rediff.com

Archive for May, 2013

The Third Voice

First appeared the Business Standard

The comment that our normally mild-mannered and scholarly prime minister was reported to have made in an interview with Science magazine, that “There are NGOs [non-governmental organisations], often funded from the United States and the Scandinavian countries, which are not fully appreciative of the development challenges that our country faces…”, continued to ring in my head for several months. Was there more to NGOs than I had thought so far – at best, an independent third voice in India, bringing specialised expertise to areas such as health care and environment; at worst, idealists clamouring for a way the world ought to be rather than what it was?

I stayed in this stage of puzzlement for a few months till I encountered an article by Professor Nimruji Jammulamadaka of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, in The Critical Review, a scholarly journal devoted to politics and society. The article, “The Needs of the Needy or the Needs of the Donors?”, takes a close look at 5,000 NGOs operating in about a thousand mandals, or administrative divisions, in Andhra Pradesh and running close to 2,000 projects. The focus of her investigation was to establish what factors – or independent variables – explained the number of NGOs in each mandal. In other words, if some mandals had more NGOs than others, what factors explained this. Her first finding was that NGOs begot NGOs – that is, if a mandal already had NGOs operating in the area, there was a greater chance of more NGOs being formed there. Her second finding was that the more extensive the activities of Christian missions in a mandal, the greater the chance of finding other NGOs there. Her third finding was that the easier the availability of funding (mostly from international sources) for some mandals, the greater the chance of NGOs being founded there – the Naxal-prone areas of Andhra Pradesh, for example, do not attract much funding and, thus, have far fewer NGOs. All these findings lead Professor Jammulamadaka to the question in her title: do NGOs get created and sustained to cater to the needs of the needy, or do they exist to cater to the needs of their donors?

A marker of the Indian NGO world is the transnational links that these organisations have forged that offer them increased leverage and autonomy, thereby allowing them to enter into conflicts with governments. But this has its hazards as well, says William Fisher of Harvard in his article titled “Doing Good? The Politics and Antipolitics of NGO Practices” (Annual Review of Anthropology). By depending on this kind of international funding, constituencies become “customers” and members become “clients”. This process of co-option of NGOs by development agencies, he says, is by now so advanced that NGOs may be destined to become little more than the frontmen for such interests.

The classic definition of an NGO is that it is a non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group, driven by people who share a common interest, perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions, and who bring citizens’ concerns to governments’ attention. In this sense, an NGO is merely an organisation form that “civil society” takes, a third voice, distinct from government and business, and includes a range of “intermediary institutions” – professional associations, religious groups and citizen advocacy organisations – that give voice to various sectors of society and, when done right, enrich public participation. But as someone pointed out, this could also include the Ku Klux Klan.

As I reflected on this insight, a sudden and more worrying thought struck me. Is it possible that these large numbers of NGOs (remember that Professor Jammulamadaka’s study had found 5,000 NGOs in just one state, Andhra Pradesh) act as a platform for what Leela Fernandes, professor of political science at Rutgers University, in her book, India’s New Middle Class: Democratic Politics in an Era of Economic Reform, calls the “New Middle Class” – an increasingly assertive group that “began to engage in a form of backlash protest politics against a democratic political field that they perceived as having been captured by previously marginalised social groups”. This newly assertive group, she says, is largely made up of the English-educated urban professionals. Are NGOs in India, then, merely a voice for this group?

—————————————————————————————————————–
A Reader Comment by email
 

I read your article in the Business Standard “ The Third Voice “, and I think the findings from the papers you quoted are entirely not true or have been arrived at by insufficient research or what we say “ convenient research “. There are 1.2 million NGO’s in the country and only 30,000 of them receive foreign funds . The Prime Minister’s office had retracted the statement after his report was published in Science. The author or the journalist who interviewed the Prime Minister Mr Pallav Bagla had indicated that the PM had only stated it in the context of the nuclear plant at Kudankalam. However the agitation continues there and no foreign funds have been detected. The real issue is that civil society reflects and voices the problems of the people and many such activists have spent years in the rural areas with a vision to transform India. I for one, am an engineer from BITS pilani and have worked for 30 years in rural India for elderly who are neglected by their own children.

I am attached a soft copy of my book on civil society which will help you  understand the good work being done in the sector across India even in Naxal areas. When we worked in Chandrapur, Maharashtra even the Naxals never touched us or harassed us. However media is not or never interested in writing on such work and will only cover the negative stories of civil society.
 
I hope you will write a piece more positive on the work being done by the sector . The bulk of the sector works with out foreign money ( 90 % of the NGO’s do not receive foreign funds or from mission organisations).
 
Best regards, Mathew

Mathew Cherian, Chief Executive, HelpAge India

,

No Comments

Copyright © 2019 Rediff.com India Limited. All rights Reserved.  
Terms of Use  |   Disclaimer  |   Feedback  |   Advertise with us