ask not for whom the bell tolls

(note written in response to discussion regarding support for peace march)

by LS Aravinda on Sat Mar 19, 2005 12:24 pm
As important if not more important than the work we do in India is the work we do in the US, raising these issues and seeking insights sincerely. We are not one of those organisations who merely says, here is a thousand dollars, go march. We aim to understand and address the tough problems of poverty and underdevelopment, the kinds that plunge us into the midst of questions that compel us to think from new perspectives. I wish that we would take up this level of discussion with reference to more of the projects that we support. Indeed, discussions such as this ARE the heart and lifeblood of AID.

wrt peace march i have no doubt that the folks marching share these concerns, and in fact are propelled by them to march. in general, we should take seriously our role as volunteers to take part in debates on the various development areas in which we intervene. such debate should not prevent us from getting involved, but should be part of our involvement. village level workers and affected people genuinely value this dimension of our contribution to the cause, as they have told us often..

it always happens after long days of inspecting rehabilitation sites and seeking documents from offices, riding back in the train or jeep we will ask ourselves, “is it worth it, what will we achieve, should we have done x or y ….” or after campaigning for every BPL family to receive their correct ration card and full supply of rations, we will also ask ourselves whether this is a system even worth fighting for. the same quandaries may apply to a school or health clinic, or any number of programs. when we look at the issues in the abstract we can easily be convinced to do nothing.

i always find it helps to share my doubts with those who are involved in the programs at the village level. never underestimate their perception of the complexities and paradoxes involved.


Development of Border villages

Interesting discussion on working in border villages. We have started getting involved in two new areas, which happen to be at the two extremes of andhra. After working in Srikakulam District for several years, we have now extended to the bordering Gajapati District in Orissa. We are also planning to get more involved in Nellore and Chittoor districts of AP where we recently met with people of various villages who are part of APVVU, along with some new villages getting organised post-tsunami. 

Gajapati district is mostly tribal, with about 60% people being native Saura speakers. Many who live close to the road speak Oriya, Telugu or both. Dhanada, who started AID-Australia and then moved to Orissa, has now left Bhubaneshwar to become the principal of an engineering & management college called JITM located in Gajapati District. Ravi and I visited JITM and taught a few classes, and along with Dhanada as well as Nina and Alok (ex-AID Blacksburg, who just set up a bio-diesel plant in rural Orissa) talked to the students about AID. Dhanada and Peter are planning to start an alternative development workshop on the campus and seek to facilitate opportunities for interested students to develop their technical and management skills in such a way that they can serve social purposes. 

Most of the students come from Orissa, Bihar, and Jharkhand. As students everywhere they were really excited about visiting the villages, meeting the people and finding out about their living conditions. Unlike big-city campuses, where students interested in volunteering for rural development would have to travel several hours, here the villages are just 2 km away. In fact the campus is visible from their fields and the JITM bus plies through their kaccha roads though, as Dhanada noted, not a single student has come to JITM from these villages. 

* * * 

It was the Tsunami that brought us to the coastal villages of southern AP and TN, but tsunami damage is not the major problem these folks face. Many have compared the tsunami with the slum demolitions of Mumbai. While crores were raised through public appeals to help tsunami survivors, there was practically a sense of public approval for the slum demolitions. Yet two months later, we find much in common among the two groups, which can be summed up in a question mark. When will we get back to work, when will we rebuild our homes? And where? Though the TN government is yet to come out with a policy on rehabilitation, they have already declared that those living within 500 m from the sea must relocate. In AP, the government has banned fishing for 3 months. In both states we saw that people are merely getting by on ration rice and going from pillar to post demanding government assistance. In the case of tsunami damages, they are actually asking – with respect to land titles, water facilities, current meters, phone, health, education and other basic government services, they gave up long ago. 

It is not a coincidence that villages at the border face greater development challenges. Where are these borders drawn …. and who draws them? Srikakulam and Gajapati districts, at the border of AP and Orissa respectively, are among the poorest. Adivasi communities facing displacement by Sardar Sarovar also inhabit border districts of Maharashtra, MP and Gujarat. In fact, the Supreme Court Order of 2000 which orders the dam to be raised to its full proposed height, suggests that the project is required for national security (and hence can bypass a few laws here and there) because these “sturdy tribal” people should be relocated to the border – of India / Pakistan!!! 

People living on “borders” whether state or national, cannot be treated like pawns in a game. All too often their voices go unheard, because they speak a ‘different’ language from those who call the shots, because their villages are ‘too far’ to extend phone or current lines, or for that matter for the post to deliver, buses to stop, services to reach. Walking for water, walking for toilet, walking for work, this is daily life. War and hostility impact migration considerably, and many participating in this discussion might have been elsewhere if our subcontinent had achieved peaceful relations all these years.


In response to

by Shrinaath Chidambaram on Mon Mar 14, 2005 10:43 pm

Here’s my view on why the peace march- let me bring in a couple of analogies first., so bear with me… 

1. Our AID-Chennai team was working on “development” activities until the Tsunami hit. They had to respond to it and could not instead say that we will continue only uor development. 

2. Similarly in the case of Gujarat earthquake and then the communal violence- the so-called beneficiaries of development first needed help in responding to the crisis in their lives before we could talk “development” 

3. Narmada, bhopal, and several other examples can further make this point. 

So, now as AID if we want to work for “development” for the people in the border villages of India and by extension in communally sensitive areas of other parts, don’t they first need relief from the constant fear of cross-border shelling, terrorist incursions, army takeover of their villages, and all other kinds of war related oppression…that they have to deal with regularly. 

Talk of peace, symbolic and real measures to move towards peace, and then presssure of an enlightened citizenry in both countries on their respective Govts to sort out all matters, and tone down the rhetoric, actually will give the people and NGOs more confidence to work for “development” in these villages. 

If we don’t support peace initiatives, we are almost saying we are only going to work in non-border villages! 


Shrinaath Chidambaram