My notes and musings …

Posts Tagged ‘communication

Tech Fixes – The unique ID project in India

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I have major concerns about this whole Unique Identification Number project, recently in the news in India, on three grounds :

  • who is doing it?
  • which problem are they trying to fix? and
  • how will the proposed solution solve the stated problem?

Who is doing it?

As I posted in the comments section on Ashwin’s article at India Together, the primary issue I have with the UIDA is that is an “Authority”. One that is not directly accountable to the people.

The establishment of more and more ‘Authorities’ is very unnerving. Cities are no longer governed by elected representatives, services like water, sewage, electricity are being either contracted to fully private entities or carted out as PPPs. In spite of CAG reports that indicate that these entities are as corrupt and inefficient as the govt., we seem to be heading towards creating more such bodies to decide on a bigger slice of the ever shrinking pie of resources.

Technological solutions to governance issues are like pain killers, good till you are popping the pills. Good governance can be realized and sustained only through an aware and participative citizenry.

Which problem are they trying to fix?

According to media reports, the objectives of having a UID range from national security to govt. programs to law enforcement to access to medical records to ‘having a homogenized identification’ – something that doesn’t show one’s caste, class, religion, region, etc. The last reason being the most disturbing. It will take ages before we have a citizenry that is aware and participates in civic issues. So we might as well use technology to show that we are trying to ensure citizen rights. Especially when we are talking about contracts worth thousands of crores !

How will the proposed solution solve the stated problem?

Almost every one going ga-ga on this seem to think the challenge is purely technological and that this challenge can be easily overcome by The Great Indian IT Prowess. Well, storing a billion numbers and running a few lakh simultaneous compare operations is only one part of the challenge. One needs to look at (if and) how this solution would reach a jawan patrolling in Kashmir, or a ration shop contractor in a village in rural India let alone the lakhs of other places where we use identification.

As I see it, like the interlinking of rivers, this is yet another mega-mega project that is intended to show that we are fixing the problem. The lack of an informed and public debate on this and the structures being used do not reflect well on our much proclaimed democratic ethoes. Running after such solutions, we are loosing focus of the problem and the root causes will lie unaddressed that much longer.

http://mnic.nic.in/ is the under construction web site of the agency set up to translate the UIDAI’s UID to a card. The wikipedia page on this has some background information though it is more than a year old.

Written by Dwiji

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009 at 15:49

A report about the chapter visits

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Our experience

We had a great time with all the chapters we visited – thanks for hosting us! We had focused sessions with 7 chapters, plus extended freewheeling discussions wherever possible. We also met with folks from 2 other chapters and a few chapter-less and traveling AIDvasis. These engagements allowed us to revive old friendships and build new ones, while allowing us to get a pulse of the hosting chapters.

This was our first ‘tour’ and we weren’t sure how it would go. But from the first evening in Buffalo, the structured sessions and freewheeling discussions went smoothly. Almost everywhere, volunteers expected a talk, causing some confusion in the beginning of each session. But most seemed to enjoy the discussions, games and the focus on interaction.

Though all the games and exercises were fun, we’d like to specifically mention how much we enjoyed the role-play on group dynamics at Duke and Clemson. The volunteers took on their roles with zest and displayed their interpersonal skills as well as their guile and ingenuity. For us, this game illustrated the challenges faced in situations where information is withheld and the skill required to conduct successful negotiations.

We have a lot to learn and hope that you will continue to provide us feedback. There was an almost universal desire for more personal anecdotes and stories. We consciously chose to underplay personal aspects because our experience is not that extensive. Further, it seems to us that we do a lot of storytelling (which is important) in AID, but not as much analysis of the issue before jumping into the funding mode. We have felt the need and are trying to develop analytical frameworks to discuss each of the topics we presented. Personal experiences have played a very strong, though implicit, role in this process. Following the feedback, we see the need to communicate the personal aspects a little more in future sessions.

Lastly, we keenly felt the lack of time. Maybe it was bad planning on our part or just the breadth of the subject matter, but we never managed to wrap up the sessions satisfactorily. We plan to coordinate more such sessions in the future and will have to improve our time-management skills. Also we’ll call them ‘workshops’ so that people are inclined to budget more time 🙂

Our observations

Each chapter has characteristics of its own, but the common challenge that they all seem to face is ‘volunteering pressure’. Raising enough funds to support projects seems to be a primary component of this pressure. Drawing from our experiences, we shared our ideas on fund ownership, joint projects, using the common pool funds etc. to mitigate this pressure. The loss of organizational learning due to volunteer turnover was another shared concern. It is a challenge that we do not have proven answers to. Balancing the need for a chapter identity and vision with the interests of individual volunteers is a related challenge. Taking a second look at chapter activities with a focus on team building would be useful. Some of the activities we suggested include volunteering within the local community as a group and discussion and reading groups relevant to the work we support.

Volunteering pressure affects issue- and learning-centered interactions the most. Individuals appeared to be improving their understanding through their own initiative. But most chapters did not seem to be in a position to develop joint learning plans. We look forward to contribute our bit towards such efforts through sustained engagement with interested volunteers and chapters.

The enthusiasm and interest of the volunteers we met was heartening. We hope this can be channeled in better ways in the future so that AID will be a more effective organization, both for the communities it supports in India and the volunteer base it has generated both in India and the US.

Written by Dwiji

Sunday, October 26th, 2008 at 03:46

Planning focussed discussions with AID chapters

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For the past 5 months, we have been traveling in India visiting and working with grassroots organizations. We have discovered a lot about these groups and about ourselves. During our trip to Canada and the US in September-October (for personal reasons), we would like to visit AID chapters and reconnect with volunteers.

Proposed topics for discussion(s) (in no particular order)

Our motivation is to discuss issues we have reflected on over the past few months. Some of them have come up during the course of Sudha’s fellowship (Community Health Learning Program) at Community Health Cell, Bangalore. Others have become apparent during visits.

Rather than a brief overview of all these topics, we would prefer to have an in-depth discussion on one or two of them.

  1. Scale and scope of work: What do we mean when we talk about an intervention at the district level? At the block level? At the state level? What is the magnitude of the task being undertaken and how can we gain a realistic understanding of the scale of the interventions we support?

  2. Appropriate technology: While there are many technological solutions that are not just appropriate at the margins but also in the mainstream, why have they not been adopted? Instead, why do we still see resource-hungry solutions such as diesel generators? Societal acceptance is an important component in the ‘appropriate’ aspects of technological solutions – has this not been sufficiently addressed? Are there other parts of the picture that we are missing?

  3. Rural livelihoods: There seem to be very few self-sufficient models of income generation. A lot of schemes seem to be dependent on distant, urban markets. Is it possible to come up with sustainable, local producer-consumer links? How do livelihoods connect to NREGA and other government schemes?

  4. Sustainable agriculture & food security: There are many roads leading to sustainable agriculture – environmental, livelihood-related, spiritual, etc. What are the potentials for scalability for each of these approaches? Is food security for the producers a natural outcome of such programs? What is the role of the consumer? Fair wages for laborers is one of the central tenets of progressive thought, what is the equivalent for the marginal farmer?

  5. Caste and gender dynamics: A lot of the interventions we support are with marginalized communities – women and/or Dalits or Adivasis. When we talk about the discrimination that these groups face, we usually externalize it. But how do the disadvantages these groups face relate to our lives and the visible and invisible privileges we have received? And what, if anything, can we do about it?

  6. ‘Insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ and group dynamics: How does the presence of privileged ‘outsiders’ impact the functioning and direction of a grassroots organization? What are the challenges faced when working to create and maintain a non-hierarchical organization? And why is this important?

We are also open to discuss issues either of us have talked about on our blogs at http://slip-n-slide.blogspot.com and https://dwiddly.wordpress.com


Sudha: I am also interested in learning about the current state of AID-US, especially the ways in which volunteers are able to sustain their interest and commitment. I found that I was not very effective in motivating other volunteers and would like to see if my skills have improved in that area! Also, the above issues require sustained discussions for building understanding and perspective – I would like to add my voice and perspectives and learn from the ensuing discussions.

Dwiji: AID plays a very crucial role in shaping an individual who wants to volunteer into one who asks uncomfortable questions of themselves and of society at large. Sawaal (question) is the wellspring from which the tenets of Sangharsh, Sewa and Nirman draw their energy. The processes that nuture this environment are not very straight forward and are often buried under other layers of volunteering. I would like to share my experiences and perspectives that might be of interest to AID volunteers and look forward to learning from the discussions that follow.


Sudha: I have been an AID volunteer since 2001 and, until early 2007, have been active at the chapter and inter-chapter level. I also served on the AID Executive Board for a term. The volunteering experience with AID has dramatically changed the direction of my life – I have gained new perspectives and, more importantly, the confidence to join in the struggle for rights, equality and dignity for marginalized communities in India. I also joined the ever-increasing ranks of AID couples after marrying Dwiji in 2003!

Dwiji: I was first exposed to political ideas and social in-equities during the days in college theatre, but I was not perturbed enough I suppose. The riots of 2002, in Gujarat, had me really thinking about my silence in the socio-political sphere. I was in Minneapolis and I started taking part in discussions at the local AID chapter there. I volunteered with various teams within AID-US and actively participated in discussions and debates, on phone, in person and online.


It would be good to get a brief writeup of interests and experiences from volunteers in the hosting chapter. So far we had been exploring visiting chapters that are a bus journey (or two) away from Toronto or Minneapolis & St. Paul, the two places already on our itinerary. If there is interest and some support to cover travel expenses, we would be open to visit other chapters as well.

Written by Dwiji

Saturday, September 20th, 2008 at 03:31

Words and messages

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A team of eleven has been short listed by the core team of Sangtin Kisan Mazdoor Sanghatan (SKMS) for an exposure trip to the Narmada valley. With Sudha and me tagging along, it is a thirteen member team that will be going on this trip. Jagruth Adivasi Dalith Sanghatan and the Narmada Bachao Andolan in the Satpura hills and along the Narmada valley are the main focus of the visit. Due to the long distance from Sitapur and the limited time that the families can go with one less wage earned in the day, I will be visiting the Adivasi Mukti Sanghatan alone.

Not having any training or experience in representing the Sanghatan, I was hesitant to take up the task of contacting these other people’s movements all by myself. Encouragement from the active members, my usual confidence in learning while doing, and time pressure made me go ahead and start making the phone calls and sending out the emails. Needless to say, I made sure I kept the appropriate people in the Sanghatan posted about the discussions and copied them on emails.

The NBA in Khandwa has started ‘Jal Satyagrah’ in different villages along the Naramada. The villages face submergence every rainy season as the water level rises due to the dams being built. The project affected people who have not been rehabilitated or resettled hold out and sit on a satyagrah in the rising waters. While corresponding with the NBA folks in Khandwa, after a lot of thought, I expressed our solidarity with the struggle saying, ‘I am pretty sure that our team will join in the jal satyagrah for the period that we are there.’

After reading the CCed email, I received some much sought after feedback from Richa, one of the representatives of the Sanghatan. While writing the sentence in question I was hesitant to make a statement on behalf of the Sanghatan, and added the ‘pretty’ to the sentence. But Richa had a point about the ‘our team’. The NGO sector, in sustaining its heirarchichal functioning, (ab)uses the phrase to include those working under them, but not those of a higher position than the speaker. And in the eyes of most village and regional level activists it has become a phrase that coopts their work without indentifying or giving due credit to those who worked hard. Further, the objective of SKMS is to build strong individuals and activists in their own right and not to build a team that can be called to action whenever the need arises. Given these two reasons, when talking about someone active in SKMS a phrase like ‘Sanghatan ke saathi’ or ‘partners of the movement’ is more appropriate and conciously employed. And I totally agree with her. Hopefully the wrong impression that the sentence might have created will be corrected during the trip…

Written by Dwiji

Saturday, August 9th, 2008 at 07:06

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