The problem with  rural India being  governed by the urban mindsets

women farmers

 ( All characters  and incidents, referred in this piece  are fictional)

The rural India, today is governed by the urban technocratic mindset which is not always very helpful and often dangerous.   While we often relate under development to the lack of awareness among the rural communities, the truth is the urban awareness on rural lifestyle and culture is negligible and the urban mindsets  which  formulate and  govern  the rural policies often go wrong,  because of  this  lack of  knowledge.

Suppose, a group of  urban educated  administrator’s and consultants, sitting at New Delhi decide that from now on the food ration will be replaced by  cash transfers and the same will be done through the Adhar based direct  benefit transfer. The logic looks quite simple and absolutely fool proof. This they are are doing to deal with the recent reports of people being routinely denied of their full entitlements.  They came to know that ration cuts and ration thefts have been on a rise in the rural areas. So, this young group of administrator’s thought technology would be the ideal solution to deal with this problem and cash transfer directly to the beneficiary’s  account would ensure full benefits to the person, who then can withdraw the money, go to the ration shop and buy full ration without any hassle in the process.

Further, they thought they should  also ensure that the ration reaches to the genuine beneficiary and hence they also ordered that it will be mandatory to have an Adhaar based  biometric authentication and upon a successful authentication only people will be able to fetch their subsidized ration from the shops. This will deal with the identity frauds.

Doesn’t these ideas sound fantastic?

Now let us talk about a two member family residing in Hatgamharia block of West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. Have you  by the way heard of this district and the block ever?  No I guess.

I am sure the young officials at New Delhi too had no knowledge of this area, while they were formulating the  game changing idea to transform  delivery of ration to rural households.

Coming back to this family,  Jaishree Birua and her husband Mangal Singh Birua  reside in  small mud house. The family having  about 1.5 acres of land and with no irrigation facility. The paddy they grow on these lands  only last for  about 4months  and then for the rest of the year, Mangal has to look for  labour work  in the surrounding area to cope with their  immediate crisis.  Jaishree too  goes out in search for work  and earns  daily wages  and this is how the livelihood of the family is managed.  The  subsidized ration at 1/- per Kg  has been a real support to this family as this additional   food grain acts as a safety net for the family in their plightful life journey.

The couple lost their first child, Budhan when he was  4 years old.  He had a severe malignant malaria  which is locally known as brain malaria as well. Their second child, Birsa went to school upto 4th standard and then dropped out as this family needed him more at the farm fields rather than at the school. When Birsa was 15, he died of a snake bite and Mangal could hardly do anything with the nearest hospital being  15kms away with no regular transportation available to the hospital from their village.

Mangal  is 60 now and Jaishree is 50, if their voter id cards are to be believed. They look older than their age.They could not get their Adhar cards made on the first go and hence Mangal could not avail his  senior citizen pension and when they finally got their  Aadhar cards, they were told that pension quota for their district has been fulfilled and no new beneficiary will be added now.

However, they could finally make their cards with help from a neighbour who charged them Rs.50 for each Adhaar card, is no small feat.

Now with the new system of ration delivery, this family have been put in a spot. It is difficult for them to go to bank every month as the bank is about 15kms away from their village. When they do reach the bank, they find themselves behind a huge queue. Sometimes counters get closed  and remaining people are asked to come another day for withdrawing  money. They had returned empty handed from bank even after reaching the withdrawal counters as they were told that their money has not  been deposited as of now or there has been a link fail in the system.

A few days later it was found out that  many people are not getting the benefits as some of the Adhar numbers got linked with wrong bank account numbers  and money  has been going to the wrong people. This issues almost took 6 months to get sorted, however the older subsidy amounts were not returned to the original beneficiaries. Finally when Mangal got hold of his subsidy amount after a 4th visit in a month to the bank, he found out that he still has to  invest his own 1/- per Kg and add to the subsidy amount received.  After a 6 months struggle when Mangal was suppose to fetch his ration from the dealer, he was told that his ration card has been under scrutiny as he did not take his ration for more than two months and he will now have to submit an application to the office of the Marketing Officer(MO)  to avail his benefits again. The helpful neighbour took 10/-  for the application  and submitted to the MO’s office and soon Mangal received an information that  he can now withdraw his ration. At, the ration dealer’s shop he found out that the online system does not work 24 hours and  it only works when there is network available, so after  a couple of visits he was lucky to find the network and was asked for a bio-metric authentication. Much to his astonishment none of his fingers worked and his identity was not authenticated. The dealer was kind enough to give him some more chances and  suggested him that he should  not keep his fingers dry  as dry fingers sometimes do not work in the biometric system. Mangal got lucky on the second day and his fingers matched and  his identity was authenticated. He handed over the money  to the dealer who in turn gave him  9Kgs of rice. Although he was entitled for 10Kgs but  he knew it was a common practice to cut 1 kg as the dealer says he needs to save money for the transportation of goods which the govt does not pay. Mangal did not know that this new sytem was suppose to eradicate the ration cuts and ration thefts, he was just happy that he got his ration after 6 months and that his fingers worked. He also knew that he will have to keep his fingers moist so that it works on the Biometric machine.

Mangal Singh Birua would not raise a question on the urban people and their mindset that made him trouble himself  so much  but we shall continue to  criticize the rural people for not having a toilet or not sending their children to school without even understanding the harsh realities of the poorest areas.

An urban mindset governing  rural lives can be absolutely terrible and can be life taking at times. It is most dangerous for the poorest and most marginalized who are resource less and the least aware.

Often ,urban officials, teachers , students, researchers, decision makers, parliamentarians  who do not belong to a rural set up and do not experience the rural lifestyle makes miserable mistakes while deciding for the people living in villages. One who never ploughed in life and not knowing how difficult it is to plough an acre of land, often term  villagers as lazy and dependent on subsidies while most of the  urban middle class families themselves continue to enjoy various subsidies.

One who never knew how difficult it is to access institutions like bank, medical care, block which are distantly placed from villages, often make policies relating to these.

One who never understands that  Children dying of malignant malaria   can be a common thing in a village, can only produce insensible and theoretical policies.

All we need is a bit of  sensibility, a little exposure of the poorest areas of the nation.  A little understanding of the living conditions of people residing in extreme poverty and last but not the least, one needs to have great respect for the life journeys of people living under absolutely difficult  conditions.

Debmalya Nandy Is a social Worker


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