Social Good and Upliftment of the Masses: Role of Social Impact Programmes in Rural India

Winner Of CSC January 2022 Essay Competition : Abhirami Ajai Pathanamthitta, Kerala

India, that is Bharat, was once synonymous with a resplendent rural agglomeration. As the pages of history turned to the era of British Raj, the self-sufficient units, as the villages used to be, lay shattered.Stories of British exploitation harboured by an attitude of disdain handicapped the ‘soul of India’. But ever since India achieved independence, she knew exactly where her heart beats lay. Embracing welfarism & socialism, a slew of measures was adopted to dress the sore wounds the British had inflicted upon rural India.

With the first five-year plan itself, government touched the core of rural development; agriculture. In addition, land reforms suggested by J. C. Kumarappa Committee, green revolution spearheaded by M. S. Swaminathan, introduction of MSP as an economic safety net for farmers sought to rejuvenate the agrarian scene in the country.

Even as years roll by, agriculture continues to support 70 per cent of its rural households, with 82 per cent of farmers being small and marginal, as per the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Thus, agricultural empowerment remains the fulcrum around which rural welfare is weaved. Aspirations like doubling farmers’ income by 2022, building farm to table alliance through Kisan Sampada Yojana, etc. lay the broad framework for the state to work upon.

India is also recognized for pioneering ecologically sustainable agriculture through its programmes like Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana and Soil Health Card scheme. The aid of technology and innovation has also percolated into the rural agricultural landscape through e-NAM, Kisan Sarathi digi-platform, Kisan Suvidha app, and so on.

Due to the vagaries of Indian agriculture, policy makers also have explored the need to diversify the income generation in Indian villages. From renewing traditional skills to facilitating self-employment, Indian Government has ventured into new avenues.

Skill India, Recognition of Prior Learning, Rozgar Melas have not just had an effect on employment prospects but also on the socio-cultural identity of rural India by recognising the pride associated with traditional crafts like pottery, weaving, masonry, etc.

Through the Start-Up Village Entrepreneurship Programme (SVEP) - another flagship initiative - India is pursuing the right trajectory towards nurturing the unassuming demographic dividend. With the nation confronting a deadly ‘jobless growth’, now aggravated by the harsh pandemic, transforming our rural youth from passive job seekers into active job creators could be the panacea. Such a culture of innovation and professionalism will also help bridge the disparity between rural and urban life.

While new policies and programmes crop up in the development paradigm, the elephant in the room continues to be the evergreen MGNREGA. Even when the pandemic induced lockdown triggered reverse migration to rural India, the saviour in the golden hour was the shock - absorptive power of MGNREGA. As per SBI Research, the demand for MGNREGA work in the month of April has increased to 2.57 crore households which is 92% higher than the last year and a record high for April since 2013.

Transforming the looming rural human resource into an asset requires adequate social capital investment. The recent wave of COVID-19 exposed the frugalities of rural health-care system. The concentration of private healthcare institutions in urban India leaves the 70% of India’s population in rural area devoid of access to quality private medical-care.

As per Rural Health Statistics, 2018, states like UP, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Karnataka suffer from precarious network of primary and community health centres which renders the villagers helpless in situations of medical emergency. In order to solve this conundrum, government strengthened the National Health Mission with renewed targets and objectives. Ideas such as converting 1.5 lakh PHCs and Sub-centres into Wellness Centres by 2022 could be signalling a positive shift towards embracing pragmatic solutions.

To arrest the spurring out of pocket expenditure incurred by citizens, with an additional burden on the rural poor, schemes like PM Jan Arogya Yojana help to augment medical insurance penetration. Also, the establishment of Jan Aushadhi Kendras exemplifies availability of affordable and high-quality generic medicines.

Along similar lines, education sector in rural India too needs sufficient attention. Lack of physical infrastructure, shortage of qualified teachers, alarming drop-out rate, laggard pedagogy and prevailing social evils like child marriage and child labour blur the prospects of education in villages. In addition to these issues, shift to virtual classrooms due to the pandemic has sharpened the glaring digital divide and educational inequity.

As a fitting response, New Education Policy 2020 promises inclusiveness as its fundamental goal. Provisions in NEP 2020 such as creation of Special Education Zones, focus on Aspirational Districts, stress on regional languages as the medium of instruction in primary classes, setting up of rural libraries, facilitating merit-based scholarships, etc. gift self-confidence to those from rural areas. Pivotal programmes like Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, Atal Tinkering Labs, CCRT’s Cultural Talent Search Scholarship and others are having a significant positive impact on the lives of students across the country, especially those in the rural areas.

Intertwined with education is the nutritional status of children. What started off as a visionary intervention in Pappakurichi hamlet of Trichy district, the Mid -Day Meal scheme spread across India reigniting the hope and confidence of children.

Apart from the schools, mothers are also identified as key agents in fighting the evil of malnutrition among children. Project Sampoorna spearheaded by the District Collector of Bongaigaon in Assam demonstrated how cooperation between empowered mothers can do magic with regards to nurturing a generation of healthy, nourished, bright children.

However, women empowerment is a phenomenon easier said than done. Rural India hosts its own fair share of problems when it comes to creating an enabling ecosystem for women. From womb to tomb, they battle against the regressive forces in society to realize fulfilling lives. A deeply embedded culture of patriarchy and son meta preference in villages puts a full stop to a woman’s life even before it starts. Female foeticide, female infanticide, child marriage, dowry deaths, illiteracy, inaccessibility to institutional healthcare, lack of political voice, domestic violence, women trafficking, sexual harassment facilitated by power dynamics, etc. are only some manifestations of the many miseries faced by rural women. ‘Tragedy of missing women’, an idea rightly coined by Amartya Sen in 1990s, continues to exist even to this day.

But the recent NFHS-5 report registered India’s Sex Ratio at 1020 females per 100 males. This was a cause for celebration as women outnumbered men for the very first time in India. It reflected India’s feat in converting the many women specific schemes into tangible outcomes. Programmes like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Sukanya Samridhi Yojana, Project Kiran and STEM have been successful in aiding women with the primary tool of knowledge to fend their lives. The next phase of financial independence of rural women are targeted by schemes like Stand up India, Mahila e-Haat, Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Yojana, Bank-SHG linkage programmes, etc. Other pro-active measures to ensure their safety and security like awareness programmes against child marriage, statutory guarantee against dowry, and establishment of Swadhar Greh have begun to yield fruits.

India has traversed a long, arduous path to improve rural lives. Now, it’s time to detour the development paradigm to create a ‘rurban’ India where transition from rural to urban landscape is seamless. As envisaged by the venerated missile man of India, DR APJ Abdul Kalam, a PURA (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas) grid is the need of the hour. This would establish an integrated Common Service Centre which ensures responsive and inclusive public service delivery mechanism in rural India.

In this 21st century, a country like India with unimaginable tourism potential can explore upcoming areas like medical tourism, spiritual tourism, gastronomic tourism, etc. within the rural setting. State initiatives like Kerala government’s STREET project, Telangana government’s Pochampally Rural Tourism Project, Madhya Pradesh’s Village Walk programme, etc. should be encouraged by the Centre with adequate financial and technical support. Rural Technology Action Group (RuTAG) in pioneer institutions like IIMs and IITs could be roped in for economising the treasure trove of traditional skills and crafts of rural communities like Kumhars of Rajasthan, Panikars of Central India.

Another powerful support group for rural development is the corporate sector which is now bound to fulfil social responsibility through CSR allocations and community liability projects. Initiatives like Mobile Medical Vans providing free dialysis treatment in villages by INFOSYS stand as lighthouses for more such sensitive efforts.

The above mentioned mechanisms will be accentuated by an effective and participatory civil society comprising media, NGOs, SHGs, pressure groups, etc. For instance, presence of strong SHGs like SEWA (Self-Employed Women's Association), Kudumbashree and the like have built a resilient ecosystem against feminization of poverty in rural areas.

Therefore, policy formulation with Gandhi’s Talisman as the benchmark and policy implementation in the light of Amartya Sen’s capability approach shall surely help in upliftment of rural masses to a higher pedestal of social good.