What is Development?

This is a guest post by Azim Premji University students who were hosted by Living Farms for 12 days in Muniguda, Rayagada district, Odisha. Going around few villages and immersing themselves, here is what Sougandhi, Sreeja, Sharat, Aniket, Sravani, Anshul, Nancy, Harihar, and Shahiqa had to say at the end of their immersion.

First day of us being in Muniguda and we were able to sense a confirmation to Bharat Bandh in the air and our conversation with the city dwellers who stated bandh was highly successful, we questioned ourselves whether it made any difference in Adivasi’s life which determined around 68% of the population in the area.  They had no direct connect per se with the outside world, and the doubt was for whom was the bandh there and who measured the success when someone on top hill was in crisis of their own identity. There were series of questions running in our minds and what is it to be called as modernised? Is it the modern technology and cemented houses? Does that call me a modernised and civilised person? What governs the value system and who reflect the system of one’s existence and call them developed?

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Gradually, trying to fix the puzzle and end of the day reaching no conclusion as the quest felt to be a never ending task, we identified education as an important tool that was the major influence in life of the people- As narrated by Jaganath bhaiya- our field practice coordinator for one of the village,  told being decently dressed and having short hair what was expected from school and in turn children left the school, our thoughts surrounded on what is etiquette was conflicted. The culture of Adivasi’s was seen as backward. Change in identity and lifestyle by so called educated public was considered as superior, progress, decent and civilised. The constant interference in their life stating how should they live has got them identity crisis and shook the ground of their own existence. But what is important is to rationalise the ends, what fascinated us by Dr Johnny’s interaction was education as basic tool through which people don’t get cheated and it is importance that one feel confident with their language and culture.(Dr. John Cherian is the deputy medical superintendent of Bissamcuttack hospital and also runs MITRA trust)

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The most fascinating aspect of the community we admired is the concept of the ‘Kutumb’. The ‘Kutumb’ binds the entire village community and the larger ‘Kondh’ community together and unites them in facing larger issues. It takes care of the needs of every member and is involved in the decision- making process of most of the requirements of the community. For the most part, many of the members irrespective of age or gender are involved in the meetings of the ‘Kutumb’ which creates a strong sense of belonging. In contrast, the context of kutumb changes according to the places when it comes to the changes in economic and social perspective of the community like coming from the hilly to plain areas the sense of togetherness and affinity which is the central part of kutumb varies. Gender is also a predominant factor in the kutumb where woman takes part in activities and plays a major role in most villages.

The Adivasi communities have a lot to teach the world about sustainable living and sustainable practices. They have a strong connection and respect for the land and the forest and what it provides. The ‘Dongria’ community manages to harness and use every part of the tree for their daily life. The ‘Kondhs’ employ sustainable agricultural practices like organic fertilizers and shifting cultivation to ensure that the soil doesn’t get degraded and the nutrients of the soil are regenerated. But many of the farmers have been driven by economic benefits of cash cropping and growing cotton and eucalyptus while using pesticides and chemical fertilizers which is not sustainable for the land in the long term. We are worried if there will be a major shift into growing cash crops in the future which will lead to loss of connection with the forests and destruction of ecological balance.

Our  interactions with people in villages like Borduguda, Konduguda and Toga podra was eye opening to world outside which was beyond our imagination. People spoke about their lifestyle, Kutumb governing the life of people, who gets what and giving out fair justice to people and we were able to sense solidarity and unity among them. What we observed in Toga podra was the difference between how young generation was aspiring for connections outside their world and old and middle aged people were quite grounded and developed deep relationships with their forest. They described about their seeds and their produce old people said they would never wish to move out of their forests and would never use hybrid seeds but would like to travel outside and come back.

 Borduguda people constantly were in ambivalent situation of changing times, they were reflecting how new generation is forgetting their food, culture and sometimes they even feel shy to tell what they eat as it is considered “ghatiya kaana”. But here also there was so strong narrative on food that they described how pregnant women’s were healthy at child birth eating good food what was necessary. They had good living in their own world, they said they don’t need shops because everyone has land and they eat seasonally what is being grown and there is no scarcity. They also strongly spoke about kutumb and fight for their forest rights in order to get community property rights.

Konduguda village was very much modernised, young people never felt that attachment with kutumb and were aiming at better life outside their world. Most of the youth had good smart phones and were sharing movies etc. The people were constantly shifting towards cash cropping and here it made me think Is this the modernised way of living? But to our perspectives we came to stand that instead of moving towards freedom and preserving the unity that was seen in other two villages, these people were getting into the clutches of something which is being seen as symbolic. It gave us sense of unfreedom.

The Kondhs view the development approach as a threat to their community, livelihood etc and for this very reason they even organized movements and protests against these institutions. As a part of the Clean Development Mechanism, government has encouraged people to plant eucalyptus trees in order to promote sustainability; however, planting such trees has done more damage to the soil and the fauna of the area. Looking at this from an ecological lens, we can say that how economic growth usually happens at the cost of environment. Activities mentioned bring about certain negative externalities such as damaging soil cover, loss of flora and fauna etc which in turn harms inter-generational equity. The concept of modernization and how its advent has affected the lives of the “not so “modernized also comes into picture. There are two major tools of modernization which have a great impact on the lives of these people: modern education and modernization of agriculture. Education is viewed as a tool of modernization which helps in gaining skills, knowledge etc required to participate in the development process. According to the Kondhs, opening up of schools, providing modern education brings in a lot of changes in the way younger generation views their community. The younger generation which receives education and stays outside the villages views people living in forests, eating local produce, wearing tribal attire etc as backward. In order to become part of the civilised population, they start looking down on their own language and festivals. Education brings with itself the notion of backward and primitive v/s the developed and advanced. The Adivasis are then considered as backward as they are uneducated; don’t have a proper source of employment, ‘improper’ sense of dressing, technologically backward etc. The older generation feels that their children need to learn how to read and write but they also feel threatened that they are going to lose out on the values, customs, tradition etc that the community has been practicing since ages. Also these kind of government interventions develop a kind of relationship wherein the tribes are seen only as the receivers which is not true as these people possess a great deal of knowledge about forests which can be very beneficial for planners and other people. Considering them as just the receivers again develops a hierarchical structure where they are placed at the bottom end.

Villages like Bordugura are a bit critical of government schemes like MGNREGA have betrayed them as they didn’t get the pay of their share.

Looking at this from the Block development officer’s view he says that an adult individual in a household is having more than 2 bank accounts to evade the payment of loans taken from the bank and having multiple accounts makes it difficult for state government officials to disburse the money. Yet the question which arises and the answer to which is very subjective is that do the villagers in their own capacity go and open bank account .They also mentioned that villagers have a tendency to criticism to any outsider. According to us, in these two weeks we felt that nothing is black and white and there are various shades to one perspective which is also determined by our coloured glasses and biased way of looking at perspectives. It is difficult to put a transparent lens in our first immersion.

Now the question is do they really want change, the change which will take place on the cost of all these. Is the economic wellbeing is so worthy aspiration which the people want to take on cost of their indigenous cultural life. The cultural life where the community treats the resources as goddess and god, respects the needs of individual, lives as interdepending on each other, stays with strong bonding of oneness, shares the hunger and spreading love & happiness. Is it not worthy? Is this life is not worthy which is not dependent on external driven forces & influences.

The people like us, who have come to meet & understand the Adivasi people has filled in lots of respect for the thoughts they have & the struggles in which they had gone and are going through. And also, with the understandings of the changes going on in this place, We are also very worried about the future of this place & these peoples. We are worried what if, we will come to this place again after 10 years and will see the changed villages, thoughts of these peoples and life’s. What if we will not find these forests who were trying to speak & show us something and those forests will not be standing there. We don’t want to imagine that when we be standing between all these, our imagined futuristic changes and questioning ourselves that knowing all those changes going to be happened in future why don’t we do anything? We don’t want that day. We can’t see it.

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It is very true that the existence of Adivasi and their culture has influences on the values of humanity, without these peoples there is a risk on the existence of the values of humanity.

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