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Sadhya, Sadhan aur Sadhna

Anupam Mishra

At the very outset I must confess that these three Hindi words are difficult to translate. They represent the means, the ends and a kind of penance. I did not choose this title to score a point or satisfy my ego. I chose it because all NGOs, their coordinators, workers, generous funding agencies – whether desi or foreign – and people’s movements, regardless of size and reach, should ponder over these three words.

A debate rages over the question of funding. It gets particularly stormy when it comes to foreign funding. Invariably, the debate centres on the ends and the means. Perhaps there would be some clarity if we stopped for a moment to consider sadhna or penance as well. For only penance will tell us what the people really want. And, when we know that and direct our energies at achieving it, the means and ends will fall in place.

In my opinion the source of funding is not very important. The money can be raised from the local village, mohalla or city. It could be sent across the seven seas. There can be divergent opinions on the best sources of funding. What is more important is the outcome. The end result must be what we the people want. Apart from a few exceptions we don’t have a clear idea of what we wish to achieve. NGOs or civil society movements keep shifting their focus.

Most of us will recall at one time social forestry fetched a high price on the environment stock market. Funding came from four corners of the globe and we rounded up a few million dollars. The best among us started implementing social forestry projects without first debating what precisely was “unsocial forestry”.

And then suddenly this flag was brought down. In its place, one fine morning the brand new flag of wasteland develpent was unfurled. This time, too, nobody cared to define wastelands. A lot of money, energy and time were spent by eminent members of society in the wasteland development venture. Initially, a small department in the central government handled the idea. It was replaced by a new ministry. Lots of NGOs, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, began doing wasteland development.

But like its previous avatar, wasteland development died in its infancy. There were no condolence meetings to mourn the death of this “marvelous” scheme and we soon started celebrating the birth of a new movement called watershed development.

This programme has been translated and adapted into various languages. In Hindi speaking states, watershed development is called ‘Jalagam Vikas’. In Maharashtra, it is termed ‘Panlot’ and elsewhere it is called ‘Pandhal’. Despite the desi badge, the programme does not touch our hearts.

For the moment, our best NGOs are putting their most talented people, from urban and rural areas, into developing a few watersheds here and there. Nobody knows when we will begin shedding tears over this programme.

Running neck and neck with watershed development is Joint Forest Management (JFM). Here, too, some NGOs are ahead of the rest in providing a desi touch. So, JFM is called ‘Sanyukt Van Prabandh’ in some regional dialects. Grassroots NGOs who object to the Sanskritised world sanyukt, opt for the more colloquial sanjha. But essentially JFM is a programme and its end result has been dictated by the World Bank or some similar institutions.

I do not wish to narrate all this to poke fun. These are serious matters. If our society really needed the JFM programme, we should have first seriously reflected on the administration of forests by individual agencies and heir managers. Who were they? Ho long did their authority last? Whom did they snatch these forests from? How did the country’s forest cover dwindle to 10% when it should have been 33%? We have paid a price for deforestation. Floods in Orissa, Chattisgarh and Bihar and drought in 18 states are the net outcome.

The people who mismanaged these forests and the political leadership which protected them should have apologized publicly before JFM was launched.

We must also remember who the true managers of the forests were, how they were dispossessed by the British and looted of their green gold.

It is much the same story with programmes in areas other than the environment. Numerous plans exist on women’s empowerment, child rights, reproductive health and formation of self-help groups. Every NGO implements the same programmes, regardless of political ideology. The leftists, the rightists, the Gandhians, the missionaries, even the RSS display a rare consensus. The monoculture of ideas is alarming. It seems there is an invisible mint somewhere in the West, which constantly coins new terms for us to fill our pockets with.

So should we believe everybody has sold out? No, there are some heroes who have bravely fought the idea of monoculture. After the Emergency in the 1970s, a few drove out Coca-Cola and IBM. To commemorate this great victory, a cold drink called Double Seven was introduced. But Coca-Cola re-emerged, in the garb of our heroes, drowning Double Seven and our original champions. This is a beautiful example of co-existence.

So this debate on ends and means, funds from here and there, will lead us nowhere. The answer is to find a good mission and for that to happen we have to look within. Once we have our own ends, the means will follow.

A small example can be narrated from a village near Jaipur. In this drought prone area a routine NGO constructed a tank to harvest water. It invested some 30,000 rupees in the project. The tank narrowed the distance between the NGO and the community. At one of the meetings an elderly person suggested constructing a small temple and a chhatri on the embankment of the tank. But the cost of constructing the chhatri and the temple was not in the NGO’s budget.

The NGO explained that it could get a grant for the tank but not for the chhatri. But the elderly person politely replied that the village was not asking for money from the NGO. Within a month the villagers collected the amount and the chhatri was constructed.

Most of our NGO friends will consider the money spent as wasteful expenditure, but for the villagers this is the difference between a house and a home. They need water structures that belong to them. And when they own something they protect and maintain it. Otherwise it’s a kind of PWD structure.

We should not forget in this land of 500,000 villages and few thousand towns there were two million water structures before the British came. There was no water mission, no watershed development programme. Society created these structures using its own resources. There was no Zilla Bank or World Bank at that time but the Village Bank. There was an invisible and invincible structure to carry out this job in a country that has a Cherrapunji as well as a Jaisalmer.

Now we talk about people’s participation and PRA – Participatory Research Appraisal. We get funds from within and outside, but our aims and ends do not represent the needs of the people. We keep on pushing a different agenda. If we were to invest half our energy in understanding our society, we would generate enough means from within. But that requires a kind of penance.

 

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