Seema Anand is a doctor of narrative practices and partner at Tharoor Associates. The opinions expressed are her own.
The word Rural has taken on a life of its own almost – at least in the third-world paradigm. It has ceased to mean a sylvan idyll or alternative geographical positioning or even ‘not urban’.
In India today ‘rural’ has come to imply extremes of poverty and deprivation and bearing the brunt of this privation are the women of this alternative geography – they deal with prejudice, malnutrition, hard labour, no health care and injustice.
And while think tanks think and governments govern, while academics pontificate and politicians orate no one seems to be able to come up with a solution to mitigate their lot.
I am tired of reading books, articles and film clips about these horror stories. I want to know what is being done.
It is not really rocket science – after all, it was not always thus.
But fixing it will be a long term project that will entail serious commitment and hard work – and perhaps that is why it is still an issue not a solution.
The women of rural cultures are neither weak nor inept – au contraire. As products of the deprivation that they are born into and endure all their lives they are by far the most resilient of the human species.
They improvise, they innovate, they eke a little something out of nothing and they have their own unique sets of skills.
So what is the reason for their worsening circumstances, the soul destroying poverty that is still their lot? Lack of sufficient aid? Corruption eating into resources all the way down the line? A lack of facilities, of education? It is of course a combination of all of the above but the real reason is something far more basic than that.
It is a new found urban disdain of home spun skills in the shadow of ‘developed’ know-how. In choosing to discount the importance of the indigenous skills of the rural community we have robbed them of the chance to earn a decent living through alternative expertise.
Instead of celebrating it we have reduced their skill sets to the scrap heap of ‘rural novelty’ – pointless and irrelevant in the ‘real’ world of technology and globalisation.
It is not that these women do not have the skills or the abilities to work their way out of poverty. It is just that their skills are not considered marketable. If a market could be found for every one’s skills…………
Mahatma Gandhi said India lives in villages and so he propounded what he called ‘village economics’ – a self sufficiency born from making everything yourself and using everything you made.
This year, Davos is building statues to commemorate Gandhi and reiterating his theories. This month, economist Jeff Sachs is proposing himself as next head of World Bank and talking of reconfiguring society to accommodate everyone’s expertise. I am told this will spell positive change for the women of rural India.
This will create a market for their expertise.
I am also told that solving this issue is akin to stopping and turning back – no one really has the time to do it!