Continuation of The Élan Vital of Rural Development.


The foregoing narrative demonstrates how responsive villagers can be when their needs and problems are addressed. The how and by whom may make a difference, though. In the action piece, recounted above, the needy farmers invited the NGO Project Manager to attend their meeting; their needs and programmes were identified through discussion. How often is this the case with the project officers of the District Rural Development Agencies (DRDAs), created by the government? Even if these officers were invited, how many of them would make themselves available at the time and place convenient to the villagers? Supposing some of them were invited and available, how flexible could they be to meet the diverse needs of specific people -- suitably and adequately?

Commitment and discipline seem to ensue from these meetings. People rise to the occasion and take up responsibilities. Since real problems are addressed and decisions are taken in the public meetings of gramsabhas, social controls emerge. Such controls facilitate implementation, monitoring and review without requiring any outsider. In the process, people come to recognise their strengths. It is this recognition that is necessary to gradually free people from their fatalistic orientation.

Free and open discussions are a must when needs are to be clarified in meetings with people. A prerequisite for such discussions is trust -- trust in the interventionist. This element of trust was conspicuously absent among the people toward the DRDA personnel of the government. The author came across quite a few who people expressed a strong belief that government aid could reach them only if they "greased the channel". They also say that those who manage to receive the aid by such means do not use it for the declared or intended purpose, because the net amount available after the various "cuts" is insufficient for any productive use . This phenomenon may indeed explain why many of the IRDP beneficiaries are found assetless when asset verification surveys are conducted. (One such survey in Tamilnad, for example, found that only 142 out of the 1500 beneficiaries surveyed were in possession of the asset; the recoveries, however, were near perfect! In another survey near Alwar in Rajasthan, again less than 10 per cent of the beneficiaries had the asset.)

The NGO in question enjoys a great deal of trust from the people of the area. The meetings and their proceedings bear ample evidence to it. Even the government and bank officials in the area vouch for "the honesty of these sincere workers". How did this NGO acquire such an image? Maybe, its work style has something to do with it! A peek into the way the NGO prepared its workers may shed some light:

In 1981, a batch of twenty-seven selected candidates was sent for a year-long training in the NGO's erstwhile Workers' Home.* On completion of the training there, all the trainees were sent out into the field to "choose their vocation". Within the next two weeks, all but six gave up. Similar was the case the next year: Twenty-seven were trained and only four survived the self-selection test in the field.

The one-year training was designed to impart the ideology of Sarvodaya. It is quite a compact programme of training. A copy of the daily schedule followed at the Workers' Home is presented in Appendix. The design of the schedule bears a close resemblance to the one observed in the novitiates of the Christian Missionaries. The subsequent field phase offers the trainees a foretaste of what is in store for them, should they decide to stay. During this phase in the field, the trainees are to judge for themselves if that's the kind of life they would love to live.

Those who had survived the training and induction, described above, were the workers in the project that has been discussed in this paper. These workers were first of all asked to choose a cluster of villages each as their territory of work. Having chosen his territory, the worker moves from village to village in his cluster, rents a room or a house in one of the villages and lives there. He moves about in the villages within a radius of 10-15 kms. He meets the people and chats with them wherever they are available--at homes, at bus-stops, on the streets, in the fields. He does not conduct any structured or formal survey, but he makes an unobtrusive note of the geographics, demographics, general problems, people factions, local resources, etc.

All these workers live and work in their respective village clusters, but meet once a fortnight for a whole day at Natham, the project headquarters, and share their experiences, including mistakes, problems and interesting incidents. The Project Manager is also present in these meetings. False steps, naivete and unproductive actions, that are reported in the sharing, are neither questioned nor ridiculed. Ideas are exchanged and suggestions sought and received with regard to the problems faced. The author chanced to attend two such meetings. These meetings seem to refresh and recharge the staff.

* This training centre was regretfully closed down in 1988 for want of a suitable leader, after its Principal had relinquished office, following a serious illness. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

People invite the NGO worker home and chat with him on various topics: General knowledge, memorable past events, major festive occasions in the area, some personalities in the village, etc. The Worker does not take sides in these talks. Some times these people discuss their personal problems,too. When there are quarrels in the village, the people suggest or call the NGO worker to be their arbitrator. They also invite him to join all their village meetings. These signs of acceptance take fairly long to develop, but the Worker does not make haste. Only when he is certain of his acceptance by the people, does he venture into developmental intervention. His intervention begins with a need- clarification discussion in the gramsabha.

The typical patience and motivation of these workers, as evident in their working, cannot be explained by anything less than a fundamental and personal philosophy of life, a belief system or an ideology that sustains these qualities. The disposition, tendency and the ability to feel outraged at the sight of poverty or exploitation cannot ever arise from mundane concerns. For instance, there was a farmer, whose sole productive assets were twenty tamarind trees. A contractor had taken them all on a seven-year lease for Rs. 4000--a distress deed necessitated by the farmer's urgency: His daughter had to be married off. With the money exhausted and himself alienated from his asset, the farmer was suffering from destitution. The NGO worker could not bear the "atrocity", when he came to know of the case perchance. He approached the contractor and pleaded with him to ameliorate the terms of the contract, which was by then six years old. The contractor, agreeing to discuss the matter on another day, went on the sly and intimidated the owner-farmer. On getting wind of it, the Worker rushed to the farmer, locked him up in a room somewhere for a couple of days (to insulate him from further intimidations), talked to the gramsabha, detailing the monetary and moral injustice of the case, confronted the contractor, and settled the matter in favour of the farmer. The gramsabha then expressed a desire to explore a long-term solution for all the tree-owners of the village.

There were many such instances available, where the NGO worker had gone out of his way, so to speak, to be of help to the people. "Out of his way" only in a manner of speaking, for it seems that is his way. What is the source or origin of "this way"? Where are its roots? The disposition and the drive that characterise the way these NGO workers follow seem to spring from the ideology that they imbibed during their training in the Workers' Home.

Ideologies are galvanic; they impassion and engage those who hold them; they muster up and orient one's energies to an envisioned goal. All ideologies, Sarvodaya or any other, qua ideology, lay out a path before their aspirants and drive them through it, undeterred by obstacles. Ideology in its form is ONE. Plurality enters it with the content. That ideology which, when internalised, can drive one to the path of others' welfare and development--even in the face of impediments--will veritably, therefore, be the elan vital or the sustaining spirit of rural development efforts.

The relationship between ideology and development may be depicted as shown in the Figure, below:

The Ideology-Commitment-Action Linkage (ICAL) model of development

Lessons From the Project

Before attempting to draw any lessons at all from the Natham project for rural development interventions at large, it may be useful first to specify the kind of development we have in mind for the rural poor. True development of a people will have occurred only when the people will feel free, materially and psychologically, to live their lives in accordance with their own values and aspirations. The poor in India are as yet bereft of this freedom. Having been deprived of it for long, they have become, to a large extent, fatalistic in their outlook. Their thought and action tendencies are often warped by this fatalism. Development of these people would, therefore, mean changing their fatalism into self-reliance; transforming their "locus of control" from external to internal.

Assuming the government and other agencies do in earnest want to have the rural poor truly developed, what should they do? How could they set about? Are there any lessons available from Natham? The following points seem to warrant some generalisation:

  1. External support is a must for the poor to be able to step out of their poverty trap. The support must be adequate, i.e., not below the critical minimum, as illustrated by the case of Ganapathy in the text.
  2. The external support has to be temporary and the process of providing it such as to have the people recognise their personal strengths and subtly urge them to shoulder more and more responsibilities in the programme. The mechanism of the gramsabha seems to hold out a great promise in this regard--as witnessed in the discussion of the agro-service centre and the school-building case.
  3. The specific contents of the programme or the particular schemes should be left flexible enough to cater to the people's real needs and aspirations, which must be explored and clarified in open meetings. Determination of needs a priori and preparation of blue prints (the hall marks of government programmes) may facilitate efficient exhaustion of funds, but do not succeed in involving the people.
  4. A development interventionist organisation will do well to permit a lot of room within the organisation for field-level initiative, creativity and mistakes among its employees and encourage a culture of openness and fearlessness. Such a climate in the organisation is necessary to shape and reinforce integrity.
  5. The personality of the development worker is crucial. The person must be one who derives great personal satisfaction from helping and seeing others grow and develop. Personnel selection and orientation, therefore, are of paramount importance. Any compromise here is anathema. A word about hiring today's management graduates for rural development work may be mentioned here. While these MBAs are beyond doubt valuable assets in certain staff positions, their induction into mainline development functions is of questionable value. Barring rare exceptions, these professionals, almost by definition, lack the emotional "X" factor which characterises the lives and work of effective rural development workers.
  6. A development ideology may be a sine qua non for an interventionist agency, just as business policy has been recognised (for example, see Ouchi 1981) to be vital for business organisations.
  7. While the government can and must have concern for the development of the rural poor, it cannot and, perhaps, should not embody one development ideology. As such, the government is intrinsically incapable of succeeding in a developmental effort that requires people's participation and involvement. Creation of infrastructural facilities in the villages may indeed be the more appropriate developmental role of the government. As for the human side of rural development, the government had better leave it to proven NGOs and provide support. The government could certainly partake in the honour by toning up its machinery so as to settle the rightful claims of the poor promptly and without accepting or expecting bribes.


Workers' Home, Gandhigram

Daily Schedule
05:30 - 06:00Community prayer
06:00 - 06:30Yoga
06:30 - 07:30Manual work
- Latrine cleaning
- Shifting water for mess
- Cleaning of house & surroundings
07:30 - 08:30Breakfast
08:30 - 10:30Work in the farm
10:30 - 11:00Bath
11:00 - 12:00Spinning on Charka
12:00 - 13:00Theory class*
13:00 - 14:40Lunch & rest
14:40 - 15:00 Farmers' programme on radio
15:00 - 17:00Theory class*
17:00 - 18:00Personal work (Free time)
18:00 - 19:30Study
19:30 - 19:45Community prayer
20:00Supper & rest.

* Subjects covered include Gandhian philosophy, Sociology, Agriculture, Village self-rule (Gram Swaraj), etc.


Chowdhry, D.P. (1987). "Critical appraisal of voluntary effort in social welfare and development since independence." The Indian Journal of Public Administration, 33/3, 492-500.

Maheshwari, S. (1987). "Voluntary action in rural development in India." The Indian Journal of Public Administration,33/3, 559-566.

Ouchi, W. (1981). Theory Z. Addison-Wesley: California.

Roy, S. (1987). "Voluntary agencies in development: their role, policy and programmes," The Indian Journal of Public Administration, 33/3, 454-464.

Singh, K. (1986). Rural Development, Sage Publications: New Delhi.

Go to another study.