There is a persistent campaign in the corridors of the capital that voluntary social groups working in rural areas are ‘destabilizing’ India.
Anil Bhatt provides proof that indeed they are destabilizing India—but the India they are destabilizing is India of the capitalwallahs. Bhatt reports:
For the very poor any increase in production, though not enough to pull them out of subsistence, has been sufficient to give them enough food, a little better clothing and some additional necessities of life.
In case of drought, sometimes, they would face near starvation or would have to mortgage whatever little assets they have. Help by the mandal has provided critical relief. It has helped prevent them from being pushed further into the depths of poverty and becoming totally destitute.
If it is a question of the survival of the bottom 20 per cent of the population, as some argue, economic activity by the groups is helping them in this survival.
Earlier, each individual had to go to the market in town to buy bamboos. Besides costing him nearly three to four times more than it does now, the entire transaction also took a whole day. Now he mostly gets the bamboo delivered to him at his home. This has also prevented misbehaviour towards their women.
Earlier, women had to walk several kilometers to fetch water and they were able to bring only two pots of water a day. Today, water is at hand.
The groups have relieved many poor farmers of debt to private moneylenders. They were able to get back ninety-six acres of mortgaged land belonging to fifty-six farmers.
Seasonal migration, in search of work, from their villages was reduced considerably.
Bhatt points out also the limitations of tiny ventures to change the world. True, these tiny drops do not add upto an ocean, but they remind us that the government’s oceanic expenditure and efforts are not yielding even a tiny drop in the hands of the poor.
The key difference Bhatt rightly emphasizes is that ‘in a crisis people can get help almost overnight; there are no papers and procedures; and no bribes, commissions and insults. This in itself is a great relief for people who would otherwise have to go through the tortuous and circuitous routes of getting loans from government and public institutions.’
In the eyes of the poor the competence, compassion and consequently credibility of an institution is demonstrated by its response in a crisis situation. The government is and remains response-proof. The government has size and scale on its side, but it is of little cash value to the poor.
Bhatt also draws for us in this most readable volume of 208 pages, macro-perspectives from his encounters at the grassroot level. These are instructive, but the book must be read for its first-hand reports on the activities and impact of selected voluntary organizations in rural development.
L.C. Jain is Director, Industrial Development Services, New Delhi; author of Grass Without Roots.