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Romantic films and books have long eulogized utopian ideas of villages in India being homogenous societies. The idyllic, innocent, rural life is always contrasted with the disjoint, lonely and aimless lives of people in cities. This is the conditioning with which a majority of the Indians have grown up.  This is the image that is carried into rural areas. However, these concepts take a severe jolt when one looks closely at the realities. The fact of the matter is that society in rural areas is as fractured, if not more, as compared to the urban society. Think of the criteria and you will find division…

  • Men and women have clearly unequal space and say in public (and we daresay private) life.
  • Caste considerations, now toned down at least in most parts of Maharashtra, hold clear and unchallenged sway over peoples transactions. This consciousness is not reducing in any way : if anything it is increasing. Off late more and more people, including children have been asking us ‘which caste do you belong to?’
  • Land owners are clearly a different class as compared to the landless and artisans. In fact irrigated land owners are clearly the uppermost class of people.
  • No sooner than some leadership emerges, political parties rush in to claim that as its very own. A few sops and titles here and there and another ‘leader’ bites the dust.

In short the society is fractured and slowly being conditioned by circumstances to think in terms of narrow self interests. Development actors, through self interest or compulsions or misguided thinking end up reinforcing the divisions. Here is how…

  • Projects working with women alienate men and think that this is correct strategy..
  • Schemes for those Below the Poverty Line, merely alienate those not included or incite them to defraud by claiming BPL status..
  • Watershed projects don’t look closely at the aspirations of the landless…
  • Sponsorship projects end up differentiating between the ‘haves children’ and the ‘have nots children’.
  • Caste based human rights groups completely alienate and antagonize the ‘upper’ castes

We don’t claim that there should not be focus on the weakest sections of society.. that is a must since affirmative action clearly has its advantages… Further we are not arguing that this fracturing is deliberate… but it is what happens.. A bit more planning and sensitivity would help prevent rifts within society… One aspect is clear, it is getting increasingly difficult to mobilize the community to reflect and act on issues that affect it in its entirety. No one has the energy to think beyond ‘what is in there for me?’

A dangerous fall out of this is that opportunists and self serving people use the natural divisions, enlarge them to breaking point and end up feathering their own nests. The poor and un-empowered remain so..

Clearly this should not be acceptable. We feel that the time has come for all development actors – government, NGOs and increasingly corporate sector to reassess their strategies of dealing with these issues. Wanting to address issues of exclusion of sections of population should not result in excluding a fresh set of people… at least not in the long run… after all the Platform for Action espoused by the Fourth World Conference for Women, in Beijing in 1995 did identify working with men to promote equity and empowerment of women.  That strategy can and probably must be adopted across the development world.