not dry up for want of support. And like the old adage goes, ‘no good work will ever stop due to want of support’ and whether it is the palliative care project that is today fully supported by the people of Mysuru or the tribal development projects that we are implementing, we are confident that resources available locally will be more willingly shared by this growing number of philanthropic minded people and organizations.

-Balu

This article appeared in the Star of Mysore on 25th June, 2017 and can be read here…

Joy of Giving SOM

Categories: General, Musings, Story of SVYM

A quiet revolution – ushering in a new vision for tribal development…

June 11, 2017 1 comment

Recently, I was attending a program at the MRA campus at Panchgani in Maharashtra. Here, away from the din and noise of Pune, the nearest large city, around 93 young indigenous tribal youth from different parts of India were huddled together for a week. 67 men and 26 women from 19 different states and from 55 tribal communities were participating in this program. Having lived and worked with indigenous tribal communities for nearly 3 decades, I was overjoyed to see these young people being trained in leadership, in development and having engaging discussions among themselves trying to discover their lost selves and their identities.

 

                  Having fun together                                         Learning together

Though constituting a little more than 8% of the Nation’s population, these indigenous tribals today are neither fully understood nor have they got their entitled due. They continue to struggle to cope with the pressures of modernity while rapidly losing out on their tribal identity. Article 366 (25) of the Constitution of India refers to Scheduled Tribes as those communities, who are scheduled in accordance with Article 342 of the Constitution. The essential characteristics, first laid down by the Lokur Committee, for a community to be identified as Scheduled Tribes are – a) indications of primitive traits; b) distinctive culture; c) shyness of contact with the community at large; d) geographical isolation; and e) economic backwardness. Tribal communities live, in various ecological and Geo-climatic conditions ranging from plains and forests to hills and inaccessible areas. Tribal groups around the country are at different stages of social, economic and educational development. Out of a total of 705 communities, the government of India has classified 75 of them as Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). These PVTGs are tribals still using pre-agriculture level of technology; are having a stagnant or declining population; have extremely low levels of literacy; and have a subsistence level of economy. There are 10.43 crore indigenous tribals living in India as per the 2011 census. They vary in strength in different states from a few hundred to several lakhs. 14.7% of the tribal population of India live in the state of Madhya Pradesh whereas 2.5% of them live in Meghalaya. Broadly the STs inhabit two distinct geographical areas – Central India and the North-Eastern Area. More than half of the Scheduled Tribe population is concentrated in Central India, i.e., Madhya Pradesh (14.69%), Chhattisgarh (7.5%), Jharkhand (8.29%), Andhra Pradesh (5.7%), Maharashtra (10.08%), Orissa (9.2%), Gujarat (8.55%) and Rajasthan (8.86%). The other distinct area is the North East (Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh). The most numerically high are the Gonds (Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh)—about 4 million, the Bhils (Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh)—about 4 million, and Santhals (Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal)—more than 3 million. The smallest tribal community is the Andamanese with the strength of only 19.

With the objective to give focused attention to the social and economic development of these indigenous communities, the government of India set up an exclusive Ministry of Tribal Affairs in the year 1999 and has planned to spend around INR 5300 crores in this financial year for the same. While millions of rupees are being spent by Government, NGOS and Corporates under their CSR programs across the country, one finds it difficult to explain why the development of these indigenous communities has not been to the levels expected.

To understand this, we need to appreciate that programs are currently designed by non-tribal people who seem to be deciding on what tribal development should be. It is unfortunate that many of these ‘experts’ are designing and delivering programs that many a time seems to be disconnected from the ground realities. Having made many similar mistakes working with and for the tribals, I can now appreciate the need and importance of engaging with the people before even considering what and how one should be undertaking any development interventions. Across India today, the tribals are at a cross road and are neither able to move away from their dependence on traditional economies nor are they able to integrate with the demands of the market. They are wrestling with change – both at the individual level and at the community level and are neither able to let go off the past nor are they able to embrace the present. Programs that are thrust on them are forcing them to accept lifestyles that are unsustainable socially, economically and culturally. Caught between the devil and the deep sea, they are left vulnerable to the forces that continue to exploit them and are living a life of merely coping with the poverty that surrounds them.

How does one then engage and work in such situations? Even if one is genuinely concerned for their welfare and is willing to bring in enormous resources, can such a person be able to truly appreciate and articulate what the indigenous communities of India are going thru on a day to day basis. How would one be able to understand and capture the width and depth of traditional tribal wisdom into such programs even if one wants to?

Personally, I feel that this can happen only when the leadership to drive the development of these indigenous tribals come from within their own communities. Educated tribal youth with an understanding of the problems that they are currently facing and the challenges that forced integration with the mainstream economy is causing, would be best placed to be part of the solution framework. Gaining legitimacy to solve their problems is not easy to negotiate, either with Government or with the NGOs working with them. These youths need additional skills and a new assertiveness. They need have their human and social capital built before they can become a credible force to contend with.

And this program was doing exactly that. Quietly, a powerful force that will revolutionize the very concept of tribal development in the years to come was being unleashed. This program conceived and wholly sponsored by Tata Steel as part of its CSR activities is possibly a first of its kind. These youths were getting trained in issues related to their culture; the challenges and opportunities that mainstream economy brings in its wake; and the leadership and soft skills that one needs to find solution frameworks for them. Breaking into small groups, they were learning from each other issues that the tribal groups faced locally – whether it was managing local resources, hijacking of reservation by other powerful forces, disappearing traditional systems and practices, health care issues, education opportunities or the problems of forest dwelling tribes. Whether it was the problem of building huge dams or industrialization or the improper forcible resettlement and rehabilitation that many communities were subjected to – everything was spoken about and analyzed. It was joy to watch young minds think this reality through despite the strong emotions that the issues emanated.

Samvaad - 2017

Building social capital…

The true impact of this program will be felt, possibly a decade later…when hopefully a cohort of nearly a 1000 young people across the country will be trained and a network built. A network of like-minded, compassionate, aware and empowered tribal leaders who with determined optimism will not just be mere spectators or sit on the sidelines, but be willing participants of development that they themselves conceive and implement. Moving from traditional economy to the current mixed economy takes time, patience, sustained efforts and knowledge and skills. Finding the balance between holding onto the good of one’s tradition and culture with the best of what today’s reality can bring needs leadership that is mature, pragmatic and positive. It will be a new generation of such tribal leaders that can hope to nurture and build communities to move from one level of skill sets to the next to create a future that is just, humane, equitable and fair. And silently with no fanfare this paradigm shift is being ushered in by a program that is both futuristic while at the same time realistic. In the years to come, we will surely see a generation of young people with the ability to negotiate with the government, local NGOs and other development partners willing to engage and work with them. These young men and women will now be able to communicate to their people that development can be with dignity and without taking away their traditional position. And possibly, these young men and women will also have lessons for rest of humanity to learn from and usher in the sustainable development that all of us are looking for.

-Balu

 

Categories: General, Musings

A citizen’s letter to the Karnataka Chief Minister…

June 7, 2017 3 comments

7th June 2017

Dear Chief Minister,

Last week saw a mega tamasha unfold in our city of Mysuru by your Government… I am sure your officers would not have told you that the main arterial thoroughfares of Mysuru were blocked with buses coming in from all directions putting the city into disarray. Each of your departments and their officials were vying with each other to bring in thousands of people from our rural areas in hundreds of buses. Everyone seemed to be heading towards the Maharaja grounds in anticipation of the mega event that was unfolding. And all this was being done in the name of development of Karnataka. While everyone would agree that this event has actually kicked off your electoral battle for next year’s assembly elections, no one in your Government or in the opposition seemed to ask the question ‘whose development was all this aimed at?’ More than 25,000 families in Mysore district were the recipients of your Government’s largesse when you and your colleagues handed out various benefits of different schemes to them. This event labelled ‘Sarkari Soulabya Vitarana Samarambha’ was like a rural ‘jathre’ (fair), wherein different products were being made available to people. The only difference is that the citizens could not get what they really wanted and needed, but had to take what your patronizing Government gave them. You and your cabinet colleagues in all your finery also promised more such mega events to ‘develop’ the people of Karnataka. I beseech you to let us common people know how much the tab was for this event, which some estimated to be around 25 crores.

I am not trying to make the point that many of the people receiving these much-needed benefits are undeserving of getting them. I am only trying to argue the case that your Government may not have truly understood the difference between political doles and true development. While you may argue that every other party and political leader of the recent past has been guilty of indulging in such theatrics where thousands of crores of rupees worth of goods and services are distributed to ‘beneficiaries’. We have seen many such mega-events take place in different district headquarters, with either yourself or the district minister-in-charge personally ‘gifting’ away these Government benefits. One can understand that it is your Government’s responsibility to ensure that the poorest of the poor do not lose out on the benefits of development. But I would like to have your assurance that it is the poorest and the most deserving that are actually getting these benefits. You may be aware that Karnataka state even today does not have a scientifically validated method of measuring poverty or of identifying people who truly deserve support. There is no clear policy that you have outlined on what is the development approach the state should take nor a strategic vision of where Karnataka and its citizens should be, say by the end of your term. The State Planning Board is more of a notional body with no technical expertise and I am afraid that it has been reduced to a rehabilitation agency housing semi-retired people.

When your Government had the last 4 years to initiate development processes, why is it that you are now doling out freebies? Why could you not have had mechanisms to implement well thought through development interventions that focused on building the human and social capital of the poor and the marginalized. If money spent on such ‘tamashas’ could truly benefit the poor, one wonders why we still have so much poverty around us. A common man like me has begun to feel that most of the decision-making is done based on political realities, rather than on the development consequences that you want to achieve.  Apart from treating our own citizens as mere recipients of your Government’s patronage, I am afraid that these events snatch away people’s dignity and self-respect. How will the MLAs feel if they are made to stand in line and receive their I-pads and Laptops from a more than generous Government under full public and media glare? Our deserving poor cannot be made to feel like mere beneficiaries and be given doles under such visibility and public gaze. They need the help of your Government machinery that understands their poverty and gently facilitates their social and economic mobility upwards towards self-reliance. I am sure that you will remember how Mahatma Gandhi always said that our poor had to be treated with the greatest respect and the State should never make a mockery of their poverty. What events like these do is exactly the opposite. In order to achieve narrow political gains, it makes the poor vulnerable and robs them of their dignity and self-respect. It also dis-empowers them and takes away the human spirit of enterprise. I am hopeful that you having been groomed in the philosophy of Lohia’s socialism surely will understand my pain and agony.

What I would like to request you and your cabinet colleagues to do is to ask yourselves, ‘Whether the numerous schemes that you have launched till date are truly initiating and promoting the much-needed development?’ Is the return on investment proportional to the thousands of crores of rupees spent till now? Who is to ensure accountability in the system? Will the political or the bureaucratic executive take the responsibility of ensuring that this money will be well spent and every person receiving the benefits is truly deserving of the same and will join the economic mainstream? We have had numerous such events happen in the past and we as citizens of this State would like to know how much of poverty have they helped in alleviating. Instead of mere doles, shouldn’t the Government take a fresh look at its own budgetary allocations to the poor, the development of the scheduled castes & tribes and the marginalized?

Isn’t it your Government’s responsibility to inform the citizenry who is paying for these mega events. Is it coming out of the public exchequer and if yes, under which head of account is it accounted for? If not, are the myriad contractors involved in the scheme paying for the same? We do have the right to know.

Unless your Government decides that the concern for development goes beyond petty politics and revolves around genuine social concern for the poor, and is willing to subject itself to measurement and accountability, the good governance that you promised when you came to power will continue to be a casualty. Your schemes will only be helping the citizenry to merely cope with poverty instead of permanently climbing out of it. My fond hope is that a man of your administrative experience and understanding of the problems of the poor will go beyond the politics of poverty and use the next one year to usher in the much-needed development that we had hoped you would give the state.

With regards and hopes for a bright future for the state,-

– Dr R Balasubramaniam,
A concerned citizen’s agonizing cry for human development in Karnataka.

This letter appeared in the Star Of Mysore dated 7th June 2017

Citizen's Letter SOM

Categories: Musings