– by Irfan Engineer
Prime Minister Narendra Modi often tells his audience that he is working for the development of 1.25 billion Indians. The sub-text is that he would work for development of all Indians regardless of their religion, caste, ethnicity, and regardless of their accident of birth and their cultural heritage. The idea is noble and needs to be fully supported.
However, if we apply a bit of our mind to the contention, two questions would come to mind – 1) Are the resources for development unlimited for the desired development of all 1.25 billion Indians? Given the extremely limited resources, irrespective of the appealing slogans, there cannot be development that is going to benefit all. There would be contested claims on development. Those who are more organized and rich in resources to lobby with the state machinery and have easy access to bureaucracy would exclude those who can’t make their voice heard. To expect the government to be blind and neutral to interest groups, communities, castes, gender, cultural factors and to rise above their own prejudices is contrary to lived human experience. Slogan of benefits of development for all is either noble declaration of intents at best and often to fool the gullible.
2) Are we doing justice when we talk of development of all 1.25 billion Indians, given the levels of inequalities? While increasing number of Indians are joining the club of richest 100 in the world and even richest 50, the number of Indians surviving on income of less than Rs. 20/- a day is staggering 836 million! 200 million Indians sleep hungry every night! 212 million Indians are undernourished and 7000 Indians die of hunger every year, and if we add hunger related diseases to the cause of death, there are 10 million deaths every year!
Increasing number of Indians joining the richest 50 and 100 in the world makes some Indians, particularly the urban middle class, proud. They have ostrich like approach towards increasing inequalities and India being almost at the bottom of all human development indices which include illiteracy, lack of access to health facilities, infant mortality rate, etc. They wished nobody talked about the issues that could trouble their conscience. When Prime Minister Modi talks of development of all 1.25 billion Indians, he is technically talking of development of the poor also. But, given that the resources are limited, the moot questions are, what is the strategy for development of all Indians? And, what are the priorities of the Government? Where is the tax payers money going to be utilized?
One strategy could be to build infrastructure and create assets in the backward regions through the labour of the people of the region ensuring inclusion of all castes, gender and communities – both as beneficiaries of the development and inclusion in contribution of their labour. Infrastructure like irrigation facilities in the hands of the village communities, roads, electricity, health centres, educational institutions, toilets, easy access to markets, common spaces for community gathering etc. That would create opportunities for those who need them most, put income in the hands of hungry and malnourished. Income in their pockets would create demand for industrial goods and the industrialists would be indirect beneficiaries. When Prime Minister Modi talks of development of all, this is obviously not the strategy he has in his mind.
The second strategy could be to spend tax payers money and common resources of the country (including environment, land, water, forests and other natural resources) to create huge assets and public spectacles, from which only a countable few benefit. The proponents of this strategy tell us that poor – labourers, farmers, artisans and small entrepreneurs – will fritter away opportunities and would not lead to faster growth as, say, those having access to huge capital and finance would. Faster growth would create job opportunities and indirectly benefit the poor. The foreign investors do sense the opportunities to make huge profits but they do so by spending as little on labour as possible and by appropriating common resources of the country like land, labour, spectrum and natural resources. In order to maximize profits, spending on labour has to be minimized. That is achieved by automizing technologies that greatly reduces need of human resources. This growth is therefore also called as jobless growth. The second strategy to reduce spending on labour is to keep wages as low as possible, in fact reducing the labour to slave labour. Workers can organize themselves and act concertedly to protect and further their interests and demand their just share for their contribution to the surplus being created in the economy. Labour laws in a democracy should protect and facilitate the workers to organize themselves and enter into collective bargaining for their share in the surplus they are helping create.
The state in the second strategy for ‘development’ makes available land, natural resources at cheapest possible cost to the controllers of huge capital and invests tax payers money in creating few islands of ‘world class’ infrastructure for the entrepreneurs controlling capital, e.g. ports, roads, flyovers, rail links, energy supply etc. The state facilitates coercive land acquisition from the poor without letting them get organized and bargain collectively the price or even to hold on to their asset as of right. The poor are told to buy their needs like fertilizers, pesticides, food grains, from the market and subsidy is bad for the economy but when it comes to selling their assets, the investors are not told to buy from the market. The second strategy therefore benefits those who have access to huge financial capital as the state works for them by allowing them to exploit land and natural resources of the country on the one hand and help keep the wages low by reforming labour laws to make it more difficult for the trade unions to organize the workers. The poor lose their asset to the industries at less than market price on one hand and fewer jobs created with slave labour wages. Hence, increasing inequalities in the country. Prime Minister Modi is offering precisely that to the international capital in his foreign tours under the slogan “make in India”. And this is being called working for the development of all 1.25 billion Indians.
II The development in Gujarat
Let us see the development in some villages in Kachchh District of Gujarat during the years Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Our interaction with people and observations persuaded us to conclude that Dalits and Muslims were left out of even the extremely little developmental benefits reaching the rural areas. Communal issues were time and again concocted by the local elite affiliated to the BJP and the Sangh Parivar in order to divert the attention from the issues of lack of development and to make one section of the development deprived fight another.
On 24/2/14, a Hanuman Temple burnt along with the idols. There was tension and Muslims were suspected. However, the local Hindus did not give any memorandum to the Police station which they were earlier planning, as Muslims also condemned the incident strongly and promised all cooperation. We had earlier elaborately written on how cow transportation is misused to feed to the media as if the bovines were being taken to slaughter house to whip up anti-Muslim feelings.
Bani-Pachchham area is demanding Taluka status. With a population of 60,000 and 85 villages (40 in Pachchham area and the rest in Bani area), the area which is now part of Bhuj Taluka. Khavda is biggest village and central location, a border village. All security agency offices are located in Khavda, like the RAW, LIB, BSF, etc. Bhuj is more than 54 Kms away from Khavda and for villagers have to travel to far for administrative services and applications to the Govt. Even the SSC students till recently had to go to Bhuj to appear for their final Board exams and that was one of the factors deterring students from completing their schooling. This year Khavda was made centre for SSC Board exams and 164 students appeared. The villagers feel discriminated as there is a proper case made out for Bani-Pachchham area to be declared Taluka and the case is long pending whereas Gandhidham with only 10 villages has been declared a Taluka. Bani-Pachchham area is largely inhabited by Muslims – about 85%. The area is not being made a Taluka only because of Muslim majority and because of suspicion against them. During the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan, the local Muslim population fully assisted the India Army in every way, including, accompanying them right upto the Pakistani bunkers. Among the Muslim communities inhabiting the Khavda-Bhirandiyara area are the Samas, Sumaras and Nodhis. The Hindu castes include the Kolis, Sodha Rajputs and Suhana dalits. The Bani area is inhabited by Hali Potras, Mutuwas, Raisi Potras, and Hingoras, all Muslims.
Primary Education in Bani Pachchham Area:
There are only 72 schools. 350 teachers posts are vacant. Most schools are single teacher schools with one teacher teaching 1st to 8th Std. classes. Every school under RTE has to have minimum 5½ teachers (half teacher because s/he is supposed to supervise over the rest and step in when other teachers are absent). In three villages – Udai, Jhamri Vat and Lakhabo, there is no school. They are Muslim only villages. There are several petitions demanding school in the villages but the Govt. is not heeding. However, the Luhanas get schools for asking. In Muslim schools, the results are very poor. There is no Govt. supervision. The schools for dalits and Muslims have been separated as those from upper castes. As a result, these schools are worst off.
Met one teacher – Muhammed Khalid in Tuga Village. This village had primary as well as High School still 10th std. This was one of the better run schools. In the primary school where Khalid taught, there were 225 students and 6 teachers for 1 to 8th class. This was possible only because 1st and 2nd class were merged and looked after by the same teacher, as also 3rd and 4th class was taught by the same teacher. They required spl. teachers to teach English, mathematics, social sciences and sciences. If the special teachers were made available to the school, they would be able to introduce teaching period-wise (at present single class teacher taught everything). Khalid agreed that the standards were poor and the schools were neglected but he attributed it to lack of awareness within the community. If the community would have been aware, they would have supervised and the school run more efficiently and effectively. He did not attribute to discrimination against Muslims. The village being remote, teachers would try and get themselves transferred to villages which were nearer their residence and easily accessible. In Tuga village, the educational standards were a little better on account of awareness. There was one graduate from the village, and one or two government employees. Seeing them, others wanted to get educated as well.
In Jam Kunariya village too, Bijal Dungaliya informed us that schools were not working properly. There was no drinking water, let alone toilets.
In Sinogra Village (Anjar Block) there were two schools. One built by Krishna Parinam temple after the old building collapsed during the earthquake in 2001 and the other Kanya Shala (for girls). Muslims constituted about 20% of the village about 100 out of 500 houses were that of Muslims. The schools were situated in the Hindu locality, but not far from Muslim neighbourhood. The upper caste children went to private schools in Anjar (about 7 Kms away) and the only children who attended the village schools were dalits and Muslims. The condition of the schools was little better off than that of Tuga Village as it was constructed by private organization out of the funds collected for rehabilitation of earthquake survivors. There was drinking water tap and toilet. There were benches for the students in one or two classrooms. Only 83 of the 220 students were Muslims. There was a high rate of drop out among Muslims. While there were 16 students in class three, there were only 5 in class 8. Some of those who were enrolled were either did not attend at all or were irregular. The teachers opined that there was lack of awareness among the Muslim parents. Girls worked on the “bandhani” work and boys did odd labour jobs. There were only few pucca houses of Muslims and over a period of time, their land ownership has gone down. Muslims in the village were involved in animal husbandry from Miyana and Jat community. Dalits were more aware of their rights and therefore their attendance in school was much better. Among those Muslim boys who attended were clever. Dropout rate in the girls was less and attendance rate too was better than boys. There were less teachers and vacant posts in both schools. There were 7 teachers in boys schools and 6 teachers in girls school. In both schools, classes would be combined to cope with the shortage of teachers.
The health services too are poor. The Muslim villagers feel that the area is neglected only because they are Muslim majority areas. Agriculture is dependent on rain and only a tiny small patch is irrigated. The local population has to migrate if rainfall is deficient, and it often is.
Irfan Engineer is the Director of the Institute for Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution, Mumbai, India.