How solar power is revolutionising the developing world

How solar power is revolutionising the developing world

Does solar power have the potential to transform poverty-stricken regions? Harriet King explores how the sustainable energy resource is opening a multitude of new opportunities across developing countries. 

The advantages of solar power are becoming increasingly evident, and everyday more and more countries are turning to the promising source of renewable energy in order to overcome issues of poverty and corruption.

The growth is in light of the International Solar Alliance, led by India

Jimmy_Joe/Creative commons license
Jimmy_Joe/Creative commons license

at the Paris climate conference, which invites 120 countries to collectively support the expansion of solar technologies in the developing world. Countries such as Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal and Ghana are now also building solar farms and installing solar panels across their countries as an alternative solution to unreliable energy sources.

Why Solar?

There are multiple reasons as to why solar energy is spearheading the clean energy market. The sun, as one of the most powerful sources of energy, means solar is as a guaranteed form of sustainable consumption – generating electricity at a price effective cost. The price for installation and upkeep of solar power is minimal compared to fossil fuels and other sources. Solar energy systems generally require little maintenance, and most manufacturers guarantee that the systems will work efficiently for 20-25 years.

Solar energy is also universal, and can be applied diversely. Not only can it produce electricity in areas without access to the energy grid, but also distil water in regions with limited clean water supplies. Technology within the industry is constantly developing and adapting to a sundry market, meaning both richer and poorer countries will be introduced to the same advancements. In the future, it is predicted that innovations within the sector would mean double, or even triple, the current electrical turnover of solar power.

India Sets The Trend

In July this year, India signed an agreement with the World Bank to borrow over $1bn in order to build and develop a flourishing solar power sector. The decision meant a step in the right direction for the country’s president, Narendra Modi, whose green dream is to install 175GW of renewable power by 2022 – mostly solar. Despite this highly ambitious target, the goal is achievable and Modi has shown persistent commitment to the industry: “The world must turn to the sun to power our future. As the developing world lifts billions of people into prosperity, our hope for a sustainable planned rests on a bold, global initiative,” he said in a statement at COP21.

Officially the second most populous country in the world, India is the ideal country to front the solar energy movement. It has an average of 300 sunny days a year, meaning a guarantee of solar power generation. Neighbouring developing countries, such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, also experience the same climate therefore would find solar power highly advantageous and can follow in India’s footsteps.

Solar Power and Development

Nancy Pelosi/Creative commons license
Nancy Pelosi/Creative commons license

India is in the position to prove the potential of solar power in terms of development and prosperity. Out of 250 million households across the country, 56 million struggle to maintain electricity, the majority of which are located in rural areas. In total, one in four people in India do not have access to a source of electricity – an obstacle that stops poorer communities from going to work and receiving an education.

Off-grid solar installations, suitable for single homes or small clusters of buildings, could prove extremely helpful in these areas. Students throughout rural areas are unable to be educated, as they are either not equipped to go to school and complete their studies due to lack of technology – many lack basic needs to study such as adequate light.

Solar power would not only benefit schools and workplaces, but also create thousands of well-paid jobs within the industry itself. India is one of many countries experiencing heightened poverty in certain areas due to a lack of resources. Electricity can change the lives of families, communities, and entire regions.

Essentially, sunlight is free and solar power comes a very little cost. The solar power industry is proving a stable, cost-effective, trustworthy, reliable business which is applicable to all countries, communities and regions throughout the world. If government projects, NGOs, and research funds invested time and effort into solar energy projects, we could see a huge decline in poverty and destitution, and a rise in demographic equality and education across developing countries.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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The Promise of Delicious Hot Lunch: The Great Indian Midday Meal Scheme

The Promise of Delicious Hot Lunch: The Great Indian Midday Meal Scheme

There has been a lot of focus on India’s free provision of hot lunches in schools. Here, Sophia Sanchez provides an analysis of the scheme.

Overview

The National Program of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, commonly known as Midday Meal Scheme (MDMS), in India has had a long history since its inception in 1995. MDMS was first introduced to address two major challenges: hunger and education, and has come a long way since.

The flagship program mandates providing free lunch to approximately 120 million kids, which makes it the world’s largest free meal program. Children aged 6-14 years who enroll and attend school are provided lunch. MDMS covers schools run by local bodies, Government or Government-aided institutions including madrasas and maqtabs (Islamic educational institutions).

Calcutta Rescue / Creative Commons License
Calcutta Rescue / Creative Commons License

The need for MDMS

Despite making tremendous progress in several areas, India is grappling with several social issues. One such issue during the early 90s was to get children to go to school. Since a majority of the them belonged to families with low socio-economic status, education was the last of their priorities.

Surveys revealed that poverty resulted in hunger and malnutrition, which in turn hampered children’s capacity to concentrate, consequently affecting their classroom performance.

To curb hunger and malnutrition, and to bring children to school, the Government rolled out MDMS in mid-90s.

After battling several teething problems, the scheme’s major triumph was in 2001, when the Supreme Court of India intervened and directed all public schools to implement the program. Since then, the scheme has evolved and is making steady progress.

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Janak Chandarana / Creative Commons License

Evolution of MDMS

According to a report in The Economist, about 30% of Indian children are severely undernourished.  The good news, however, is that malnutrition has reduced by 10% in a decade’s time. The improvement hasn’t been drastic. From policy paralysis to implementation bottlenecks, MDMS has faced several issues, including the death of 27 children in Bihar attributable to food poisoning.

Following the incident, a number of measures have been taken by the Government to address grievances. Grievance Redressal Mechanisms (GRMs) have been set up for registering complaints. Complainants can call on toll-free numbers or write to concerned authorities who are in charge of redressal of grievances.

Besides, the Ministry of Human Resource Development relooks at and revises policy guidelines at frequent intervals to streamline the process. Recent revisions were made in 2015, which direct the schools to provide nutritious food in hygienic spaces inside the school. Also, a member of the staff has to taste the food and conduct quality test before serving it to the children. Authorities pay random visits to schools and collect food samples that are tested in laboratories to check the nutritional value.  The guidelines prescribed for nutritional content is:

 

Components Primary Upper Primary
Calories 450 Cal 700 Cal
Protein 12 grams 20 grams
Micro-nutrients Adequate quantities of micro-nutrients like iron, folic acid, vitamin-a etc.

 

Role of MDMS in Supporting Education

Statistical investigations and research on the Mid Day Meal Scheme like Bonds’ thesis have been conducted to understand the impact of MDMS on supporting education. The great news is that the results are in favor of MDMS.

The evidence endorses the positive bearing MDMS has had on education. The program has successfully managed to achieve objectives such as:

  • Encouraging children to enroll and attend school regularly
  • Addressing issues like hunger and malnutrition by providing nutritional food
  • Creating awareness on the importance of health and hygiene by setting healthy standards
  • Incentivizing education to encourage children to not just go to school but to keep going back

Both Central and State Governments have been working in tandem to ensure proper functioning of the scheme. Moreover, many Self-Help Groups (SGHs) and NGOs such as Akshaya Patra have joined hands with the Government to form an efficient Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). The scheme has created employment opportunities and has further strengthened the economy.

The Government welcomes suggestions from advisors and citizens alike to improve the program. With suitable orientations, all stakeholders such as policy makers, implementers, teachers, stakeholders, etc., can be well prepared to take both hits and misses in their stride.

Taking the aforementioned factors into consideration, it would be right to deduce with much optimism that the MDMS scheme plays a crucial role in bringing children to school.  By improving the overall enrollment rate and taking care of children’s nutritional requirements, MDMS has managed to address two major problems with one efficient solution. The promise of delicious hot lunch has helped MDMS support education, making it a real game changer for India.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Jan Dhan Yojana: Just another empty vessel making noise?

Jan Dhan Yojana: Just another empty vessel making noise?

Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana was introduced by the current government in 2014 with the aim of extending financial inclusion. 18 months into the flagship project, Mridulya Narasimhan assesses the strengths and limitations of the scheme to date.

On 28th August 2014, the Indian government launched Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), yet another flagship project with an aim to ensure affordable financial services and complete financial inclusion. Under the programme each account holder is covered by life insurance worth Rs. 30,000, accident insurance worth Rs.1,00,000, provided a RuPay debit card and allowed an overdraw up to Rs. 5,000.

Much like all the other campaigns, the aggressively marketed Jan Dhan Yojana made headlines and also created a Guinness Book of World Record for 18,096,130 bank accounts opened under the program within a week. But the scheme that showed promise is also receiving flak for being an ineffectual instrument of financial inclusion.

Jan Dhan – Hitting the target, missing the point

Congratulations are in order for opening these (albeit empty) no-frills accounts – one amongst many reasons that made the first 100 days of Modi government look very good. But sustaining this streak of success needs far more than just numbers –and this is where the scheme maybe a little myopic.

Cost to banks

The first big miss is the impact the scheme has on banks and their profitability. With the government’s mandate in place, banks are now obligated to open branches in remote locations that are not viable for their business. Just the rollout of Jan Dhan has cost banks INR 2,000 crores in capex. Add to this the RuPay card costs of INR 20 each amongst other costs and the burden on the bank becomes obvious. Additionally, transaction costs associated with lending and loan collection is also something the banks must bear the brunt of.

The unused and duplicate accounts

The government set a rather ambitious target for banks to open 7.5 crore (75 million) accounts by January 2015 while Reserve Bank of India (RBI) relaxedKnow Your Customer (KYC) norms to facilitate the process. The result was duplication of accounts and banks flouting KYC requirements as forewarned by RBI. As of January this year RBI has reported 30 percent of the accounts opened under Jan Dhan Yojana as duplicate.

Yet another concern is of unused accounts that continue to have zero balance. This was to be addressed by linking direct benefit transfers (DBTs) to these accounts and to some extent this strategy has been successful. But now the concern is of identifying and segregating duplicate accounts to ensure the transfers reach the right beneficiaries – failing which, the scheme will only continue to plunder state coffers.

Inconvenience to the user

Various independent studies indicate the banks’ unwillingness, and perhaps inability, to roll out the scheme effectively. An audit study in urban South India by Amy Mowl and Camille Boudot found that banks can and do influence the extent of financial inclusion, even if schemes are made mandatory. Not only have banks been known to turn away customers asking for specific schemes but they also refuse to accept valid ID proofs and choose not to market the benefits of low cost accounts.

AMISOM Public Information / Creative Commons License
AMISOM Public Information / Creative Commons License

 

Should by any chance the ‘unbanked’ have managed to open an account after all of this, as first-time users, they must now learn how to use a plastic device (read ‘debit card’) to actually gain access to their own money!

Bundling overdraft facilities, insurance and other direct benefit transfers (DBT) linked to the accounts were essentially introduced to make the scheme more lucrative. However, with limited information and knowledge, accounts continue to lie dormant. These dormant accounts are grounds for disqualification, to avail insurance cover, as well as overdraft facility. So whose purpose are these accounts serving?

Well, is the glass at least half full?

Yes, it is.

It goes without saying that Jan Dhan’s agenda of bringing the unbanked under the ambit of a formal banking environment has definitely led to an increase in the total number of bank accounts. As of September last year, nearly 77 percent of the accounts were running on zero balance; a number which has significantly dropped down to 37 percent as of 11 November 2015.

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 05.26.30

This is predominantly because of the LPG subsidy rollout which comes under the purview of DBT. Soon, other subsidies such as food and fertilisers shall also be linked to these accounts making them more meaningful to users and perhaps easing some of the financial burden the banks currently face.

Currently, there are on-going efforts to put a system in place that can engage, monitor and sustain this initiative. A pilot study in Rajasthan, in collaboration with a mobile phone company, has found some promising results. SHG members in three blocks i.e Banswara, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer have been able to deposit money from mobile phone to SHG accounts. 1,346 SHGs have been enrolled till date through the pilot and Rs 46 lakh has been transacted.

Can the momentum of the initiative be maintained? Can the drawbacks be catered to and the benefits amplified? Only time can tell, but until then, a glass half-full is still worth achieving.

Conclusion

The PMJDY is certainly a viable scheme to improve financial inclusion. But pull away the financial schemes linked to it, and the accounts risk becoming dormant again. With the existing trust deficit, shouldn’t the government focus on financial literacy along with financial inclusion?
This is a reality the Government seems to have finally woken up to. A recent PMO statement stated,

“The Prime Minister directed that awareness campaigns be launched, especially through the medium of mobile phones, to educate people about the benefits available to them through the Jan Dhan Accounts.”

In light of the same, the finance ministry has roped in Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) and skilling centres to run short term financial literacy courses linked to branches that offer Jan Dhan Yojana accounts. If we continue to set systems in place, the long-term benefits of Jan Dhan accounts will unquestionably offset the present concerns over dormant accounts.

They say the Jan Dhan Yojana is nothing but old wine in a new bottle – a mere spin on UPA’s Swabhimaan Yojana. But if Mr. Modi can get the PMJDY right, not many would care about the bottle. After all, old wine is a cherished thing.

This article originally appeared on the Development Outlook blog and The LSE South Asia Blog and is reposted with the author’s permission.

Mridulya Narasimhan recently graduated from LSE with an MSc in Public Management & Governance. She has been a Capstone Consultant with the World Bank and previously worked in Corporate Strategy for Intertek Plc. in India. Her interest in international development is grounded in the experience of living in India, Bhutan and China. She tweets @Mridulya.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Women in Indian society: reflections from a current India intern

This is the first of a series of blogs done by Holly Peacock, one of Development in Actions India Interns. Holly will discuss her experiences, thoughts, and personal development whilst in India. This blog looks at the treatment of women in Indian society, an issue which has made international news in recent months.

“You’ll never know India, but you’ll fall in love with her.” How right he was, Tony of Kuku Café, Jaisalmer. A jolly twenty-something with a big grin, and a no-doubt well-utilised line – we girls were “Tony’s Angels” (the fact that there were four of us readily overlooked). I know I’ll never fully understand India but I want to try. I want to at least attempt to know this land and her one billion souls. The love part is a given.

In the short 8 weeks I have been here, I have fallen into some sort of imitation of Indian life – I drink chai and attempt DIY chapatti. I ride in the boot of autorickshaws and expertly sidestep oncoming mopeds as I cross the road, only partly conscious of the blast of (seriously unnecessary) horns. Naturally, this white girl is fooling no one. “Which country, which country?” they want to know. “New Zealand and no, I know nothing about our cricket team.” I’m here to translate my academic learning into to real world experience. That’s what I put on my DIA application form. But really I’m here to learn and reflect. This is what I’m hoping this blogging business is going to portray. Enjoy.

I knew from the outset that India’s (imbalanced) gender relations were going to be the thing I struggled most to get my head around. But I underestimated the frequency by which the patriarchy would jolt me out of my routine papaya-buying, rickshaw-declining, Fatehpura living.

OnchitaS/ Creative Commons License
OnchitaS/ Creative Commons License

I notice it when the guy charged with feeding us at one of the Block Offices takes my bemused “I have no idea what you’re saying, but sure” responses to his incessant chat in Hindi as an invitation to crank out the porn he has stored on his Samsung 1200T. I notice it when a temple sign dictates that no woman on her period should enter ‘as to preserve the sanctity of the temple’. I notice it when I hear directly from village women that a child should speak for a woman at the Caste Panchayat meeting as she is disallowed from speaking for herself. I notice it when I read that Udaipur district’s sex ratio declined by 24 points between 2001 and 2011.

India has 37 million missing women. The reasons for this are varied and complicated, though the neglect of girl-children, female infanticide, sex-selective abortions and female mortality are all partly responsible. Centuries of tradition and religion place women both on pedestals and at the feet of men – their ‘honour’ a virtue so easily toppled. To me it seems that on a societal level women here are yet to be recognised as whole, complicated and multi-sectional human beings; arguably something the rest of the world too struggles to comprehend. I want to explore this inequality further in subsequent blogs, but for now I am interested in the effect this patriarchy has on impressionable young Indian men. Sunny Hundal in his book ‘India Dishonoured’ suggests that by 2020 there will be an extra 28 million men of marriageable age. THIS IS KIND OF TERRIFYING. What will this do to a society which at best undervalues women, at worst downright abuses their human rights? What too, will it do to these young guys, unable to find a bride in a culture which places so much emphasis on marriage?

Steve Evans / Creative Commons License
Steve Evans / Creative Commons License

 

According to sociologists, young unattached males are more likely than others to congregate in groups and as a result, become more willing to engage in unusual risky behaviour (a phenomenon known as ‘group polarisation’). This is bad news. How will all these extra (young) men come to view unmarried women? As a commodity? An object to be traded; property they’re entitled to? What of the women who resist their advances? In the Times of India today, it was reported that children in India are more exposed to risk factors that make them sexually violent later in life compared to countries including Rwanda, Mexico, Croatia and Chile. The survey, carried out by the International Centre for Research on Women “and two other organisations” (quality journalism as always from the Times), found that 24.5% of the 2000 Indian men surveyed had engaged in sexual violence at some point, most of it directed towards an intimate partner. The percentages for Chile (9.4%), Rwanda (9.1%), Croatia (8.8%) and Mexico (4.3%) are positively aspirational in comparison.

While the developed world begins to recognise the importance of conversations surrounding consent even among primary school children, sex education is not a part of the school curriculum in most parts of India. The combination of misinformation, inexperience and early marriage is a dangerous one. A UNICEF survey found that only 36 per cent of young Indian males and 20 per cent of young Indian females were aware of HIV. Reports of rape continue to rise, official government statistics show incidences of rape increased from 24,923 in 2012 to 33,707 in 2013 (likely underestimates given the stigma of reporting rape). This could be representative of victims’ increased willingness to report rape; unfortunately there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in conviction rates (hovering around 28 per cent). Nor has the language appeared to change, today’s page three article reporting on the rape of a woman by a man she had befriended on Facebook begins “Friendship on Facebook with an unknown man cost a woman her modesty.” This implicit victim blaming isn’t uncommon and it’s not hard to imagine increases of these sorts of violent crime in the face of frustrated, peer-influenced groups of guys.

For India to tackle the imminent social ramifications of a society with so many more men than women, first it must start to recognise women as whole, complicated human beings freed from constraints of honour and modesty. It must too recognise the negative effects this imbalance will have on men in a culture so preoccupied with marriage.

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Global Citizenship & Me – My DiA Journey by Sarah Burns

Global Citizenship & Me – My DiA Journey by Sarah Burns

Sarah BurnsName: Sarah Burns

Placement: Seva Mandir

Year: 2010

What is your favourite moment from interning with one of DiA’s placement partners?

I couldn’t chose just one moment. I had so many amazing opportunities and experiences during my placement, both professional and personal.

What skills and experience did you develop through interning with DiA one of DiA’s placement partners?

Sarah Burns 2I think the main group of skills I developed, which were also the most transferable, centered around working independently, using my initiative and taking responsibility for the work being done. As an intern I was given pieces of work which no one else in the team were working on so it really taught me the importance of taking ownership of a piece of work and having the confidence to take the necessary steps to drive the work forward.

Throwing yourself into a new country, culture and environment and having to build working relationships across cultural and language barriers is an incredibly challenging and rewarding experience. At the end of my placement I felt I had the confidence in myself to tackle any new work situation. Coming back to the UK and joining the management committee really cemented those skills. It gave me the opportunity to use them and take the lead in shaping the charity during each committee year.

 What did you do once you returned to the UK?

Immediately after my placement in India with DiA I travelled to Nepal to complete another Internship. On my return to the UK I began applying for jobs and joined the DiA management committee. I was on the committee for three years. I joined in 2011 as Secretary and became Chair in 2012 for two years.

How did you time involved with DiA help shape your understanding of global citizenship?

Sarah Burns 3I applied to DiA because I felt their focus on global citizenship correlated with my own views. So I would say that I had a good understanding of global citizenship on joining and this was developed during the UK and India orientation days. But what my experience through DiA did do was provide me with real life situations where I was able to reflect on my own connections with people all over the world. One of my most vivid encounters was during my first week in India when I turned a corner and saw clothes from the UK high street being sold on market stores. This immediately made me question the clothes I buy and how and where they are produced, and how the things I buy can affect communities on the other side of the world.

Has this shaped your subsequent professional (or further voluntary) experiences and/or your personal outlook?

I have no doubt that the skills and experience I gained through DiA had a positive effect on my employability when I returned to the UK. Not only has it allowed me to develop important skills, it has given me great examples of these skills and knowledge to use in applications and interviews. In my roles it has allowed me to approach tasks with flexibility and confidence. Even today, 5 years on from my placement I reflect on how it has shaped my skills and ability to respond to challenging situations.

Personally, it has had a huge impact on my views and behavior. My experiences overseas have fed into the decisions I make about how I live my life, from the things I purchase to the causes I support. I also now have an amazing network of friends and contacts from my time in India and as a member of the committee in the UK. 

What are you doing now?

I currently work for Resource Futures, an independent environmental consultancy business.

What advice would you give to people thinking about applying to the DiA India Internship Placement Scheme?

I would encourage interns to get involved with any extra activities within their host organization or community. It’s a great way to learn more about different projects/departments to your own, meet other volunteers and staff members and generally feel more involved with the organisation. Take every opportunity to ask questions and talk to other volunteers and interns about their roles.

 

Join Development in Action and Tenteleni for the Global Citizenship Forum 2015: ‘At home and overseas: The impact of young volunteers’. An interactive, audience-led discussion and Q&A on the contribution of young volunteers to development.

Tuesday 17th November, 6pm at Rise London, 69-89 Mile End Rd, London E1 4TT.  More information, including that of guest speakers available at gcf2015.wordpress.com


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Global Citizenship & Me – My DiA Journey by Josh Reece-Moore

Name: Josh Reece-MooreJosh

Placement: Deep Griha Society

Year: 2014

What is your favourite moment from interning with one of DiA’s placement partners?

I have so many positive memories from the experience so it’s hard to look back and pinpoint a specific moment although I thoroughly enjoyed bonding with everyone that I worked with in the office. Everyone was so welcoming and I really felt at home because there was such a strong sense of community. I found that things fell into place and happened very organically.

What skills and experience did you gain through interning with DiA / one of DiA’s placement partners?

I gained valuable experience that university could never have provided me with. When I was studying I found myself stuck in a marking matrix which wasn’t at all true to real life and in my mind I was shifting from focusing on letters and grades to people and experiences in the ‘real world.’ It was really, really refreshing to collaborate with others, which is something that I love doing.

Through DiA I was given the chance to initiate my own project and learned how to plan, deliver and manage creative workshops. I also learned how to work effectively when facing cultural barriers and how to improvise and explore during these workshops in ways which were completely new to me. Communication skills were also essential in order to pass on my subject knowledge and I became aware of different ways to communicate visually and also through gesture.

Josh 2

The experience you gain definitely contributes to both your personal and professional development. I became so much more culturally aware and I absolutely need to take time out next year to go back to India.

What did you do once you returned to the UK?

After an uncomfortable flight home I slept for ages and then went to the supermarket to buy a feast of food that I had been craving while I was on placement. After I got that out of the way I joined the DiA committee, adjusted to life back in London and I began to make digital copies of the results from our workshops.

A lot of people always ask whether or not the fabric from my collaboration with DGS was made here or in India. I used a printer based in London called Bags of Love and produced a small collection of samples which I then entered into creative competitions. I have now found more time to collaborate and I want to bring even more designs out from the sketchbooks that we produced in India.

How did your time with DiA help shape your understanding of global citizenship?

When I first got involved with DiA I knew very little about development issues or the concept of global citizenship – if I’m completely honest it was something that I’d never heard of before.

We attract involvement from a diverse range of people and I think it’s safe to say that what I learnt with DiA would never have been covered in my creative education. I’m continually learning through experience what it means to be global citizen and am always interested in how others interpret the definition. I’m sure that the Global Citizenship Forum that we’re hosting this year with Tenteleni will provoke interesting discussion points around the topic!

What are you doing now?  

I’m managing the India Programme for 2015/2016 to make sure that it runs smoothly and that we take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. We are completely run by volunteers and we all put in a lot of hours behind the scenes to ensure that our programmes are as strong as possible.

I have also just started a new job which I’m really excited about where I’m hoping to gain more management experience. I still find time to work on creative projects alongside these commitments.

What advice would you give to people thinking about applying to the DiA India Internship Placement Scheme?

Ask the committee a lot of questions because the majority of us have travelled and are more than happy to discuss what life will be like while you’re on placement. Don’t forget that your journey doesn’t end when you arrive home!

 

Join Development in Action and Tenteleni for the Global Citizenship Forum 2015: ‘At home and overseas: The impact of young volunteers’. An interactive, audience-led discussion and Q&A on the contribution of young volunteers to development.

Tuesday 17th November, 6pm at Rise London, 69-89 Mile End Rd, London E1 4TT.  More information, including that of guest speakers available at gcf2015.wordpress.com


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Have an opinion on this or another topic? Why not write for our blog? Click here to find out more and get in touch.

The $17 trillion handshake: 7th BRICS Summit and the week that was

The $17 trillion handshake: 7th BRICS Summit and the week that was

With the stage set in the capital city of Ufa, Bashkortostan, there was excitement and anticipation in the air. As the EU attempted to reach an agreement on how best to deal with Greece,Mridulya Narasimhan explores the BRICS leaders meeting in Ufa on the 6-7 July. 

Why they matter, why now?

Once seen as an incongruous body with no standing, the BRICS now seem to increasingly be gaining everyone’s attention. Google Trends shows the word ‘BRICS’ increased its search history 12 times between July 2015 to July 2015.

In 2007, the US economy was double that of BRICS – as of last year, the combined BRICS economic output almost equalled U.S’s GDP. Individually, these nations have had their share of stagnations but their collective contribution to global GDP only continues to rise.

But BRICS is not just another economic bloc with the sole intentions of harnessing trade relations- the summit was indicative of an economic partnership between nations as well as a strategic alliance with intent to develop long-term diplomatic ties. With India-China border tensions, China’s closeness to Pakistan, Russia at loggerheads with the West while India reaches out to them, there is little homogeneity amongst the member nations. What seems to however hold them together is the realisation of their growing importance and the common goal of shifting the locus of control away from the West.

©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License
©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License

The BRICS solution to break the West’s (including IMF and the Bank) economic monopoly is plain and simple – introducing competition. Headquartered in Shanghai, the New Development Bank finished its first board meeting and will soon be operational to lend internationally. Headed by India’s K.V Kamath, the bank is set to start off with a capital of $50 billion which will be hiked to $ 100 billion in less than two years.

India – The odd man out

India seems like they might be caught between a rock and a hard place. China and Russia see the BRICS as an instrument to do away with the US hegemony while India is looking forward to a new-found albeit tactical ‘friendship’ with the US. Russian relations with the United States have reached boiling point a few times in the recent past.

China too has been in loggerheads with the US over maritime disputes in the South China Sea with the latter alleging that China’s strategic moves are provocative in nature. The relation is no better off between Brazil and US after it was recently made public by Wikileaks that the US intelligence has kept surveillance over President Dilma Rousseff and her aides. It will certainly be interesting to see how India manages to earn its keep at BRICS while continuing to forge a relationship with the U.S.

The new economic order – or just another ‘BRIC’ in the wall?

Without doubt, BRICS seems to make for a great example as far as unity in diversity is concerned. But what does not go unnoticed is also that these nations are not on the same page as far as agendas are perhaps concerned.

Brazil, India and South Africa are thriving democracies while China and Russia are believers of vigilance; wary of liberal ideas and open markets. With such different ideologies, the one main common thread that remains is the trade economics and development.

©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License
©GovernmentZA/Creative Commons License

Another key question that remains unanswered is where does China’s priority lie? It remains to be seen how China will choose to prioritise the BRICS agenda as China’s main priority is the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank. With BRICS members also being a part of the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank and India and Russia being its second and third largest stakeholders, there seems to be a clear conflict of interest as so which institution shall get priority and the active role China chooses to undertake with regard to BRICS is yet to be seen.

The BRICS members have made it clear time and again that inclusive growth, economic prosperity and transparency are its raison d’être. But what is yet to be clarified is how much say each nation will have? Brazil, Russia and India will contribute $18 billion each, South Africa $5 billion and China intends to contribute $41 billion to the New Development Bank – a clear indication of their financial clout. If these numbers are anything to go by, goes without saying that key decisions will most certainly be influenced by China.

Lastly, even with this new economic order in place there, none of the nations presented a very clear plan of how to take things forward. Although, India did manage to present a ‘ten-step program’, the initiatives that include a soccer tournament, audit cooperation, a film festival etc. seem more like team-building exercises with little significance.

It is far too early to know what the future holds for BRICS but the summit is certainly a step closer to BRICS acknowledging its potential. These nations, together, can either develop a strong esprit de corps or can be the reason why BRICS, like many others before them, fades into oblivion.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Summer Break and Indian Interns update!

Summer Break and Indian Interns update!

Thank you to all our readers for your continued support.

We are taking a short 1 week break for summer but be sure to come back on the 14th of July for loads of great new content!

To keep you going we are pleased to announce that our 2 month interns arrived in India have begun their orientation week in Pune. You can read more about them HERE. And go to our facebook page Development in Action to watch a video from a former intern to see what awaits our interns!

If there are any budding writers out there who feel like they have something they want to write an article about then please contact Blog Editor Joe Corry-Roake at j.corry-roake@developmentinaction.org.

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Affirmative Action in India: Is backward the new forward?

Affirmative Action in India: Is backward the new forward?

Sarita Devi (name changed) 38, seems unhappy with her daughter Sonam’s board result – a public examination occurring at the end of the 10th and 12th grade education in India. But she seems far more disappointed that she does not qualify as a Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) or Other Backward Class (OBC): “I am only a housemaid, but had I been a member of a backward community, my daughter would have made it to the list of at least a decent university”. Her words are a sounding board to what the reality of many middle and lower class Savarna caste individuals in India face. Here Mridulya Narasimhan discusses the successes and failures of positive discrimination in India.

Reservation against reservation

India’s caste system, for all practical purposes, was created over 1500 years ago for a simple classification of occupations in a feudal society. Those at the bottom of this caste pyramid were in charge of menial jobs and were forbidden to interact with the upper class.

©Marc A. Garrett /Creative Commons License
©Marc A. Garrett /Creative Commons License

India’s constitution of 1950 propagated positive discrimination based on similar quota systems that existed in part of British-India during the 1920s. The idea was to reserve seats in public jobs as well as in the education system to bridge the growing inequalities between these castes. Over the past few decades the stark boundaries between castes have somewhat blurred and people are no longer bound by economic restrictions. But the reservation policy, intended to exist only for a decade, has managed to largely outlive its purpose for the past 65 years.

Thus far, there have been very few attempts to causally establish the impact of reservation in public jobs on the livelihoods of backward classes although a 2010 study by Aimee Chin and Nishith Prakash, based on 16 of India’s biggest states, shows that there is no impact of reservations on Scheduled Castes on poverty and standard of living.

In India most people take up job opportunities in an unorganised or semi-organised setting or in a private organisation so the impact of facilitating public jobs to those deemed as ‘lower caste’ is actually unknown.

There is no mandate for private firms to entertain reservation as a part of their employment policy; however, some choose to take voluntary measures: the Tata conglomerate is one of those with an active agenda of affirmative action. The multinational giant, headquartered in Mumbai, does in-house surveys to assess its Dalit and tribal workforce; they also go to the extent of setting lower requirements for exam marks for Dalit’s.

Tamil Nadu for example, has 69% reservations set aside for Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) or Other Backward Class (OBC). With the general population competing for 31% of available seats, general applicants have now started to migrate to the private institutions and MNCs – further skewing the ratio.

©Arpana Sanjay /Creative Commons License
©Arpana Sanjay /Creative Commons License

The general population are concerned with the lower eligibility requirements for SCs, STs and OBCs. It is a vicious cycle – lower requirements are indicative of the fact that those ‘backward castes’ are expected to be less capable than most others. With such an expectation in place, those currently classified as backward continue to perform sub-optimally, defeating the entire purpose of the chance given to them. Furthermore, this tends to decrease overall standards of living of society as even the ‘Savarna’ classes are deprived of opportunities that are tied up in quotas.

 

Affirmative action: In the affirmative                                                                                                         

Affirmative action has certainly achieved some of it’s basic goals, but has lost its purpose along the way. According to a study conducted in 2009, one-in-fifteen graduates and one-in-ten secondary school students were Dalits. Also, Dalits who had only 1.6% of top-tier civil servant jobs, now account for over 16%. Though they continue to lag behind other groups; this number has grown over the past few decades. According to the Mahmood-Ur-Rahman Committee Report, Muslims constitute 10.6% of Maharashtra’ population but represent only 4.4% in public services. This is evidence of inclusion but the effect on aptitude of candidates still remains inconclusive.

The new wave: The Supreme Court ruling

A welcome change was the Supreme court, the apex judicial authority of India, quashing UPA government’s decision to include Jats in the OBC category. A similar judgement was made in January to reexamine the reservations placed on the Maratha community in India. These judgements tried to emphasise a move away from traditional methods of understanding realtionships through caste differences and instead recognising backwardness “as a manifestation caused by the presence of several independent circumstances, which may be social, cultural, economic, educational or even political. New practices, methods and yardsticks have to be continuously evolved, moving away from a caste-centric definition of backwardness. This alone can enable recognition of newly emerging groups in society, which would require palliative action.

Conclusion

In the Indian context, judicial oversight and vote bank politics are perpetuating inequality rather than redressing it. But with judgements like those made by the Supreme Court with respect to the Jat community there is still hope that the government will look at social backwardness through a fresh lens.

What India needs at this point is perhaps positive discrimination based on factors other than castes. Any policy, no matter how well-intentioned, that is based on historical injustice, will only lead to injustice for those truly deserving backward sections in India.

And while we wait upon the truly backward to be represented in this country, many like Sarita’s daughter try and make the best of the situation. Sonam is now pursuing her education through open university.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Decentralising food distribution in india

Decentralising food distribution in india

India, with its abundant and cheap labour, has potential for rapid growth and development. This resource can be particularly well applied in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. However, here Kartikeya Rana disucsses the role of a corrupt government and high levels of red tape in decreasing the efficiency of work conducted and results in avoidable costs.

One important measure of the country’s development is whether the people are able to gain a staple diet. India is currently facing a serious problem of undernourishment and malnutrition. It has the highest number of poor people, in terms of percentage of population, in the world.

© Balazs Gardi/Creative Commons License
© Balazs Gardi/Creative Commons License

Apart from being a source of damage for the populous, it has also cost the taxpayer a tremendous amount of money. Schemes such as subsidised grain have led to a loss of around 2 billion rupees worth of crops in 2012 alone. This has not helped to improve public perception of the government, which sees the government as a corrupt and criminally intended organisation.

The issue in India is not only one of policy paralysis but also of implementation. Although the government has implemented legislature to overcome the problem of hunger in the country, high levels of graft and lower level management has resulted in poor implementation.

Policy paralysis

The issue of policy paralysis in India can be explained by the dysfunction of the parliament. Poor attendance and regular disruption in parliament leads to a lack of effective policy development and implementation. As a result, archaic policies implemented over 30 years ago are still used in India today for a number of sectors. This is particularly problematic because of the rapidly changing nature of the world and the growth of the Indian population. This results in high levels of red tape and complicated regulations. As a result, policies such as food subsidies become particularly hard to implement.

Implementation problems

There are a number of policy’s in place to ensure children are able to gain a nutritious diet. The scheme of mid-day meals was implemented wherein kids attending government schools were able to gain a lunchtime meal. Furthermore, a scheme of highly subsidised grains to the poor was implemented to ensure that every person was able to gain a basic level of nutrition necessary for survival. Both important policies for advocates of redistribution to those in need.

However, both these schemes have undergone failure due to issues of poor implementation. The mid-day meal scheme has failed as poor cooking techniques have led to the poisoning of a number of kids and their subsequent death. This led to a severe public outcry and consequential derailment of the scheme. The government has promised to re-engage in the scheme once stronger guidelines are put in place.

© Ajay Tallam/Creative Commons License
© Ajay Tallam/Creative Commons License

The distribution from the suppliers for the subsidised grain to the rest of the population was necessary to be undertaken via government food storage facilities. Much of the food was left in place for a very long period of time. This is due to poor implementation standards within the country. These poor standards can be because of the large regulations that have to be overcome for procurement and distribution.  This has led to the rotting of the food crops and further increased the level of malnutrition. Furthermore, a number of ill-intentioned suppliers have used the food grains as fodder for their cattle.

Although there has been severe media scrutiny and public outcry about this problem, the government is yet to take concrete steps to curtail this problem.

 

What steps could they take?

India tends to follow a system of self-designated village governments or ‘Khap Panchayats’. this system involves unique policies and guidelines, which the community follow. Since their views are highly respected, they are more likely to be implemented. If these local governments were given the resources to ensure effective distribution of the grains, they are more likely to be implemented. Furthermore, a fear of social isolation will also reduce the number of cases of implementation failure.

However, a control of such a large number of food produce will also provide the self-elected bodies with a tremendous amount of power. A Panchayat with views which are less aligned with those of the government may take the resources and utilise them for less favourable intentioned. It is known that these panchayats have previously implemented very conservative diktats, which have hampered women, minority and general citizen rights. Therefore, the government must have a local authority in place to ensure that an even distribution of the resources between the people regardless of class, religion or other racial aspects, takes place.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Lotus Potus – Is the United States of America, India’s new fair-weather friend?

Lotus Potus – Is the United States of America, India’s new fair-weather friend?

An unprecedented trip to the airport to pick up the guests of honour, an evening stroll and tea in the gardens, a bear hug or two and the stage is set. President Obama and Prime Minister Modi met only 4 months back in Washington DC with another meeting in Myanmar soil thereafter. With President Obama being back on Indian soil as guest of honour for India’s 66th republic day – Mridulya Narasimhan examines what this visit signifies for India and its neighbours.

Why the fuss?

123 Agreement: Both, India and USA are finally on the same page with regard to the Indo-USA nuclear deal. It is a step forward for American suppliers to be able to invest in Indian civil nuclear energy without the fear of being held liable in case of an unforeseen accident. The deal, signed in 2008, was put on hold pending negotiations on two fronts – the liability and the traceability issue. The two governments have now agreed upon establishing an insurance pool to address the issue of liability. The USA has also rescinded the demand to be able to trace all nuclear materials. The very same Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s ruling political party that vehemently opposed the bill from 2006 to 2010 has now made it the ‘centrepiece’ of bilateral relations with the United States.

© Darrel Ronald/Creative Commons License
© Darrel Ronald/Creative Commons License

Indo-US defence cooperation: India remains uncontested as the world’s largest arms buyer. And now with the US as its largest supplier, both countries see the possibility of co-development and co-production as the way forward. This move is suggestive of stronger military ties in the future between the two nations as India weans away from its reliance on Russia for military equipment. As per the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), both countries shall jointly work on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), military kits, electric hybrid power sources and Uniform Integrated Protective Ensembles.

Going green: PM Modi was expected to announce a limit on carbon emissions during President Obama’s visit including a peak year for a new climate treaty to be signed in Paris later in the year. Instead, the talks steered in the direction of a $1 billion investment in solar-energy plants in India owing to India’s fears of being perceived in the same bracket as China on carbon emissions.

Harnessing soft power: Countering terrorism has been on the agenda of both nations. And while both nations refrained from name-calling in their individual statements, the joint statement was more direct in referring to Pakistan. Both countries agreed to ‘enter discussions to deepen collaboration on UN terrorist designations, and reiterated their call for Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to justice’

Good fences make good neighbours

Two visits to New Delhi, and on both occasions, Obama managed to bypass Pakistan. Just as surprising is the fact that the White House occupants have dropped by only when Pakistan has been at the beck and call of generals. With the bullets and hostility flying across borders between India and Pakistan in Kashmir, and President Obama expressing his intent to  form ties with India, it comes as no surprise that Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, chose this as a time to make an official trip to China.

Pakistan’s message is simple – to have the support of the west would’ve been nice, but if not the west, then Pakistan will not hesitate to forge ties of friendship with the perceived super power of the east; China. And with that in mind Pakistan has invited China’s president Xi Jinping for Pakistan’s military day to be hosted on the 23rd of March.

China has not only agreed to this effort but has also gone on record to call Pakistan its ‘irreplaceable all-weather friend’. After Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit in February, President Xi Jinping’s visit shall reiterate the importance of China and Pakistan’s coordinated efforts to provide Afghanistan stability.

The Aftermath

© Oxfam International/Creative Commons License
© Oxfam International/Creative Commons License

Now weeks after President Obama’s visit, India still seems to be making a buzz. President Obama has reiterated his support for India making it as a permanent UNSC member, a move that has clearly not gone unnoticed. During his speech at the Indian Parliament, President Obama expressed his intent to see “a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member”.

While this endorsement has been seconded by China and Russia, Pakistan is clearly not in favour. In a conversation with President Obama, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed his disapproval of USA’s support to India as a permanent member stating that India has not complied with UN resolutions on Kashmir.

The 66th Republic day for India was yet another exhibition of PM Modi’s mastery over symbolism. Clearly, yet again, Modi does what he is best at – showmanship. Some see it as him being the unequivocal face of ‘Brand India’ and others see it as his way of establishing and gaining legitimacy amongst Indians – either way, things seem to be working. And while India may accept to be USA’s liaison of the East, it needs to be careful not to let its new-found ‘friends’ view it  as strategically positioned to act out on geopolitical games.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Who I am and Where I live- Vasundhra Singh on being an Indian Woman

Who I am and Where I live- Vasundhra Singh on being an Indian Woman

Reading the newspapers is becoming like a never-ending horror story. Every day the headlines have some new statistics about a damaging or negative aspect of life in India. The most recent and possibly most concerning ones regard crimes against women. Here, Vasundhra Singh discusses her experience as an Indian at an English University.

I have answered a lot of questions about home. No, I didn’t ride an elephant to school. Yes, there are cows on the road. No, ‘Hindu’ isn’t a language. I usually have a witty reply to most questions but there is one that totally threw me: “Why do Indian men rape?”

Rape cases in Delhi have doubled since 2012, 706 cases were reported in 2012 year while 1,330 were reported in 2013. The year of 2013 witnessed child rapes in Karnataka double, while the highest number of rape cases in 2009-20011 was recorded in Madhya Pradesh at the sky-high number of 9,539. The most horrifying of all is the total number of rape cases reported and recorded in 2009-2011, which was 68,000 – while the conviction rate was a mere 16,000. While the large cities are becoming increasingly associated with rapes, it is time to realize that just because most rape cases in rural areas are not reported does not mean they do not occur. Rape is not a citywide, but a countrywide phenomenon.

Why are political leaders in India unwilling to express such concern or take action?

© Ramesh Lalwani/Creative Commons License
© Ramesh Lalwani/Creative Commons License

On the issue of increasing sexual violence in cities, Ramsewal Paikra (Chahattisgarh’s home minister) went on record to say, “No one commits rape intentionally” while Abu Azmi (President of the Maharashtra branch of the the Samajwadi Party) said, “even the women are guilty”. These are a few of the many comments made by our democratically elected leaders. How can we question the state of the nation when the very people we elect to be our voice have such absurd opinions?

It’s easy to point fingers at politicians who make these comments but we need to realize that when Mulayam Singh says “boys will be boys…they make mistakes”, he is not just putting forth his view on the matter but that of the people and in doing so reinforces this attitude.  But is it possible to change the attitudes of society?

The attitude of men in India plays a major role in the second-hand citizen treatment of women in India but the entire community needs to change. Member of Maharashtra State Women’s Commision, Asha Mirje’s comment about Nirbhaya (December 2012, Rape Case) being responsible for her own rape clearly demonstrates that this problem is pan-gender. Asha Mirje suggested that women invite rape through the way they dress and behave and therefore should share the blame for these incidents. Every time a woman in a position of power makes comments like these it discredits the entire cause of women empowerment.

Since media coverage over the past few years concerning high crime rates against women, the attention given to these crimes in the government has increased as well. And the measures taken, effective or ineffective, to fight this problem has taken a turn for the better.

My friend said, “some stare a little, some stare a lot, but everyone stares”, my mom said, “you can’t spend the night there, it’s always the people you least expect”, dad said, “take the jacket, take it off later, it’s better to be safe then sorry”.

Every time we tell our daughters or sisters to cover up while leaving the house, or ask our daughters to ‘behave and be safe’ and our son’s to ‘have fun’ while going to out we unconsciously enable this suppressive culture. It’s time we realized that if we told our son’s to behave our daughters would be safe.

As a citizen of a country let down by the people meant to lead us, as a citizen let down by the culture we hold so dear and as citizen let down by the country that boasts to be the next leading nation of the world. India has many things to offer to the world of tradition, culture, technology, sports and science. I can talk politics at the dinner table. I can play cricket with a passion only seen in the streets of Delhi. I can write poetry and appreciate art. What I can’t do is explain. I can’t explain why my country, once known for flavorful food, classical dance, various forms of art and Bollywood, is now known for Rape and doesn’t seem to be making a concerted effort to change this.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Female Political Empowerment in India: Hope at last?

Female Political Empowerment in India: Hope at last?

Women’s rights continue to be a pressing issue across the world. Claire Dale looks at India and considers how grassroots movements, policy changes and quotas for women’s political representation can work together to create a more egalitarian society. 

Women in India remain second-class citizens. Across India, on average, 92 women are raped every day, proof that despite a toughening of the law, violence against women is still rampant in India.

In addition to direct and physical violence, women still suffer disproportionately from a severe lack of access to sanitation and education. Legislation that does exist to tackle issues such as sex selection and female infanticide is limited and too often ineffectual. This raises questions about the relationship between legislation and social change as well as how to best address gender inequality and empowerment.

The inadequacy of ‘top-down’ legislation

© World Bank Photo/Creative Commons License
© World Bank Photo/Creative Commons License

Laws such as the Anti Rape Bill of 2013 highlight a willingness on part of the government to effect change as well as growing popular demand for a toughening of the law regarding crimes against women. However, such laws tend to remain largely symbolic due to their focusing on the symptoms (here, rape) rather than on the underlying causes (societal attitudes towards women and rampant patriarchy).

By focusing on the symptoms, these laws have limited reach. The recent case of a female customer being raped by her Uber driver is just one of countless tragic examples of the Anti Rape Bill’s failure to deter violence against women.  This failure of legislation that seeks to impose change from the top is indicative of the tension between ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ approaches to the tackling of social issues (including gender inequality), and to international development in general. It seems that change imposed from the top often fails to succeed if not matched with desire for transformation from below.

For Saba Ghori, a senior South Asia women’s issues adviser at the U.S. State Department, there is a pressing need to pay attention to the local level, where action for India’s women is changing gender norms.

‘Bottom up’ legislation and grassroots movement: the way forward?

Legislation that focuses on giving women a political voice seems to be affecting change at the local level, both in terms of men’s perceptions towards women and in terms of women’s appreciation of their own capabilities, rights and possibilities. The 73rd Amendment to the Constitution of India does precisely that.

The amendment devolves certain powers from the central government to governing assemblies and requires that a third of all seats, at all three levels of governance (District, Block and Village), be reserved for elected women as well as one third of all of the ‘chief of assembly’ seats at each level. This provides women with the possibility to express themselves, to effect change and to represent their women constituents.

Despite some criticisms that women put in assembly seats are merely stand-ins for their husbands, extensive research has found that the policy has significant and positive impacts on women’s empowerment. For instance, women in local assemblies tend to shape the agenda to better reflect the needs of their female constituents as well as gear public goods provision towards women’s needs. Women constituents are more likely to come and express their concerns and needs to a more gender-equal assembly than in the previously male-dominated political forum.

© Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security/Creative Commons License
© Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security/Creative Commons License

The benefits of having women in law-making roles extends outside of the assembly too. Having a woman in power tends to boost girls’ aspirations as well as positively shift their parents’ attitudes towards female education. Similarly, it was found that an increase in female representation in local assemblies substantially increased the amount of reported crimes against women (it was found that this was not due to an increase in crime), suggesting that women are inspired to speak up when they have an example of a woman in power.

The 73rd Amendment’s provision for mandated female political representation is unlikely to change deeply entrenched social attitudes and imbalances on its own. Indeed, having been implemented for over 20 years in most states, its impact has largely depended on the specifics of each state. Attitudes towards women in India are so intimately intertwined with caste, religion, ethnicity that it is hard to pinpoint exactly how to move towards gender equality. Movements, initiatives and policies that focus on a bottom up approach are particularly important in an immensely diverse country like India. No amount of top down policies can replace initiatives that foster local, incremental change. Lifting the burden that religion, caste and social stigma represent for women’s status in India can only be done from the bottom up. This is why self-help groups, grassroots NGOs and education initiatives are so crucial. For instance, the heart-warming initiative of a Bihari village to plant 10 or more trees for every girl’s birth is illustrative of how ‘bottom-up’ approaches can affect attitudes towards women.

This amendment has made for some positive change at the local level, which emphasises the importance of locally oriented policies and actions in triggering substantial and long lasting change. Hand in hand with local NGOs, self-help groups and other empowering initiatives that strive to alter the patriarchal mindset of Indian society, mandated female political representation might pave the way towards a new avenue for women’s empowerment.

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Searching for Innovation in Rural India

Searching for Innovation in Rural India

Innovation is hailed as a great modern tool that can lift rural communities out of poverty. However, innovative new start-ups are facing problems that include a lack of support– financial, material and even moral. Here, Kartikeya Rana discusses the importance of supporting innovation as a way to provide individuals and communities with long lasting benefits.

People are undertaking fascinating levels of innovation in communities around the world. An innovator in Bihar, a state of India, developed a coffee machine from a pressure cooker. This reduced costs for the coffee maker and also ensured that high quality coffee was provided to commuters quickly– making it a lucrative development for both the innovator and customers. Another exciting innovation has been a scooter, which can be used as a flour grinder and washing machine. This allowed the innovator, Sheikh Jahangir, to provide this technology at the customer’s doorsteps– creating a vast demand and also ensuring that his profits are maximised.

© Rakesh Soni/Creative Commons License
© Rakesh Soni/Creative Commons License

Although there are fascinating innovations being developed every day, the greater benefits of new form of technology remain untapped. Most innovative projects are relatively unknown and lack the exposure they need to turn from ideas into marketable products or services. NGOs often lack the resources to support such projects whilst the international community is largely unaware of such efforts due to a lack of local publicity. As a result, many good ideas are simply not realised. In addition, even where an innovation is recognised, the grass root innovator is rarely acknowledged or rewarded, thus distorting incentives for entrepreneurs to spread their invention beyond the scope of a limited market.

A good example of this is the amphibious bicycle developed by Sheikh Jahangir. This bicycle can be used both on land and in water. This allows it to have a wide variety of benefits from personal usage to disaster relief. It is particularly useful at times of floods when people have to travel through the water to complete their daily tasks. As a result, it would be useful for the fire brigade to have a number of these to provide relief in times of emergency. Due to a lack of support for this technology, however, it has been difficult to convince the fire department to implement this technology.

Development organisations should take steps to try and provide support to these innovating bodies and publicise existing successes. This can include targeted aid to innovators, which will result in funding being used more effectively. This can also incentivise other individuals within the community to innovate. In addition, volunteers can take steps to advise early innovators to develop their ideas.

With the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) fast approaching, development organisations should start working towards supporting such causes. There are currently a small number of organisations that have started taking steps towards this goal such as SRISTI and the honeybee network. However, the support provided by such a small number of organisations is not enough to tap the unidentified potential within these communities.

©indiawaterportal.org /Creative Commons License
©indiawaterportal.org /Creative Commons License

The honeybee network is a network of people, from a range of backgrounds that can gain mutual benefit from a grassroot innovation.  The methodology of knowledge sharing used, however, allows the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) of the grassroot innovator to be maintained. Ensuring that the knowledge provider is recognised on every stage of the knowledge sharing process maintains the IPR. This knowledge sharing process has led to the development of a number of beneficial value-added products.

This type of knowledge sharing methodology should be encouraged by NGOs, charities and other development organisations to complement financial support to new ideas. Encouraging the self-sustenance of marginalised groups can be useful in meeting the long-term goals of these organisations.

Organisations should also take steps to support unique innovations that have educational value. Poor communities are a hotbed of ideas and philosophies. If more people can learn from these ideas then they must be supported. For example, a number of rural communities have developed practices in medicine, which are useful in treating a range of ailments. If we can incorporate these practices into traditional medicine, then a number of diseases can be treated cheaply and effectively.

It is time that development organisations started working towards their own extinction. Education and innovation is the foundation of a successful society. The greater the level of innovation, the easier it is to meet the MDGs. As the saying goes– “Teach a man to fish and you can feed him for a lifetime”. The man in this case already knows how to fish. What he needs is a better rod and bait.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Working in India – An Interview with Josh Reece-Moore

Working in India – An Interview with Josh Reece-Moore

Volunteering abroad is often a short-lived experience. For Josh Reece-Moore, travelling to India was the start of a wonderful project that combined fashion, textile design, and traditional artwork by the women he taught. Sidra Khalid spoke to Josh about his internship experience.

In the summer of 2014, Josh Reece-Moore travelled to Pune, India, as part of Development in Action’s two-month internship placement. This would mark the beginning of a collaborative journey that would eventually end up with Josh lugging two suitcases full of artwork halfway across the world. I spoke to Josh, who is now our India Programme Officer on the DiA Committee, about why he decided to embark on a placement with DiA.

For Josh, a Textile Design student at the Chelsea College of Art & Design, going to India was never a question of a whim, but was a conscious choice. “I’m interested in the people behind the things we consume,” Josh says. More specifically, he tells me, he is interested in sustainability in the fashion supply chain.

It’s certainly an admirable notion, to really consider where the things that we wear and discard are made, and how. With the advent of swishing and high street brands such as H&M looking to ‘green-up’ their image, more and more businesses and consumers are looking for ethical options when it comes to fashion. Josh’s quest to make the production process more personal, connected and ethical led him to India – a huge exporter of textiles.

The women behind the designs
The women behind the designs. Photo by Josh Reece-Moore

In the Indian city of Pune, Josh volunteered with Deep Griha Society, DiA’s partner NGO that works on diverse issues such as women empowerment, community outreach and health. It was here, while he was working in the women’s income-generation programme, that he decided to embark on a collaborative project. The idea was simple: to turn the artwork of the women taking his creative workshop into wearable textiles.

Immediately, Josh ran into some problems. Language was one of these. Another was that the women he worked with often wanted to please, and if he praised any one student for her work, it would lead to a whole slew of copy-cats. Laughing, Josh tells me, “A big culture thing was where they would always copy whatever they thought was best in the class!”

Eventually however, these hiccups were smoothed out as his students began to grow more comfortable. “One of the techniques I used was blind-drawing, or I got them to draw each other. The women had already done creative workshops, so they were already trained in art techniques. I’d also try to push them towards their strengths,” Josh tells me.

Fabric designed by women from Deep Griha
The final fabric designed using artwork by women from Deep Griha. Photo by Rob Owen

It was then that his students really began to express themselves and created striking, original artwork that Josh knew would work well as textile designs. When he came back to London, he set to work. Using the two suitcases packed with artwork, he began the long process to turn these into digital textile designs. Currently, Josh has six designs which are going to be turned into fabric as a final, wearable product. Through this project, he wants to raise awareness about the work of Deep Griha Society: “I have these really strong visuals that tell a story and get people interested.”

As a last thought, I asked Josh what he enjoyed most about the experience, and his reply is a testament to the value of volunteering and connecting with others: “My fondest memory,” he says, “is of running the workshops with the women. We had so much fun together. I remember times when we couldn’t stop laughing over funny drawings of each other that had come out warped and silly. But more than all the fun we had is this: I found my students inspirational. I learned as much from them as they did from me.”

To learn more about our India Programme and application process, go here.

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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India Calling : Reversing brain drain

India Calling : Reversing brain drain

Studying abroad, as many Indian students choose to do, causes a whopping $17 billion loss in revenues every year in India. Here, Mridulya Narasimhan examines the idea of reverse brain drain,and particularity the incentives that are being used to entice Indians back to the country of their birth.

Over 153,000 students leave the country for higher education every year. This is because of grade inflation, 100% cut-off requirements for college admissions, reservation policy and lack of good quality education at home. However, having completed their studies, only 5.2% of these students choose to return home – the rest staying, working and raising a family in their new country.

Breaking the barrier – What is India doing about it?

The government, which has neglected brain drain as a cause for concern for far too long, has in the recent past taken both pre-emptive and retrospective actions to curb the impact of brain drain on India.

As announced by President Pranab Mukherjee, India’s 12th Five Year Plan (FYP) focuses on quality, affordability and accessibility of the higher education system. This can also be interpreted as an attempt to persuade students to stay in India for the purpose of pursuing higher education.

Narendra Modi, India’s current Prime Minister, who once considered the cause unimportant is now taking measures to reverse brain drain. Following China’s footsteps, the Indian government has approached various well-known NRI (non-resident Indian) scientists to place them in appropriate departments under the Ministry of Science and Technology. With Mr. Modi’s explicitly stated agenda of ‘reviving romance for science in India’, this is seen by many as the first step towards establishing a well-oiled system to control and perhaps reverse brain drain.

© Hartlepool College/Creative Commons License
© Hartlepool College/Creative Commons License

Modi has also sought to attract businesses the world over to invest and manufacture in India with a ‘Make in India’ campaign. This will create jobs and will potentially be followed by a much mooted ‘Think in India’ campaign.  These campaigns are designed to encourage students to have the capacity and resources to conduct their research and thereby base their future lives in India.

The economic loss and the human capital depletion suffered for years remains. However, there is some evidence to suggest cause for hope, as the intellectual windfall continues, and those who return (86%) believe that the best days for the Indian economy lie ahead.

Never say never – Pushing and pulling back to India  

A wave of students and second generation immigrants are beginning to see benefits in returning to a place they once called home. While no official numbers pertaining to the return migration of skilled workers to India has been relayed by the Indian government, various studies by independent authors and researchers over the past few years endorse this growing trend.

The primary push factor comprises the extensive corporate restructuring which took place in the United States and other developed nations after the recent financial crisis. While many of the developed nations witnessed negative growth and double dip recessions, the Asian market showed remarkable resilience with India maintaining an average of 6.6% annual GDP growth rate in 2011. This made it an incredibly appealing market to return to. This is enhanced by the pro-entrepreneurship culture that has developed in India over the years where it is now perhaps more feasible to imagine an ‘Indian Dream’ rather than an American one.

© Hartlepool College/Creative Commons License
© Hartlepool College/Creative Commons License

Furthermore, prejudiced migration policies mean that, even with requisite skills and educational qualifications, immigrants are unable to break through the glass ceiling. Protectionist measures being undertaken by various developed nations in the interest of their own citizens further limit the scope of opportunities for foreign nationals and lead many to consider returning to their country of origin.

There is a growing trend amongst second generation immigrants of a return, based upon emotional gratification. Within migrant communities, there is often a fascination with life and culture in their country of origin, and a desire to connect with their heritage beyond mere visits.

India’s case of reverse brain drain can be explained through a mixture of emotion, opportunity and government involvement. All of these factors have contributed to the growing trend of Indians returning home, resulting in a significant shift in the well-established Indian diaspora.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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Trade liberalisation increases gender inequality in India

Trade liberalisation increases gender inequality in India

Trade liberalisation, considered by some as the cure-all of development, has contributed to large economic growth in many different countries.  Nathan Parton investigates India’s growing gender inequality as a result of such practices.

Evidence of an average 7% growth in India for more than a decade supports the claims of those that advocate for trade liberalisation. However, this liberalisation has only really benefited a very small section of the upper echelons of society. Thus, such economic growth has failed to prevent millions from facing poverty and malnourishment daily, especially women. Women are subject to societal inequalities that have resulted in increased acts of rape and violence as well as day to day indirect, or structural, violence.

Economic institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the World Trade Organisation tend to be oblivious to the impact their economic policies have at a micro level. Although policies may be drawn up and implemented with good intentions (this is subject to debate), these institutions are frequently accused of being gender blind.

The removal of trade tariffs are thought to benefit local farmers through increasing exports. Men are the greatest owners of land in India and women often find themselves working for their husbands or the family in fields and in the home. The caste system relegates women to certain positions within society that regularly prevents any advancement.

©Gates Foundation/Creative Commons License
©Gates Foundation/Creative Commons License

Pushing women into the informal sector

According to the Foundation of Sustainable Development, in India, only 54 percent of women are literate compared to 76 percent of men. Families tend to prevent, or at least not encourage, girls from attending school because there is little obvious financial reward. Traditionally, the female’s place exists within the household doing the housework which is an additional reason why women are redundant from important positions within businesses and politics which is highlighted by Rani. Cyclically, the lack of education is also the reason why women generally work in harder conditions, such as agriculture. Although there is a percentage of women that have been able to enjoy foreign capital investment and have found themselves in positions of importance, there are many more (millions) women who have found no place to earn a living other than within the informal sector.

Mechanisation

The reality is that trade liberalisation has increased the need for cash incomes in rural households to compensate for the costs that the new technology has amounted to. Consequently, women have to work as labourers and even have worked in unpaid labour for farming tasks.  These circumstances have resulted in augmenting women’s already high labour burden and have displaced women’s wage-earning opportunities through mechanisation.

The WTO has had several prohibitive effects for women in India. For example, the ‘Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights’ (TRIPS) agreement essentially took the traditional role of primary seed keepers and processors from women. This policy which is in place to ‘support’ producers and manufacturers actually undermined the role and position of women in their workplace. In 1997 US based RiceTec Inc. was granted a patent on basmati rice. For India, basmati rice is the 4th highest export product so this became a controversial issue that illustrated the vulnerabilities that developing countries face. Foreign corporations can take a product and develop it for their own benefit.

Land ownership

According to Oxfam India, only 6 percent of women own land and 8 percent have control over agricultural income which is linked to preference for sons. The issue does not stop at land ownership. Once women own their own land, they face difficulties in gaining access to institutional credit. Therefore, the WTO is guilty of being myopic and needs to incorporate gender specific protection mechanisms. An eye-opening example that illustrates women’s struggle for land comes from India itself. A wife of a farmer, known as Usha, was left with no land after her husband’s death because the government sold the land to pay off his debts, leaving her with nothing.

©International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center/Creative Commons License
©International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center/Creative Commons License

Indeed, multinational economic institutions have created departments in order to recognise the role of women in development – a movement branded as ‘gender mainstreaming.’ Gender neutrality has thus far failed to improve the rights of women farmers and India still falls behind many other developing nations in the percentage of women who own land. This is a complex issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. 80 percent of women in India work in agriculture and it is therefore essential that the government and these economic institutions introduce effective strategies that offer women independence and authority.

Follow Bangladesh’s example?

Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus has influenced more than 40 countries to adopt his microcredit programmes which offer women empowerment and economic independence. If implemented effectively through economic institutions and the Indian government, a microcredit programme like this would help women take loans to develop the land and themselves.

Irrespective of how this matter is addressed, what is clear is that gendered inequalities are exacerbated by trade liberalisation. With 2015 and the setting of Post-Millennium Development Goals, we must look for alternative development models if we are change this.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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5 Reasons to be excited by this year’s Nobel Peace Prize Winners

5 Reasons to be excited by this year’s Nobel Peace Prize Winners

1) The Young shall Inherit the Earth

At just 17 years old, Malala Yousafzai is the youngest ever winner.

©Anoop Kumar / Creative Commons license
©Anoop Kumar / Creative Commons license

2) The Recognition of the Role of Children in Peace and Development    

Cycles of violence and poverty often repeat over generations, and both Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi are fierce advocates of children’s rights, who often hold the key to ensure peace in the coming years.

 

© UNICEF Ethiopia/ Creative Commons license
© UNICEF Ethiopia/ Creative Commons license

 

4) Cultural and Religious Harmony                                                                                                              

The sharing of the Nobel Peace Prize by Yousafzai and Satyarthi has been seen as a symbolic victory for a number of reasons. Ever since the 1947 Partition of the subcontinent into the countries of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), West Pakistan and India, there has been a history of political unease and even wars between the countries of India and Pakistan, where our Nobel Peace Prize Winners hail from. Moreover, the entire basis of the separation of Pakistan from India was the idea of a religious dichotomy. So the fact that a Muslim Pakistani and a Hindu Indian currently share the world’s highest accolade represents a multicultural and pluralistic victory for both nations and carries a powerful message: regardless of national identity or religious affiliation, children’s rights to education and the right to be free of oppression and slavery are universal ones that transcend difference.

©Koshy Koshy/Creative Commons license
©Koshy Koshy/Creative Commons license

3) School getting in the way of a prompt acceptance statement

Malala

5) Lessons to Learn in Humility

Kailash Satyarthi is famously quoted as saying that he did not think he was famous enough to invite the Prime Minister of India to the Prize Ceremony: “I am nobody to invite the PMs of India and Pakistan… I know my limits“.

 

©Senado Federal/Creative Commons license
©Senado Federal/Creative Commons license

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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‘Boys will be boys’: an update on women’s rights in India

‘Boys will be boys’: an update on women’s rights in India

In his 15 August Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi acknowledged how the recent spate of appalling rapes occurring on Indian soil has made the country hang its head in shame, urging the nation’s parents to teach their sons right from wrong. But will this public plea be enough to spark the cultural change long hoped for by campaigners? Henna Bakhshi assesses the simultaneous progress and retreat of gender quality in India today.

 

© Shivonne du Barry/Creative Commons licence

Women’s safety has become a buzzword. But this is again the concept of strong men, who think they have to protect women. What we actually demand is not security, but equal rights for us women. – Khadijah Faruqui, Helpline 181 Director (May 2014)

In December 2012, the rape of a young student on a bus in Delhi sparked protests across India and caused international outrage. In a country where rape is prevalent and sexual harassment is a part of everyday life, this vicious assault started a new tide of feminism that demanded the safety of Indian women. It led to the Anti-Rape Bill in March 2013, which introduced stronger sentencing for attacks against women including rape, acid attacks, voyeurism and stalking. It also led to Helpine 181, a 24/7 emergency service based in New Delhi to support women who have suffered any kind of sexual harassment.

However, the new laws appear to have done little yet to change women’s lives. Helpline 181 receives around 2000 calls a day. In Bangalore, there was public outrage after a 6-year-old girl was raped at school. In Uttar Pradesh (UP) there have been numerous recent attacks, including two teenagers found hanging from a mango tree after being gang-raped, and most recently, a 25-year-old woman who suffered horrific injuries in a terrifying echo of the Delhi attack. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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India’s demographic dividend: public health impacts of the youth bulge

India’s demographic dividend: public health impacts of the youth bulge

As one of the world’s most populous and fastest-growing countries, India is currently in a state of demographic flux. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Hygiene student, Catherine Rushworth, explains the population mechanics at work and predicts some of the social consequences.

 

© Kyle Taylor/Creative Commons license

This year’s Indian elections captured the attention of the world, with the victor, Narendra Modi, calling out for the need to ‘wage war on poverty’. Less well noted was the fact that nearly half the voters were under 24, with 150 million making their first visit to the ballot box. It’s clear that the young will have a powerful influence over India’s future. However, this demographic shift predicts some critical changes to Indian society in the coming decades, including wide-reaching public health impacts as resources and infrastructure are stretched – potentially – to their limits.

Growth in the size of the working-aged population, accompanied by a decreasing fertility rate, is known as a ‘demographic dividend’, and has been used in the past as a propeller for development in several countries. Economists estimate that the phenomenon – deliberately engineered in China through its controversial one-child policy – is responsible for a third of the huge economic growth and development experienced in recent decades by the East Asian Tigers. This outlook is unlikely to await India, however, due to the country’s current lack of infrastructure to deal with the two main products of any demographic dividend: population growth and increasing life expectancy. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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