Tete-a-tete with Future Rural Managers
The B-Schools these days are trying to blur the gap between India and Bharat. Institutes like Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar, through programs like Rural Management, are trying to produce a new cadre of committed change agents who are ready to proliferate the sound managerial principles to the remotest corner of the country. I got a chance to interview two such students, Sainath Sunil and Ankur Sharma, of Rural Management of this Institute, who were back after spending one month in few of the backward district of the country. Sainath is a biotech graduate from Indore, while Ankur is an Electronic Engineer who has worked for 3 years as a Human Resource Consultant in Delhi.
VP: How come you ventured in to a rural area?
Ankur and Sunil: This is the part of our rural management program on Rural Living and Learning through Exposure. Basically, we are sent to these underdeveloped areas inhabited by tribal communities to see how these indigeneous people are making ends meet and living with scarce resources in an era where the more we have the less it appears to be for us. We went to assess the impact of NGO intervention in these areas.
VP: Tell us something about the district you worked in?
Ankur: I went to Sundergarh district; it lies in the north western part of the Orissa and is the component of mineral rich Chottanagpur Plateau. The district from the centuries was covered with thick forest, and is the niche for the various aboriginal tribes. The tribes which are found in large numbers in the district are-Khadia, Oram, Bhuinyan, Gond , Kisan. There economy is largely dependent on forests in the area
Sunil: Ganjam is one of the five coastal districts of orissa. It is inhabited by fishermen communities, who belong to Andhra Pradesh but are settled here since 100 years. But still after being born and bought up here they are treated as second grade citizens. A victim of atrocities of money lender who exercise control on them leveraging on their illiteracy. Added to it is apathy of the state government in a policy of non intervention in these areas”
VP: What are the core problems they are facing?
Ankur: Blind rapid industrialization is taking place in so called Welfare State-Orissa at the cost of interests of tribal. These tribes are being marginalized in the name of development, for instance for making big dams and power plants. They are told to move away from the place to some other areas without any arrangements for alternate means of livelihood. Their skill sets are traditional which suits to the forest economy but in this changing socio-economic environment and with onslaught of globalization these skill sets have become Ana chronic and outdated.
Sunil: Situation is not better in Ganjam also. Here also in the name of industrialization of the area they are told to leave the land which is a force full migration from the area. As the fishermen community has migrated from Andhra Pradesh, State Government officials of Orissa take no interest in the betterment of the community, further they have no land rights and live on occupied land, so in the absence of any land ownership they can be asked to move anytime.
The condition of the tribals is even worse as they are predominantly dispersed tribes and hence not covered by the special provisions of the 73RD amendment of the constitution that would other wise have guaranteed exclusivity to them in the area of being. Further among tribals there is no concept of individual ownership of assets, all are community owned or CPR i.e, common property resources. So wherever they live or leave from is together. They are given alternate place to live which they have to share with other such dispersed communities from different tribal areas. To quote here as per research conducted by Internal Displacement monitoring Center (IDMC):
An estimated two per cent of the total Indian population has been displaced by development projects. Of these, 40 percent are tribals although they constitute only 8 percent of the total population (Courtland Robinson, May 2003 , this is the sad state of affairs in the manner some of our countrymen are being treated.
VP: You were there as a part of NGO, What are the intervention programs by NGO and how is it benefiting the people there?
Ankur : Here in Sundergarh , Pragati is the NGO that is doing a lot of constructive work at the grass root level. For instance they have made women Self Help Groups with immense capacity building. Pragati is also working actively for issues like land and forest rights for tribal communities, diversified livelihood systems and creating awareness. Apart from this it is working majorly on the issue of female trafficking.
Sunil: Here the NGO is United Artist Association UAA; they are working here since 1995. They are here with long term strategic interventions aiming for sustainable development. Their interventions are slated to alleviate the condition of both fishermen and the dispersed tribes of the district of Ganjam.
They are raising awareness against issues like child marriage, female feticide and education for women etc. Also the tribes are facing problem of displacement because of upcoming SEZs.
Here, UAA has come up with Samundaram a women empowerment initiative, which is a state level federation of fishermen to foster the spirit of entrepreneurship among women that has helped them diversify and hence achieve two things-Increased income security by counter acting the vagaries of the sea and Greater spirit of independence. At grassroots level they also function through self help groups of women because they believe that women empowerment is the solution to a lot of problems,”The hand that rocks the cradle can control the world as well.”
VP: In a span of just one month, were you able to contribute in some ways towards the betterment of people living there?
Ankur and Sunil: One month is a very short span of time and we were there to assess the impact of NGO interventions. Also there are no tailor made solutions available to tackle issues in rural India. It is hardly enough to understand the issues to the core. However the aim of the month is to see reality at the grassroots and not from the ivory towers of luxury, it helped us understand the challenges that ail our country and strengthened the resolve to make a difference.
VP: The Indian youth is going great guns in making corporate India shine; how do you feel can they be motivated to help in the growth and development of this other side of fence; how can they contribute towards the development of such areas?
Ankur: Development and growth need to go hand in hand, market forces are such we need corporate India to shine undoubtedly. But then this other side of India can’t be ignored. We need to do thorough analysis to bridge the gap between few pockets of affluence and few pockets of destitution. And key to it is looking in sustainable solutions which is all encompass, with a bottom up right based approach.
Sunil: Definitely we need to involve youth; we need to bring these developmental issues to the forefront by introducing them in school curriculums. The image of development work should be glamorized, it needs a revamping. Role of media, the most important pillar of democracy comes in to play here. We need advocacy, lobbying and activism of urban areas to help these marginalized to get them in to so called main stream society. It is possible by development journalism, covering there issues like suicides, displacement and marginalization with as much vengeance as journalist cover Wills Life Style Fashion week. As only then their voices will reach to those who are the policy makers for their welfare.
P.Sainath has been advocating for a very strong media presence in such hotspots and thereby do justice to the field of journalism by making it more pro common man and more pro inclusive growth. Its time to bridge the gap between the Swazilands and the Switzerlands of our country.
VP: Tell us about your RLLE Experience.
A&S: Rural living and learning experience is an endeavour to experience the unique challenges that rural India presents to us. The programme intends to develop sensitivity of the students towards the issues confronting our countrymen that so easily get obviated by the overt developmental activities that we see all around us, in other words it is all about removing the romantic notion of villages that we all like to imagine and present towards us the true picture of BHARAT vis a vis India
The green fields interspersed with barren lands depict the patches of prosperity along with a silent reminder of what needs to be done in order to make lives better and livable for our country men and thereby imparting learning with a human face and an insight that shall be crucial in our understanding of the way the rural India lives, thinks and operates. What this programme also teaches us is that unlearning is as important as the process of learning and to move with zero pre conceived notions of villages and villagers in general. The silent dark skies give you ample time to reflect on the learnings for the day and ensure that one continues to evolve as an individual and develop a rich picture of the country side. Above all the hospitality and the unblemished smile that is a permanence on the faces of our countrymen from the villages despite hardships teaches us a lot, something each of us shall treasure all through our journey of life.
It was a refreshing experience to stay in mother nature’s cognizance and experience the wonders that she bestows upon her children that we so conveniently ignore during the normal course of our lives, but here we felt the fresh dew on the grass blades, the aroma of wet soil, the soft first rays of the sun, the parting rays of the setting sun and the silent soothing moon during the night. This surely made us appreciate nature’s bounties and made us avid observers in the process thereby furthering the process from seeing to observing.
The essence of R.L.L.E can be well described as “learning with a human touch”.