I am P K Anand, a budding development practitioner, hailing from Kochi, Kerala. PMRD fellowship is one of the best opportunities for a person like me from Kerala to work, learn and explore rural India. Also, the work nature described in PMRD fellowship was in tune with my previous engagement as a “young professional” of CAPART; but this one has a larger canvas and a broader framework.
As a PMRD fellow, I work in a rural district of Bihar called Jehanabad. This fellowship has given me a unique space in the system to work with the government as an advocate of people who have very little bargaining power. The initial months of the fellowship were totally used to understand the different cross sections of rural community wearing a gender lens. After interactions with government servants and learnings from field immersion, a Scheduled Caste community called Manjhi was identified to be the most deprived group in the village with no land entitlements and having lowest status in all development indicators. I found their condition equal to that of the Paniya tribes of Kerala with whom I had worked earlier. They along with other 20 caste groups were given the status of Mahadalits by the state government and certain programmes were running for them under the Mahadalit Vikas Mission.
Constant interaction with the Manjhi community (also locally known as Musahars owing to their history of eating rats) and at multiple levels helped in understanding the governance challenges and lacunae. They have the history of being bonded labourers and they still live landless. All socio economic indicators make them the most deprived & marginalized community in the village. Boys of 16 marry girls of 14 and in a period of 6 years they have 4 children. They live on small bits of government land that creates an ambience of “village slums”. A 200 square feet house (mostly with no electricity) is home to an average 7 to 8 member family. None of the Mahadalit tollas (around 80) that I have visited had toilets (For that case, official records say that only less than 13 % of rural households have toilets in my district). Both men and women are visibly malnourished and underweight with alchoholism as a predominant menace; thanks to the liquor mafia spread across the state. Their food pattern is worth knowing as it indicates the degree of poverty in which they live. A full day of farm labour in the paddy field fetches them 5 kg of unbeaten rice with cash payments a distant dream. NREGS, which could be of immediate and instant relief to these communities, has also failed them. Reasons are multi faceted which in itself could be a thesis for a Doctoral degree. Pushed Migration has been the resort of many.
While confronting the hard realities and challenges of life in rural Bihar, the greatest advantage of being a fellow is that it provides me with access to the system of governance and its multi faceted challenges in a deeply political environment, thus helping to arrive at a more balanced and less biased understanding on the challenges of the state in delivering services and support its citizens.
Having been a witness and stakeholder of comparatively better decentralized and democratic governance at grassroots level in Kerala, I feel a lot needs to be done at this level. I am part of an initiative by the district administration to bring in more democracy and devolution of power to the most deprived people in the villages. NREGS and NRLM have been identified as the tool. As in the way NREGS is implemented in Kerala, wherein “ Kudumbashree” women SHG groups have an active role to play, we too have piloted the possibility of availing the active participation of SHG womens groups formed by Women’s Development Corporation of the Government of Bihar. The focus has been the Mahadalit women (NB: Women participation in NREGS in Bihar is at an average of 30 % for FY 2012 -13). The initial response is encouraging with higher women participation at an average of 60 %, ensuring the entitlements to workers and providing banking literacy to them.
As a fellow, I am making efforts to understand and minutely document the various process and sub process in scheme or programme implementation. This gives clarity to the district administration in evolving better monitoring indicators and reducing the lacunae.
At personal level, my understanding of Hindi prior to this fellowship was of “Doordarshan standards” and now I am learning a local dialect called Magi or Magadhi. Life as a PMRD fellow has been transformational. Change has been more in my internal space rather than I being able to make any great change outside. I realize that development is a process and justice is an inevitable part of it.
P K Anand is based at Jehanabad, Bihar. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Hindi from Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam (Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala) and a Master of Social Work (Rural Development), from Rajagiri College of Social Sciences, Kochi (Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala). Prior to joining PMRDF, Anand worked for 3 years as a Young Professional with CAPART.