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Watershed development: what’s in it for India’s rural poor?

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  • Shaji John K
    How far do Watershed Development Activities (WSD) activities result in new livelihood opportunities? IDS Devline Web page Watershed development: what s in it
    Message 1 of 3 , Oct 25, 2001
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      How far do Watershed Development Activities (WSD) activities result
      in new livelihood opportunities?

      IDS Devline Web page

      Watershed development: what's in it for India's rural poor?

      How far do Watershed Development Activities (WSD) activities result
      in new livelihood opportunities? Are opportunities equitably
      distributed? How sustainable are they?

      Management of natural resources has increasingly devolved to the
      community level over the last decade with strong support from the
      Indian government. Micro-watershed development is currently
      attracting over \L-300m a year of central government funding. Using
      sustainable livelihoods approach, this Overseas Development Institute
      paper takes a fresh look at the impact of WSD on rural livelihoods.

      WSD can offer new opportunities for livelihood strategies by
      supporting agricultural intensification. Increases in crop intensity
      can lead to the creation of new labour opportunities. Some of the
      most striking evidence of the positive benefits of intensification
      comes from livestock. Restrictions on access to Common Pool Resources
      have encouraged the move towards stall-feeding systems for small and
      large ruminants.

      However while increases in agricultural productivity might occur as a
      result of WSD, this does not always mean good news for all. Men often
      appropriate on-farm gains and the increased workload involved maybe
      disproportionately borne by women. Choices relating to
      intensification may differ according to livelihood priorities: men
      frequently choose to increase the production of cash crops such as
      sugarcane and cotton whilst women may prefer food crops or vegetable

      A Sustainable Livelihoods perspective provides an opportunity to
      stand back and explore in more detail how WSD affects the poor, and
      how impacts can be enhanced. Key findings include:

      * Overall WSD can lead to substantial improvements in rural
      livelihoods but is not a cure-all solution. Productivity gains in
      pilot projects have not been achieved to the same extent on a wide
      scale: links between productivity gains and livelihoods is complex
      and poorly understood.

      * WSD can provide opportunities for households to diversify into
      areas such as weaving, basket-making or mushroom cultivation. The
      scope for any increased contribution to livelihoods is likely to be
      limited though, as the market for artisanal products is often

      * WSD is not necessarily compatible with existing livelihood
      strategies: migration, for example, is a key means of diversifying in
      India. WSD involves the establishment of new institutions such as
      watershed committees and because migrants are by definition often
      absent, they will be marginalized from decision-making processes.

      * Productivity gains can actually work against the livelihood
      strategies of certain groups. For instance, restricting access to
      CPRs to improve grassland productivity denies the poor access to a
      valuable resource. The question remains whether the short-term losses
      in terms of access to CPRs are outweighed by the longer-term gains.

      In reality, although WSD can play an important role in generating new
      livelihood opportunities it is not a panacea. By its very nature it
      will have more to offer some groups than others \96 those with access
      to natural capital, with good social capital, for example. Far more
      can be done, however, to ensure a more equitable distribution of new

      To improve the design, implementation and follow-up of WSD projects,
      policy suggestions include strengthening:

      * human capital at two broad levels: a) a longer pre-investment
      period to create and support \91local\92 focus groups and b) stronger
      capacity building for the staff of government agencies

      * financial capital: inter alia, the creation of small
      locally-managed savings and credit groups allows poor people to break
      free from moneylenders

      * links between project and policy: opportunities need to be created
      for partnerships between NGOs and government and for close
      collaboration among different government departments, and between
      state and central government bodies.

      Contributor(s): Cathryn Turton

      More information: "Enhancing livelihoods through participatory
      watershed development in India" ODI Working Paper #131, by C. Turton
      (2000) http://www.odi.org.uk/publications/working.html
      `Learning Processes: The approach of OUTREACH' in Participatory
      watershed development: challenges for the 21st Century edited by J.
      Farrington et al New Delhi and Oxford: OUP by J. Mascarenhas (1998)

      Funded by: DFID (Rural Livelihoods Department)

      Date: 31 May 2001

      Further Information:
      Cate Turton
      The IDL Group PO Box 20
      Somerset TA18 7YW
    • Shaji John K
      experience ...reveals a gradual shrinking of space for rights-related work and any form of protest against mainstream cultural and social norms. EPW Commentary
      Message 2 of 3 , Oct 25, 2001
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        experience ...reveals a gradual shrinking of space for rights-related work and any form of protest against mainstream cultural and social norms.

        EPW Commentary September 8, 2001

        Protest against Dominant Socio-Cultural Norms
        Shrinking Space for Voluntary Organisations
        Abhijit Das

        It is an oft-repeated truism that the nature of polity in India is
        undergoing rapid changes. While this may be true throughout the
        length and breadth of the country, it is perhaps the most evident in
        the northern states, where rapidly changing political alignments have
        put the development and rights issues of the marginalised on the back-
        burner. In what may be seen as a parallel to the state losing
        interest in development and rights issues, the voluntary sector, or
        if I may be permitted to call them civil society organisations, have
        gained increasing credibility and importance in stepping into those
        shoes left vacant. It is difficult to think of a World Bank-financed
        project, or for that matter any government programme in the social
        sector which does not include a very visible NGO component. Likewise,
        in all national and international deliberations regarding policy
        formulation NGOs have emerged as a strong voice representing people's
        concerns. Even regional- and state-level consultations on policy and
        programme matters rarely take place without NGO participation, even
        though token. It may thus be justifiably argued that the voluntary
        sector, or the NGO sector, has finally `arrived'.

        This credibility and acceptance of the NGO as a valid actor in the
        development sector has not come without a price. It is now
        fashionable to comment about the `mushrooming of NGOs' when the
        discussion veers towards them. And just like the maligned mushrooms
        grow after a smart early monsoon shower, it has become fashionable to
        start NGOs after the floodgates of government funding have been
        opened. Individuals from diverse backgrounds and persuasions have
        started registering trusts and societies – would-be politicians,
        discredited ones, over-the-hill bureaucrats, unemployed youth,
        entrepreneurs without capital, government institutions and projects
        religious bodies – the list is endless. It is but natural that in
        this spate of NGO formation many black sheep have surfaced, leading
        to another new phenomenon, that of blacklisting. It is interesting to
        note that the very same government agencies, which after careful
        scrutiny decide to allocate the grants, soon realise that the
        organisation exists either on paper on in the imagination of its
        founders. Newspapers, too, seem to have gleefully taken up the cause
        of `NGO bashing'.

        My purpose in this article is not to defend NGOs in general or plead
        their innocence, but draw the attention of the reader to a particular
        phenomenon that seems to be gaining ground in the northern states,
        especially UP. The experience of seven or eight organisations reveals
        a gradual shrinking of space for rights-related work and any form of
        protest against mainstream cultural and social norms. Everyone is
        aware of the struggles of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and how the
        state has repeatedly struck down on its struggle for existence. The
        cases I wish to discuss are much smaller in significance but
        elaborate how such organisations are becoming increasingly vulnerable
        to attack even from the so-called traditionally supporting groups
        like the media, other NGOs and even advocacy-oriented funding groups.
        I would first like to draw the attention of the reader to five
        separate incidents that have occurred in the past two years. Many
        might be familiar with some of these. But they illustrate my thesis
        on NGO vulnerability, which I will discuss later.

        Vanangana is a women's organisation working in Karvi, district
        Chitrakoot, in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh. Among its
        various activities, Vanangana is involved in working with women in a
        World Bank-supported water and sanitation project, in savings credit
        groups with women and so on. In early 1999, they started a programme
        of developing awareness in the region on the issue of violence
        against women. Through cultural programmes they spread awareness on
        the issue, going from village to village. Soon they were swamped with
        women and their natal families seeking support. It is around this
        time that the wife of a local dairy official came to Vanangana with
        her own story of battery and repeated sexual violation of her 11-year-
        old daughter by her husband. Vanangana immediately decided to support
        her and together with colleagues from a Varanasi-based group, SARC,
        decided to provide anonymous shelter to this woman and her children.
        This is when all hell broke loose. The offending dairy official
        immediately took the matter to court complaining that workers from
        these two NGOs had abducted his wife and children. FIRs were lodged
        and arrest warrants issued. The four workers who had arrest warrants
        in their name had to go underground for two months. He also
        threatened the other workers of the organisation by brandishing an
        unlicensed revolver at them. A local organisation claiming to uphold
        the sanctity of the region (Chitrakoot being mythologically related
        to the `vanavas' of Rama) claimed that this was not possible in such
        a holy place, and supported this person. The local media joined in,
        and it was stated that a brahmin could never commit such a sin. The
        district magistrate went on camera and said that even if such things
        happen it is best not to create such a public furore because these
        are private matters. But the women's groups stood their ground and
        finally Jagdish Pandey was arrested (but he was granted bail soon,
        and joined work the day after his release), public opinion was
        mobilised, and the crime of child sexual abuse established, at least
        in the popular realm. Details about this case have been reported in

        The dust had not settled in the valleys and ravines of Bundelkhand,
        when the news broke of the arrest 11 workers of Sahayog in April
        2000. Sahayog had been working in UP, particularly in the hill
        districts, for over eight years and had been raising the issues of
        dalit development and women's empowerment. The immediate cause for
        the arrest was the publication of a study report on AIDS seven months
        earlier. There was a tremendous local media frenzy about this report
        on the risk of spreading of HIV in the erstwhile hill districts of UP
        (now Uttaranchal). The offices of the organisation were ransacked,
        the workers beaten up by the police and even the National Security
        Act (NSA) applied on four workers. The local judiciary denied bail
        and this was finally received from the high court when the NSA was
        revoked. The entire incident generated a huge media debate, and even
        responsible national dailies went to the extent of supporting the
        harsh state action. Fortunately for Sahayog, the imposition of NSA
        was a rallying point for human rights activists around the country
        and this created a pressure that enabled their release from jail.
        Reports on the Sahayog event were carried in almost all major
        newpapers and magazines of the country.

        Around the time that the workers of Sahayog were being granted bail
        it came to light that workers of a group called Rihai from the
        Shivpuri district of MP had been illegally incarcerated for over
        three months. Women's groups and activists in UP were now acutely
        aware of the vulnerability of NGOs and decided to investigate. It was
        found that two women and a man from this NGO were jailed on extremely
        flimsy pretexts, beaten up and then raped in police custody allegedly
        by no other than the district collector. Bail was somehow arranged
        after three months. But Gayatri's (one of the women who was allegedly
        jailed and raped in custody) complaints about the rape were not only
        dismissed locally, but also by the state human rights commission.
        Instead, questions were raised about her character, and there was
        public extolling of the virtues of the district collector by caste-
        based local groups. Meanwhile, the police nearly razed Gayatri's
        house and a small eating place that her family used to run. This
        severely compromised the livelihood of the family. Gayatri and her
        family and the work of Rihai is somehow limping along now.

        On May 16, 2001, the kol tribals of Narkoti village, in Chandauli
        district in eastern UP were holding a meeting on raising tendu leaf
        collection charges, when their meeting was broken up by a posse of
        policemen, who came in firing in the air. There was a brief exchange
        of fire with some political activists who also had firearms. The
        police returned a few hours later and picked up some villagers. They
        returned again on May 18 and beat up the villagers. They then
        selectively arrested villagers, including workers from the local NGO
        Gramya. These people are still in jail, arrested allegedly for being
        Naxalites. Gramya is involved in working on the development and
        rights of tribals in the district. It had earlier led a big protest
        movement against the trafficking of girls from the women's protection
        home in Varanasi. This campaign had been a setback for many local
        mainstream political leaders who had been involved in the

        The citizens of Lucknow woke up on July 8, 2001 to the sensational
        news-story about of how the police had raided a gay club involved in
        pornography and arrested the main players. The newspapers were awash
        with the exploits of the police cultural guardians of the city. It
        slowly emerged that the group involved, Bharosa and its associate Naz
        Foundation International, were engaged in AIDS-related awareness
        work. The four people arrested were involved in working with AIDS
        prevention, particularly among the gay community. As in all earlier
        cases the lower courts were prompt in denying bail, and then the
        usual route of going to the high court had to be adopted. Mainstream
        NGOs in Lucknow were very reluctant in coming out in support because
        they felt this was a gay group, but finally the women's groups were
        able to mobilise support and a public protest meeting was held. The
        four arrested workers finally got out of jail on the August 23 a full
        six weeks after their arrest.

        There are NGOs and NGOs. Some are involved in implementing government-
        mandated projects, on water and sanitation, family planning and so
        on. There are others which are think tanks and research groups, still
        others choose to defend the rights of the weak and marginalised.
        While all NGOs are vulnerable financially and are forever trying to
        secure grants for their work, the last group described is especially
        vulnerable in many more ways. If one goes over the cases described
        above the NGOs were all working with vulnerable groups and on rights
        and entitlement issues.

        A quick study will reveal that the government of India is a signatory
        to international treaties and conventions that uphold these rights ,
        but unfortunately the behaviour of the state at a local level totally
        belies its international positions. Majority communities are also
        becoming increasingly intolerant to all kinds of perceived threats to
        their communal, racial, class, caste, gender and heterosexual
        hegemonies. These attitudes also get reflected in different ways in
        the general community, media, funding organisations as well as the
        way the NGO communities have reacted.

        Vulnerability to the arms of the state: This aspect is clearly
        illustrated in all these cases. The role of the police in assuming
        cultural guardianship is clear in the Karvi, Sahayog and, of course,
        in the Bharosa case. The local administration has repeatedly
        expressed its inability to protect the interests of these activists
        in the Sahayog case in the face of what they called public opinion
        and outrage. The NGOs and activists have uniformly taken a non-
        violent stand, but the outburst against them has nearly always been
        violent. Jagdish Pandey roamed around in Karvi brandishing a
        revolver, hobnobbing all the while with the police; the anti-socials
        in Almora were smashing up the Sahayog office in front of police
        officials; and the brutality in Narkoti village in Chandauli has left
        behind a trail of injuries among young and old, men and women. The
        local administration has been unsympathetic and even vengeful. The
        district magistrate in Karvi went on camera to reveal his
        insensitiveness, the DM at Almora still refuses to clarify his stand
        on Section 133. The collector at Shivpuri demonstrated his power by
        allegedly raping Gayatri. The legal system, which is supposed to be
        the last recourse to justice and the defender of the rights of the
        weak and aggrieved, has been manipulated to lodge FIRs that need a
        wild imagination to frame – that of attempted murder in the case of
        Gayatri and her colleagues and for the Gramya activists, that of
        sedition and threat to national security for the Sahayog activists.
        The lower judiciary has had a uniform response to bail applications –
        that of rejection. This is a ploy that the police are using in
        connivance with the judiciary to harass these NGO workers for as long
        as possible.

        Vulnerability to mainstream political parties and their leaders: The
        state machinery is a puppet in the hands of the political masters and
        thus state action is clearly being orchestrated by these puppet
        masters. In the Karvi and Sahayog cases the local political
        leadership made strong statements against the organisations, in the
        Rihai case the district collector enjoyed obvious political support
        in his vendetta against Gayatri and Rihai. The Gramya case reeks of
        political revenge and is a punishment for having taken up the issue
        of trafficking in which political leaders were implicated, and
        political silence in the Bharosa case is remarkable and justifies the
        adage – silence is consent.

        Vulnerability to media reporting: The Sahayog case was perhaps
        entirely a creation of the media. The NSA was applied to the workers
        when they had already been jailed on the very first day of the
        protest. The local media gave birth to a vicious cycle of virulent
        reporting, where they would report one bout of frenzy in such a
        manner that it would lead to further frenzy, which would again be
        reported in painstaking detail and on went the cycle. In the Bharosa
        case,which also dealt with a sexuality issue, the media reacted to
        the news like it does to a juicy sex scandal. Later on it toned down
        considerably, but much damage had been done. The local reporters in
        Karvi, Shivpuri and Varanasi have usually reflected local prejudices
        while the state-level press has been more responsible. In the Sahayog
        case, even the national media was undecided in its approach.

        Vulnerability to majority communities: It was argued during the
        Sahayog debate that as an NGO it should have at least got the support
        of the community, after working with them for eight years. But this
        argument is based on the assumption that the work of these
        NGOs/activists does not upset the current class, caste, gender and
        communal power equations. Rights-related work can never be neutral
        and the powerful in the community react when their interests are
        threatened. In the Bharosa case, a few of the arrested workers were
        Muslims and there seemed to be an unsaid ISI-related implication
        hanging in the air. The brahmin-mafia lobby in Jageswar was looking
        out for an opportunity to get Sahayog out of the area (after many
        previous attempts had failed) and they seized this opportunity with
        both hands. The brahmin lobby in Karvi was steadfast in its support
        for Jagdish Pandey, organising protests and demonstrations. It has
        been much easier to organise support for these groups in cities like
        Lucknow, Bhopal or Delhi than in Karvi, Almora or Shivpuri, which
        clearly highlights their geographical vulnerability as well.

        Vulnerability from peer (NGO) isolation: The NGO community in the
        states concerned, that is, UP, MP and Uttaranchal has displayed a
        strangely timid attitude in these cases. During all these incidents
        there have been a large group of NGOs and even networks that have
        condemned the organisation concerned. Most of the groups working on
        AIDS and on health have not been forthcoming at all in supporting
        either Sahayog or Bharosa , where AIDS-related work was at the centre
        of the controversy. In the Karvi case NGOs went on record supporting
        family values in spite of clear evidence of child sexual abuse and
        domestic violence. Most NGOs in MP created such a distance between
        themselves and Rihai that women's groups in UP had to respond to its

        Vulnerability to funding arbitrariness: The National AIDS Control
        Organisation (NACO) is the umbrella organisation which coordinates
        the state-funded AIDS programme in the country. It went out of its
        way to condemn Sahayog even though Sahayog was not a part of its
        programme. Bharosa also got no support from either NACO or its state
        counterpart State AIDS Control Societies (SACS) even though these
        organisations provide funding support for working on AIDS awareness
        with gay communities. These very people had also been called upon
        many times by the state AIDS cell to act as resource persons in their
        programmes. The work of Rihai was supported through an individual
        fellowship to Gayatri through a non-governmental advocacy group
        called Samarthan. The chief functionary of Samarthan, a noted NGO
        functionary, not only refuted Gayatri's rape as being imaginary, but
        withdrew financial support. In the Sahayog case, Action Aid, a non-
        governmental funding organisation which claims to have a rights-based
        advocacy approach, notified the organisation about terminating its
        funding with a letter that came five months later.

        Facing the Challenges

        The discussion above clearly outlines the difficulties that these
        organisations have had to face in working with genuine issues of
        health, rights and deprivation of the marginalised communities. While
        some form of resistance is anticipated, the adverse reaction from the
        peer NGO community and the so-called sensitive funding community has
        been a new dimension. But one positive aspect of the entire struggle
        for securing the rights of the marginalised is that there has been a
        coalescence of different groups and activists . New coalitions have
        formed and these include actors from diverse sectors. There have been
        some progressive individuals and organisations from among the media,
        general community, legal fraternity, fund providers who have shown
        exceptional courage and determination in openly defending the actions
        of these organisations, and hopefully their numbers will increase. It
        is with the encouragement of these supporters that all these
        organisations are still determined to carry their work forward.
        The manner in which dominant socio-cultural ideologies have permeated
        all forms of public action and discourse in the northern states is
        very disturbing, to say the least. The intolerance of all forms
        of `the other' is increasingly manifesting itself in attacks on
        vulnerable groups, and the vast majority giving tacit support through
        a deafening silence. Civil society organisations have now become the
        new targets because they are one of the few vehicles to slow and
        perhaps reverse the rapid socio-cultural homogenisation process. The
        unfortunate scenario, which has emerged of late, is that so many
        different actors within society have internalised the rhetoric
        of `our cultural heritage' that it is no longer described as
        obscurantist. This ideology is not just status quoist, but intends to
        perpetuate and strengthen all forms of class, caste, religion, gender
        and sexuality-based discriminations. Class-based discriminations have
        long been the issue for political struggle and caste politics is the
        new phenomenon in Indian polity. Unfortunately, all those working on
        gender-based or sexuality-based discriminations remain extremely
        vulnerable, those working on the second group of issues even more so.
        The attacks on the NGOs in the last two years reflect this
        vulnerability. It remains to be seen whether progressive groups and
        individuals are able to see the pattern and come together. One major
        obstacle that has to be overcome is that of confronting our own
        sexual values and codes. It has been a long struggle in which class
        and caste-based values and assumptions were challenged and new
        egalitarian values accepted (though perhaps not practised in their
        entirety). In the case of gender, the struggle is still ongoing, but
        sexuality promises to be the last battle, and it is not going to be
        overcome easily. The one silver lining is that feminist groups have
        been increasingly getting together in this struggle and many men have
        also started joining hands.
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