We met with the District Development Commisioner today. Armed with rolls of posters and a nice, thick slab of a report, we waited for nearly an hour and a half, being moved first from one room, then to the next, then back to the first room before the DDC finally decided to grace us with his presence. He saw the resource maps. He saw the caste and social analysis. 'Marvelous', he uttered again and again. Would he move the Gram Sabhas to a later date for the Panchayat we worked in so that the community's plan could be considered? What followed was a generic, run-of-the-mill barrage of excuses.
Our hands are tied.
What can we do?
This is what you all are here for.
We have no reason to get involved.
But the maps were marvellous, that he made quite clear.
A young IAS officer we had met on our second night at Daltongunj was also present at this meeting. Unlike the DDC who was attempting to be civil, this young man was blatantly disrespectful. At one point he said something about how everyone wants development for the villagers, but they need time to mature before we let them decide their village plan. I asked him, the development you speak of is determined by whom? The government, NGOs, these are all exogenous sources of development, not indigenous ones. That is also needed. How can we claim to know what's best for people before asking them what they need? I wasn't exactly polite, but I'm not ashamed. Some things need to be said.
Eventually, the DDC agreed to support the village plan created by the villagers. The young officer also showed agreement, stating that we can make an exception for the seven villages, which is what the Charai Panchayat consisted of. Really, now? It was that easy, making an exception? Why could that not have been said in the first place? It is in situations like these that I find it very difficult to believe that we can work from within the system. What disheartened me even more was that a person of our generation was acting in the same way as the generation before him. How can be expect change when the same beuarocratic practices are being carried forward? We are delusional if we think our generation is any different.
As the last day of our field work draws to a close, I can't help but think of all the obstacles we have overcome and all the learnings we have gained. I thought back to the meeting today, when the young officer was speaking. He had said that the villagers will only put wells on their own land, that they are divided by caste. He was right, but does he know why? Did he understand the dynamics between the tribals and the Dalits? I felt grateful that I did understand, and that my mind was not closed to the rural reality.