Friday, March 25, 2011


‘Traditional vs ‘Modern’ VII:

The views of a Young Man



25 Mar 2011

In the recent past I have often been reminded of a discussion I had with a young man in what is now Uttarkhand, India. Semi--literate, he was facing the apparent dichotomy between the Dharma/ its traditions and the ‘modern’ world. Though his immediate concerns were different, the basic dilemmas/ approach/issues faced/…etc., resembled some of those faced by the opponents/proponents of the HAF Report. I share it in the hope that at this juncture all those interested in the outcome find it a useful ‘meditation’.

“….. In the old days, when someone in the village decided a problem needed to be addressed – there was not enough water in the fields or with men going to work in offices women had too large a workload or…, s/he picked up a jhola if needed and shared his ideas with the elders under the peepal tree. Everyone built on the idea to decide how to tackle it and then set to work. Each one put in his/ her time as possible and appropriate and when money was required, each who could put in whatever s/he could.

Now, they [NGO /bilateral/ multilateral] come in. There is a meeting where the food, chairs, tables are central. They start a discussion around what they have decided are the people’s needs. Project proposals are written, people will verify, …… the whole process takes, or can take, years………. Lot of time and huge amounts of money are spent and by that time people have adjusted to the problem or solved it themselves. Now nothing gets done anyway because even to initiate a discussion one needs lots of money for the tea and chairs that are central to having a meeting...., people only want to talk, have chai, paani and then forget everything.”

I soon realized that this semi-literate was ‘educated’ by centuries of tradition behind him. He had indulged in "systems analysis" and was comparing the usefulness of two different systems. As he laid it out, there was an old system [borne of Dharma] wherein people have to face, think about, and overcome the challenges of life and, a new one wherein some outsiders decide what the group requires, take some pointers on detail, allot work, and then judge results using their own yardsticks. In the former case ‘authority’ derived from the interplay of need and ideas; and since the focus was on the need everyone gave what and how much s/he could – ideas, labour, money. In the latter ‘authority’ derives from money/ position so that outsiders are the directing/ controlling authority and the individuals in the group,essentially workers furthering their scheme.

I couldn’t resist pointing out that the community may not have agreed with the jholawallah’s idea. I was struck down summarily. The original idea and who made it was not important – it was the result of the discussion……. He also pointed out that the elders were ‘chaachaa, taayaa, maami,…..’ and in a convoluted way explained that their accumulated experiential learning was as important as the infusion of the new and, that traditionally the people and their needs/ potential were central to the scheme of things rather than ‘money/ position/ power/…. He revolted against the idea that an entire people were reduced to being mere beneficiaries/ ‘participants’ in the schemes of "others," that rank ‘outsiders’ were given control over the lives of people. And, went on to point out that the latter would benefit through their reports in ‘their own world.’ i. e., those in power were in fact doing whatever for their own benefit .

Since the Dharma and therefore Bhakti/ Seva/ Jnana was my basic education too we communicated well and it was a win-win situation. Though he thanked me profusely I know I benefited – as hopefully will someone here. Seva/ Bhakti/Jnana implicitly recognize among other things that, most people cannot know what ‘the other’ thinks/ knows/ feels, and therefore, needs/ prioritities; that most things/ people are not intrinsically odd/bad/useless/… it is how the mind(s) process/ or will process the information; that ‘my idea/ approach/…’ may not be the best one, that ‘the other’ also has a mind, ideas on what may be right/ wrong/ useful in arriving at a better one so one must not take advantage of any material/ social situation that s/he may be in at a given time to push one’s self forward.

Had I gone with the aim of forcing my ideas on those there or, doing Charity/ Social work/Development – the discussion may never have taken place. As it is, a number of people benefited;for, apparently he completed a Masters in Sociology, did some very good field work and took ‘new’ perspectives into the Development dialogue through an NGO.

And, I was yet again reminded that an education transmitted through millenia within an 'unorganized' polity plays a major role in the respect and kudos I have repeatedly received for my work and abilities.

(The writer is a Sr. Development Consultant).

1 comment:

  1. As I said to the author through a mail on 26th March,
    A significant truth has been effectively illustrated and witnessed. Congratulations on the recount as well!