I’ve been living in HaleKote, a small hamlet village of Devarayanadurga, 20kms off Tumkur, Karnataka, in the name of research. Two weeks down the lane and my entire idea of village life and poverty and development has been thrown upside down, as if someone had permanently messed up your room and suddenly you start to see an order in that mess.
I had my own preconceived notions of a village. It would be poor, people would lack certain basic amenities, people would be eager to learn, people would complain of their difficulties, there would be grave injustice against women, people would narrate to me tales of superstition and be extremely god fearing.
My first slap on the face was about poverty. Taking a look from the outside and seeing their clothes, standard of living, hygiene and life style, you’d surely have the opportunity to slowly shake your head and comment on the lack of development of HaleKote and stretch into an extended discussion of this government, its policies and more. But now that I have spent two weeks here, I find that every individual in the village has three full meals a day and at least two cups of tea/coffee. No matter how small their house/hut maybe, they all had a dish TV installed which was constantly on whenever electricity was available, which was approximately 8-12 hours a day. Water was a problem on occasion but not a big enough issue to lament about just as yet. Emotionally, all of them lived amidst the warmth and occasionally the friction of their family. Of course, they had occasional tiffs about money and property and other issues. But then again does development really eradicate these issues? Keeping this context in mind, I didn’t find that the villagers of HaleKote particularly craved or rather needed anything more. Of course man being man, they sure did have wants and desires. But HaleKote suddenly no longer seemed like a poor village to me. And that puts me in a dilemma as to what poverty really is?
Education has often been noted as the best anti-dote to poverty. But then, one takes a look at the current education system and one wonders about the quality of education. Is the system really equipping one with knowledge of ‘life management’, if I may call it? Or has it merely become a certificate that empowers you with acceptance, a path to power? Does education teach one to handle that power? To channelize that power? To know when to give up that power?
I’m yet to form strong views on this subject but I’ve been told that confusion is a good place to start with.
HaleKote has a government school that provides free education for girls and boys. Men who are currently in their thirties seemed to have studied in school only till 7th or 8thstd while the present school going boys seem to continue their education, sometimes even going on to attend college. Majority of the women who are now in their thirties seemed to have dropped out of formal education by 4th or 5th grade. But lately most girls attempted to stick on to school at least until 10th std. In my judgmental mind I had thought “wow that’s an improvement”. But was it really? When I spoke to some of the women and asked them what they thought of education and if they thought it was important or not, I received a rather interesting answer.
“Education is for people who want to become engineers and doctors. If one simply intends to marry, have children and look after their farm and family then why would one waste time studying in school? They’d rather learn house work and ‘educate’ themselves in what is necessary for their life.”
The system of education puts one in a box, an inevitable feature of any rigidly structured system, and prepares one only for certain aspects of life. In a nation that requires a holistic developmental growth is it really necessary for every single individual to be part of that ‘system’? Maybe, it is only healthy for a country, that few people choose to form their own structure of education and thus contributing to the different dimensions of progress and development that our education system does not address and cater to.
My ‘feminist-ideology-fed’ mind first rebelled when I heard the women say that. I wondered why a woman should be confined to her home and be forced to look after the family. But then I thought, ‘What if this was a conscious consensual decision taken to ensure a balanced and smooth running of family?’
For instance let’s look at Hemalatha’s case. She was a class 9 student and detested going to school. She did not score well in her exams and preferred to stay at home and engage in household activities. Shwetha on the other hand is in 12thstd and loves to study and is hoping to get a job in a bank. Both the girls come from the same village and chose their paths. Yes of course, there are situations when the girl wants to study but the family cannot afford it or doesn’t believe she should. But here I’m talking about instances where there is a choice and being able to choose your path.
If education was said to eradicate ignorance, to me suddenly, awareness of ones choices seemed to be the one that eradicated ignorance.
Since it has been largely established that education can be a solution to poverty and thus lead us to development, allow me the freedom to question the problem, now that we’ve questioned the solution.
Jonathan Glennie, writer, researcher and currently director of policy and research at Save the Children, stated that “Development is dignity or it is nothing. The opposite – development without dignity – is not worth having.” So now I ask…how do we derive at dignity? What dignity is to me could be a shame to someone else. Hence I wonder, does dignity come by practicing the Gandhian policy of live and let live? In that case, could dignity also mean, being a silent witness to something that defies your morals, on the basis that you taking/voicing your offence itself could be offensive to someone else? And thus, in that process you fail to deliver true dignity?
It’s quite perplexing to think of it this way, isn’t it?
Development has given birth to a rather discriminatory term: ‘the haves and the have not’s’. This is a frequently encountered concept especially in a third world country like ours. I’d urge you to step outside your bubble and look at things this way for a few minutes… What if you didn’t see the two groups of people as ‘haves’ and ‘have not’s’? What if they were just two groups of people coexisting parallelly? One group would be the one that received structured and certified education, the one that engaged in foreign relations and lived in an urban space. The other group would be the one that got experiential education; largely engaged in farming, animal husbandry, and maybe even in cottage industry and lived in rural spaces. What if these two groups were not constantly juxtaposed against each other? What if they weren’t compared and looked as better or worse? Again, we come back to the point of stepping outside the ‘educational box’.
It would be fine to say one group was better than the other if the path that, that one group adopted guaranteed happiness, equality and liberty. But when the concepts such as happiness and liberty itself are so highly subjective how do we arrive at a formula that can be administered to all?
Amartya Sen, economist and philosopher, puts forward a rather interesting take on development in his book ‘Development as Freedom’. He formed the Capability Approach (CA) which revolved around two vital elements: People and their capabilities. He believed that a particular place can be said to be truly developed when its inhabitants have had the freedom to fully explore their capabilities with the resources and facilities available to them at that given time. Having the capability and not exploring it was not development. For example, simply having a pen didn’t mean that the person would write very well. Unless the person fully understood and used the pen to its maximum capacity, the pen would be of no meaning.
This is one take on development that I find myself agreeing to most. Although, another part of me finds this approach far too idealistic. The process of being able to explore ones potentials, even when the resources are available itself, depends on so many factors such as interest, or proper mentorship, or priorities etc. And to go into those factors now, would be slightly too mind boggling.
I’ve been repeatedly warned not to mix politics and philosophy. But I always wondered how it is possible to separate ones believes and ideologies from the kind of lifestyle and discipline one decides to live by? Could it be that the people asking me to separate the two are scared? Afraid that when one mixes philosophy with the current state of politics in our country, one might just sit back in fear and confusion? It’s not a conclusion I’m arriving at, but merely a suspicious doubt.
Once again, the room has been messed and I grope around to make sense of it.