When the tower of Babel meets the Theatre of the Absurd there is unprecedented madness. And it is this pandemonium around us that gives me the strength to voice what I will and not sound as off-key as much of the cacophony around. In our times when economists bend backwards to give credence to the unfeasible and data analytics ignore the obvious, I feel emboldened. Most importantly when failed recipes are rehashed to solve deteriorating problems – I dare to voice.
Much ink continues to flow on the slew of proposals by the Ministry of Minority Affairs in the new government. There is silence on the ends of the spectrum. The undisputed supporters of Modi, as well as the red in the left, will not voice anything about what may perhaps be justifiably termed as minority appeasement policies. I do not wish to discuss the merits or demerits of the proposals. I wish instead to bring in the NGO in this equation, despite the consternation of many. For in the domain of education and those in need, there may be a thing or two a specific breed of NGOs may have to contribute.
At the outset, it is also important to note that I will not waste ink on the glaring demerits of fraudulent and dubious FCRA NGOs that use Church and other dangerous foreign money to run a not so covert agenda to deracinate and destroy India. They exploit the needy in the most morally reprehensible mode by buying souls in exchange for the dole. For their likes, development is anathema and perpetuation of poverty is key. I talk here only of those NGOs, and there are a few, that do their work quietly and surely on the foundational principle that with real development comes real empowerment and a helping hand is not a permanent crutch, but a temporary means towards eventual independence.
A few months back the Government came up with reservation policy for the economically backward classes. It was widely viewed as a much-needed correction of the caste-based policy that had hitherto left out the poor in the forward castes. What is important to note and was conveniently being sidelined was the fact that this criterion spanned all religious denominations. But then the monitory centred programmes followed, always in the attempt to alleviate impoverished backward masses. When these were announced for the minorities one of the immediate concerns was again “But what of the poor among the Hindu?”
For a few years, I have been closely associated with a Pondicherry based NGO that has an extensive “Back to School” programme. It has made the economic criteria alone the basis of intervention. We target slums where there is little chance of duplication of work by other agencies; we especially target those slums and villages that we term as “Orphan” because their geographical location on the borders on Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu make it for neglect by both states. In short, we choose the difficult, even the impossible to effect change. And we have.
Organisations such as our struggle for funds as we systematically refuse shady foreign funding. We will be the first to stick our necks out and call for the repeal of FCRA licenses and dry up foreign funding and its destructive development retarding agenda in India. We instead would like to propose to the Government our model of intervention and make the case to make organisations such as ours an extension and liaison between its policies and funding and action on the ground so that the last homeless, slum and street dweller child is ensured an education. You may argue that there is no need for an NGO intermediary but I will argue otherwise. The NGO can work as a facilitator not only to alphabetise our children but can strengthen the social fabric in these areas by extensive outreach work and engage families into schemes provided by the government in vocational training and business start-up and loans. It can help with paperwork and identity documents, the lack of which is often a stumbling block in availing of most government schemes and facilities. It can do region and area-specific studies and set up suitable vocational training for school dropouts and also coordinate with government social welfare departments to bring schemes of skill development to school dropouts or 12th standard pass students.
Most importantly, NGOs can ensure that the model of intervention is not static. Social worker outreach and empowerment by vocational training, or micro credit, or entrepreneurship programmes for the economically backward can mean that there can be a time frame for the withdrawal of school sponsorship programmes. Funds can be then used for other supporting structures. These could include homework help centres and crèches with nutritious food that keeps children for the entire duration of working hours so that parents can go to work worry-free…and eventually, take up the basic responsibility of sending their own children to school.
One of the biggest rackets in the exploitation of children is the huge lie that is the Orphanage system. Most orphanages shamelessly even claim to house “semi-orphans” whatever in the world that term might mean. NGO’s can provide the financial assistance needed as well as the immense hard work on the ground required in order to get children to be reinserted into extended families. This practice is actually highly prevalent even among the economically most backward. Orphanages chip at this instinctive humanity in our people. It is a heartwarming fact that the next of kin even today do reach out to orphaned children or children who have lost or have been abandoned by the parent(s) and absorb them in their families. There are marvellous stories of care and sharing and correct reassuring assistance to just ensure education and perhaps medical help can actually do away with orphanages and alleviate the burned of children thus absorbed. This is more humane than the foster care system too. There are several other types of interventions and layers of work that social workers can achieve with quality outreach and follow up, paramount among them being child safety and prevention of all types of child exploitation.
What is interesting to note is that genuine development-oriented NGOs in the domain of education have over the years networked among themselves and in a given area several work together without replication and also liaise with other organisations for resources such as books, pedagogy and resource persons.
Most importantly NGOs have evolved well-oiled methodologies where there is minimal to zero cash transaction with beneficiaries. All fees, enrolment amounts, business plan requirements, microcredit loans, are paid directly to the agencies providing the benefit and not to the beneficiaries themselves. The litmus test for NGOs should be its openness to scrutiny by concerned Govt agencies and audits of accounts and programmes and fund flow. This will also see an automatic withdrawal of those NGOs that do not subscribe to development.
All this may sound chimerical – just that these are proven and extant models. I have seen it work.
You may argue that this is not replicable or scalable but to that, we say the issue is not scale but a resource. Ours is not the type of NGO that lands the crores of rupees. Few donors get convinced that their money should be project driven as deemed fit by the ground realities with indigenous solutions. Most money comes with an agenda with compliant Indian counterparts to implement pernicious plans of breaking India ideas. It is not surprising therefore that in the process of refusing Church and other dubious money we are branded non-secular. We are limited in our scope by the amount of funds raised by difficult means. If we received from these large government allocations for scholarships, amounts for specifically tailored programmes that suited best the process of development, empowerment and education of specific geographical areas keeping the economic criteria in mind, we could go a long way in taking the grassroots forward across the board. This would also root out the leftist activists’ claim to have the monopoly of the heart.
Minority specific programmes highlight their status as minorities. Besides, there is no proof or precedence that education stems radicalisation.
You may still argue that such a proposal seems farfetched. To that, we question what is it in the new proposals that seem genuinely transformational in the way it has been envisages to be. We will also say that the need for education is as vital for the Gipsy community as it is for the Irular tribals, as important for the children of migrant labourers as it is for the land less rural or the urban poor – regardless of religion. All these categories need targeted development to integrate into the mainstream and be a part of India’s growth story. Involve the NGOs; keep the criteria for scrutiny and audit uncompromising. We are to a tiny extent today already doing this work and a network of likeminded organisations can become the vital link for all of India, all religions all strata of society combined, to rise.
This will also cure a canker in our institutions of social sciences. When the requirement is extensive outreach and the resource is government funds and accountability is paramount, tolerance for dubious activism will reduce. Those who know the murky world of FCRA violators will also understand how many giant birds of prey this process will annihilate.