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Why can’t big ideas be homegrown?

Citizen activism is not uncommon in India. The intermittent failure of the state to deliver has led to individual do-goodism.

india Updated: Jan 15, 2013 14:19 IST

Citizen activism is not uncommon in India. The intermittent failure of the state to deliver has led to individual do-goodism. “They have fulfilled roles that traditionally governments do or should be doing,” pointed out sociologist Dipankar Gupta.

HT’s change-makers certainly fit the bill. The streets were dirty, so retired bank officer Matthews Muckaden cleaned them up. Mahadalits had no school, so Banwasi Musahar, a brick-kiln worker in Bihar, started one outside his thatched hut. Sylvester Peter, a motivational coach in Delhi started a football academy to save children from the seedy life of the slum. Aruna Roy, member of the National Advisory Council member said: “These are great ideas that the government can replicate. Why do we need to source great ideas from places like Harvard? The government just needs to listen to its own people.”

What change-makers said Omkar Nath, who begs for unused medicine for the poor on Delhi’s streets urged the government to keep pharmacies “open for 24 hours” in government hospitals so that the poor are not turned away “even when the medicine is sitting on the shelf.” Banwasi Musahar urged for the availability of land for a school and “free textbooks,” — the latter a big stumbling block for poor Dalit children to pursue higher studies.

Mahantesh GK, the visually handicapped entrepreneur who runs an NGO in Bengaluru, urged the Minister of Rural Development “to ensure that 3% funds be fully utilised for the empowerment of people with disabilities across the country,” the extension of the NREGA scheme to the disabled and the adoption of the “Karnataka model” according to which “every gram panchayat is allotted with a village level worker dedicated to work for the empowerment of people with disabilities.” Assam’s self-taught herbalist Gunaram Khanikar, in a message read out at the conclave, urged faith in “the plants around us and grow them in earthen pots where land is scarce.” Subhas Datta, Kolkata’s green crusader, struck a strident note. “Why does the government see change-makers as enemies of state? Why the conflict?”

The future of change

The Rural Development Minister urged the media to publicise such work. Government reach-out to such individuals often does not work as change-makers prefer working outside institutions, he added. Change, he said, would take place with “participation and accountability,” and making it the basic character of institutions rather than being dependent on “charismatic individuals.”