India faces many challenges in the New Millennium. Most notable among them is attaining the objective of Inclusive growth and reducing the Great Divide between the haves and the have-nots. Efforts should be made to bridge this gap because grinding poverty in dehumanized conditions may sow the seeds of a violent revolution. Mahatma Gandhi understood the flaws of the Percolation or top-down development model where power-relations were centralized. Bapu's paradigm of society is governed by the principles of interdependence, complementarity, fraternity, consensus and participatory management.
Only Inclusive growth will lead to sustainable development. In this context Gandhiji's concept of development namely Sarvodaya through Antyodaya, implying the welfare of all through the weakest of the society holds great value. The plans for the economic development of our country should make a beginning from the bottom of the pyramid with the people who have been left behind or swept aside.
The objective of this Paper is to analyse the application of the Gandhian economic model through rural Self-Help Groups (SHGs) to attain the objectives of inclusive growth and sustainable development in the New Millennium. Collective empowerment through SHGs can remove deprivation and social exclusion. This model is based on the notion that the marginalised are better equipped to overcome the negative social pressure against them through group identity and activity. This paradigm of Development is based on Gandhian principles like Sarvodaya, Antyodaya, co-operation, collective endeavour, trusteeship and decentralisation with primary importance to community welfare and villages.
India faces many challenges in the New Millennium. Most notable among them is attaining the objective of Inclusive growth and reducing the Great Divide between the haves and the have-nots. On the one hand, the affluent are always clamouring for more while on the other, those in grinding poverty are struggling for mere survival in dehumanized conditions. Efforts should be made to bridge the gaps existing today. Otherwise, these gaps, if widened beyond a point give way to serious problems that escalate intoout-blownproportion. Naxalism is one such problem whose roots lie in continual neglect of tribal population by various governments resulting in the huge portion of Maoist army comprising of tribals. Moreover, female participation is huge in the Naxalite movement which according to some social scientists is an outlet for the anger arising out of oppression suffered by them through centuries.
In this context, Gandhiji's concept of development namely Sarvodaya through Antyodaya, implying the welfare of all through the weakest of the society holds great value. The plans for the economic development of our country should pay attention to the most backward and poorest people first. A beginning has to be made from the bottom of the pyramid with the people who have been left behind or swept aside. Growth that doesn't leave women, tribals, dalits and poor behind is defined as inclusive growth.
For Bapu, the main criterion of progress was human happiness. According to him, a violent and bloody revolution is a certainty one day unless there is a voluntary abdication of riches and sharing for common good (Desai, 1959). Prabhu and Rao (1967) further assert that Economic equality is the masterkey to non-violent independence. Economic equality means that everyone should have enough for his or her needs. Only Inclusive growth will lead to sustainable development.
This Paper aims at analysing the application of the Gandhian economic model through rural Self-Help Groups (SHGs) to attain the objectives of inclusive growth and sustainable development in the New Millennium. This paradigm of Development is based on Gandhian principles like Sarvodaya, Antyodaya, co-operation, collective endeavour, trusteeship and decentralisation with primary importance to community welfare and villages.
The SHG model is based on the notion that the marginalised sections of society can internalise production possibilities in groups only. They are better-equipped to overcome the negative social pressure against them through group identity and activity.
The News Development Paradigm
Since Prof. Amartya Sen was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998, human welfare is an important goal of modern economics. Pratap (2010) asserts that Development should facilitate integrated growth of all individuals with emphasis on gender equality, equity and justice. It requires concern and commitment on the part of decision-makers to introduce reforms that reduce social disparity, mitigate gender inequality and empower the less privileged.
For Sithalakshmi and Jothimani (1994), development should ultimately become a process of empowerment (Mahapatra, 2004) as it means the powerless getting empowered. As power comes through unity, development means the poor getting empowered to fight for their rights. According to Reddy (2002), the work of Amartya Sen has also been influential in broadening understanding of empowerment and deprivation. He argued that poverty led to denial of rights and opportunities to poor for full participation in society. To arrest this kind of social exclusion, there was a need for improving their capabilities and entitlements (Sharma, 2004).
Empowering means enabling people to acquire and possess power resources in order for them to make decisions on their own or resist decisions that are made by others which affect them. Participation and control over resources are considered as the critical indicators in the process of empowerment. It emphasises solidarity and collective action. Groups or communities act together in order to gain access to policies and decision-making arenas where their quality of life is determined. The marginalized in rural areas possess least proportions of resources and as a result they are powerless and dependent on the powerful. Empowerment of the marginalized is necessary for sustainable development. It is concerned with increasing the capacity of the rural populace to develop self-reliance in order to identify their problems. Development is a process of Empowerment.
Planners proceed on the basis of the percolation theory. They assume that the benefits of progress will gradually seep down to the lowest levels of the deprived and backward sections (Narayan, 2003). Gandhiji understood the flaws of the Percolation or top-down development model where power-relations were centralized. His paradigm of society was in the pattern of family governed by the principle of interdependence, complementarity, fraternity, consensus in decision-making to avoid power struggle and participatory management.
The Gandhian Model
Nanda (2007) points out that Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of Independent India was a nation free of exploitation of the poor by the rich, of the masses by the classes, of villages by towns and of the weaker by the stronger. His idea of Swaraj was freedom from hunger, unemployment, fear and hatred. A truly democratic economy was one in which each individual would be enabled to control his or her life in which everyone led a dignified life with opportunities to progress. He asked policy-makers to recall the face of the poorest during policy-formulation. He offered a talisman – according to which the litmus test of any policy was how it would affect the most vulnerable (Axelrod, 2010). According to him the true wealth of a community lay in the well-being of all its members.
Sarvodaya means 'development of all’. Gandhiji’s concept of development is Sarvodaya through Antyodaya, implying the welfare of all through the weakest of the society. Principles of cooperation and collective endeavour are central to society. "Trusteeship" implies that property belongs to all, and the holder manages it and takes care of it only as a socially responsible trustee. Village life should arouse a sense of cooperation and fellowship. The spirit of fraternity is essential for society-building. Self-help he believed is the first stage to prepare oneself for service to society (Prabhu and Rao, 1967; Bandyopadhyaya, Devdutt, Gadre, 1969).
Inclusive Growth through Rural Self-Help Groups
Access to finance for those belonging to poor and vulnerable groups is a prerequisite for poverty reduction and social cohesion. This has to become an integral part of our efforts to promote inclusive growth. In fact, providing access to finance is a form of empowerment of the vulnerable groups. Historically, credit access and terms have discriminated against the poor due to various reasons such as inability to provide collateral, small-sized loans, high transaction costs for banks formalities. Microfinance through rural Self-Help Groups is a significant medium of poverty alleviation and empowerment. It aims at Financial inclusion through the delivery of financial services at an affordable cost to the vast sections of the disadvantaged and low-income groups.
A Self-Help Group (SHG) is a group that consists of about 10 to 20 persons of a homogenous class who come together with a view to address common problems. They collect voluntary savings on a regular basis and use the pooled resources to make small interest bearing-loans to their members. Collective wisdom of the group and peer pressure are valuable collateral substitutes.
The concept of group formation is the best strategy to provide credit and the necessary mental courage for self-employment. An individual without any experience of running a business is normally nervous and wary of starting her own new venture but if a group comes together with their different but supporting skills to run a business, they provide mutual support, boost each other's confidence, point out each other's mistakes and guide each other. A group feels more confident in approaching a bank or a Government department for a loan or for benefit under a scheme. Grouping has increased awareness and reduced the chances of exploitation by middlemen.
A rural SHG enables members to become self-dependent and self-reliant and provides a forum for members to exchange ideas. It fosters a spirit of self-help and co-operation among members and gives them strength and confidence to solve their socio-economic problems. Participation in income-generating activities is believed to increase status and decision-making power. The Group meeting also serves as a venue for other interventions such as adult literacy programmes. Micro-credit schemes are thought to be potent agents of social change in impoverished settings where the weaker sections are disadvantaged by their lack of access to resources.
Rao (2004) highlights the fact that as a developing country, India faces constraints of resources for rapid socio-economic development. While there may be limitations of financial resources, available human resources are huge and yet to be fully exploited. Microfinance provides a medium for ensuring this by optimising use of the financial resources. Microcredit channelised through SHGs creates self-employment opportunities.
Rural development tries to build upon the existing Self-Help potential of the rural poor and assists them as producers in the identification of occupations and activities which provide a high net return on invested labour and capital. The Poor can internalise production possibilities in groups only. They are better-equipped to overcome the negative social pressure against them through group identity and activity. It creates confidence and mutual support for the poor striving for social change. It provides a forum in which the poor can critically analyse the situation and devise collective strategies to overcome their difficulties.
Dr E.F. Schumacher, author of the classic critique on modern economics, Small is Beautiful, called Gandhi the greatest 'people's economist'. Gandhi's ideas on economics are embedded in his philosophy of life. Gandhian economics differs from mainstream economics in that it gives priority to the community, recognises that there is 'enough' for everyone's need but not for everyone's greed and aims at a better quality of life for all. The basis of all his social and economic solutions was based on the concept of Sarvodaya, the welfare of all.
The Gandhian model emphasizes decentralization of socio-economic and political systems starting from the village to the highest level. The local bodies like Panchayati Raj Institutions have a principal role in planning, implementation and monitoring which strengthens democratic processes through grassroots participation and increases transparency. This is especially important at the village level, where the local body, the Gram Panchayat has the unique advantage of being located in the local village community as well as being the main institutional outreach of rural development. Decentralisation creates space for flexibility and innovation that helps evolve local solutions to a number of issues. Revival and revitalisation of villages was his constant concern.
The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) which came into existence on October 2, 2009 has a huge potential in empowering rural communities by providing employment to village communities to improve their livelihood. Its activities which have a sustained flow of benefits include flood proofing, drought proofing, reclamation of degraded land, groundwater recharge, etc. This programme has catalysed links with Self Help Groups (SHGs) of women inorder to empower the marginalised. Investment should be focused more on activities providing benefits at the community level so that the poor derive maximum benefits.
This Paper has made a strong case for rural Self- Help Groups as a Development paradigm to meet the various challenges faced by India in the New Millennium especially attaining the objectives of inclusive growth and sustainable development. Collective empowerment through SHGs can remove deprivation and social exclusion. This model is based on the notion that the marginalised sections of society can overcome the negative social pressure against them through group identity and activity. This Gandhian Approach based on principles like Sarvodaya, Antyodaya, co-operation, collective endeavour, trusteeship and decentralisation with primary importance to community welfare and villages will certainly lead to inclusive sustainable development.
Courtesy: This article has been reproduced from the ISBN Publication - Gandhi in the New Millennium - Issues and Challenges' published by Khandwala Publishing House.
* Dr. Marina Pareira is a Associate-Professor, Department of Economics and Director- Gandhian Studies Centre, Nagindas Khandwala College, Malad, Mumbai, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org