Think about this question. What is the thing you have waited for, the most, in your life and how you felt doing the same? We all have plenty. Favourite director’s movie to hit the screens, phone call from loved ones, arrival of a baby in the family, rain during summer, food when really hungry, bus to my place after a tiring day, to talk to airtel customer care … these were few things that crossed my mind when I thought about that question and my emotions ranged from being happy to extremely irritated. But of late I have been witnessing a whole new kind of waiting which has become part and parcel of our democracy. I see this to be a waiting for one’s dignity to happen. My project works on the theme of “Bridging the gap in the accessibility of government schemes by the people in poverty and thus tripling the benefits received through the same in 5 years”. It sounds sexy quantitatively. Our job is to try and find different ways to make sure this happens qualitatively too.
So one way of doing it is we work with the community directly and help them in applying for schemes that they are eligible for. Also we work with the government to make them more active in pro-active disclosure so that it can reflect in the implementation of schemes. In the process one can see a lot of reluctance from both sides. I have been pondering on that scenario and always end up asking myself endless questions. ‘Why is that a person in poverty doesn’t come forward to take what is rightfully his? Why are we there to make them take a initiative ? Why the government makes it so hard for people to become eligible for a particular scheme if getting them out of poverty is the ultimatum? and Why the nuances of the schemes are so intelligible at policy level but actually quite difficult in reality?’ Well, I am still contemplating. Sometimes I do conclude that our whole project is becoming pointless. I have my own defenses also for that.
Many other times I end up thinking about the waiting part. Waiting for things to happen in the way it is supposed to happen but never happens. Everywhere I go I see people waiting for actual benefits to reach them after having applied for the same scheme over and over (in the process spending more money on photos and xerox) in the hope that it will get them out of poverty and that is if they get the approval. I see people waiting for information on various schemes which should have been made available to them without any conundrum. I see people waiting for ahikari’s (who are in the ratio of one for three villages) signature on various proofs so that they can apply for schemes. I see people waiting for inclusion of their names in Below Poverty Line list so that they can become eligible for schemes. I see people waiting. Waiting for the obvious yet the impossible. Sad part of all of this is everyone knows what is the issue. Everyone knows the right way to make things work. But it all basically drips down to the core of those not being part of policies and rules. One cannot do things that are not in the policy even though it is the right way. One cannot go past the red tape and directly make things happen. So we wait.
Now getting back to the question I started with. What happens to those who wait this far? Well one does become extremely irritated, the emotion which I can empathize with. After that I would have expected them to be more willful and stop not till they get what they want. But no. Something more profound happens then. People give up on waiting entirely. No matter how much ever you persuade them to come to community meetings to discuss on issues related to MGNREGA, they won’t. No matter how hard you try to let them know about schemes, they won’t be willing to take the chances of applying for the same. No matter how convincingly you tell them about malnutrition and child development, they won’t take their kids to Anganwadi. They no longer wait for things that should have been a public good but which made them feel like an outsider and drained their dignity out in all those endless waitings. So now I see them more bold and beautiful this way. Not giving the chance for their dignity to happen to some random schemes and NGOs , they shut down and take what is theirs. A dignified living where no one tells them what to do and how to do.