International Development Aid: Addressing Dalit Issues

Leo Bashyam
31 August 2006
The purpose of this paper is to give an overview of the quantum of foreign aid contributed to Indian development and the role played by International non-Governmental development aid agencies and Bi-lateral and Multi-lateral agencies in this area.

The paper also explains the role played by Indian non-Governmental organisations in the poverty alleviation programme. The paper then examines some of the drawbacks in their aid programme with special reference to Dalit cause and makes some recommenda tions to address these drawbacks.

This paper has been drafted by me and does not at the moment reflect the official views of Christian Aid but has been checked with few Dalit activists. Therefore I suggest there should be a wider consultation before being circulated to the concerned authorities. Please treat this paper as draft for discussion in the conference. The paper will be revised to reflect the views of the conference delegates, which can then be distributed to Dalit and non-Dalit groups in India and outside India for a wider discussion and comments.

The final paper can be presented to the international agencies and others for their consideration. Also I must warn all that this is a topic, which is quite new and no facts and figures are available at the moment. I have suggested a further research to draw final conclusions. However some of the conclusions we have drawn in the paper is based on interaction with many groups and years of experience. Therefore please treat this as a first attempt of a beginning of a wider debate in the months to come.

A. International non-Governmental development aid agencies in India: .An overview:

International NGOs vary greatly in size, approach and focus. Based mainly in the North, most undertake fundraising activities within their own countries and advocacy work at home and internationally. For the majority, India continues to be a priority area for their activities, where they use a variety of working strategies. Some manage their work in India mainly from outside headquarters, while others have non-operational local field offices through which all programmes are monitored. Some international agencies have operational local offices that also run programmes independently of the larger organisation and are directly involved in advocacy work.

International agencies may specialise in one area, such as on children or on agriculture. While some organisations fund projects directly, others work through Indian funding organisations, or instead of financial support provide technical and institutional expertise. International trust funds granting funds from parent companies profits are also regular supporters of development initiatives.

Official data about the number of international NGOs working in India or the total funds donated to NGOs is scarce. As per recent research carried out by CAF India (Charity Aid Foundation) and VANI (Voluntary Action Network India) there are an estimated 18,000 NGOs in India registered under Foreign Contributions (Regulation) act of 1976 in 1999 to receive foreign money without prior permission. Similarly another 4,000 NGOs were granted temporary permission during the period 1990-98 to receive foreign money.

By the end of 1997, the volume of foreign contribution to NGO sector had reached nearly $568 million (Rs26, 000 million), a growth rate of 643% over the last decade. Sri Satya Sai Centran Trust and Maharishi Ved Vigyan Viswa Vidya Peetham alone received 25% of the contributions.

The research shows that only 20% of foreign aid are received by “development NGOs”. The European countries were the single largest world donor group contributing two thirds of the total foreign contribution in 1996-97 and another one forth share came from North America (USA and Canada). The high proposition (i.e. about 93%) came from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation Development (OECD) donor group. Germany, which dominated the contribution for long, has been surpassed by the USA, which contributed more than one fifth of the total contribution during 1996-97. Three leading countries, namely, the USA, GERMANY and the UK, contributed more than half of the foreign contribution.

For the majority of international NGO donors, India continues to be a priority for long-term development programmes due to ample evidence that funds are being used wisely and productively. International developments NGOs are playing an increasingly prominent role in development thinking in India. Over the years they have made significant contributions to poverty alleviation efforts, particularly in the areas of advocacy, gender sensitisation, capacity building, new models of development, networking and north-south exchange programmes.

They have a strong influence among the NGOs in India in prioritising their work and target groups. Because of their proximity to Northern Governments and other international bodies they are in a better position in challenging and influencing their policies. In short they are one of the important players in the field of development in India, in shaping the policies, strategies and programmes of NGOs in India. However, they have also come under criticism for promoting donor driven policies, pushing western ideas on gender, and causing a mushrooming in the number and size of NGOs in certain regions.

B. Indian non-Governmental organisations in India: An overview
There is no one source of data on the vast spectrum of NGOs in India that provides enough information neither to categorise them easily nor to estimate their number. While approximately more than 18,000 NGOs received foreign funds in 1999, many more are legally registered but do not receive foreign money, making them less easy to number. We do know that NGOs are still relatively few in the poorer northern and eastern states, unlike in the southern states, Maharashtra and Gujarat where they have a longer history. Despite this lack of clear information, however, we can group NGOs in India under three broad headings:

i) Charity approach/social service: Examples include running schools and hospitals, eye camps, relief during emergencies, old age homes, child sponsorship hostels, etc. Many of the church run programmes fall under this category.
ii) Development approach: These are NGOs who are involved in long term development, social justice issues and people’s empowerment processes. Their ultimate goal is a fairer and more just society with equal access to resources. This can be further divided into four loose categories: Community development/organisation NGOs, Network Associations, Support Institutions and advocacy/campaign organisations
iii) People=s organisations: These are created by NGOs but in theory are independent of them. Most of them however do not have legal status and in reality are not independent of NGO control.

Positive Contributions
While in the past, NGOs were associated with rich or high profile individuals, today the NGO sector attracts young educated people from the middle classes.

The government has recognised the important role played by NGOs and has included some NGO leaders in government commissions and committees, thereby giving them the opportunity to influence government policies.
In the 1990s many indigenous fund raising efforts made successful inroads into the corporate and middle class sectors. Mobilising funds from local sources, government, banks and local people has become a new source of revenue for NGOs.
Many NGOs are able to reach the most marginalised groups of society, Dalits, Adivasis and women, even in remote areas. Both the government and bilateral agencies have recognised this role and made funds available to support this work.
Many NGOs have proved to be cost-effective in their work by introducing innovative programmes in the field of health, natural resource management, people-managed micro-credit and disaster preparedness.

Many NGOs have played an effective role in addressing national issues like communal harmony, gender sensitisation, environmental issues and people’s participation, and in building people’s movements.

The good reputation of some Indian NGO leaders has led them to advise on global issues (e.g. Global March against Child Labour) and to influence world bodies (e.g. the World Bank NGO Committee).

Areas of Concern
Significant changes in the style and management of the NGO sector are a cause for some concern. The introduction of a corporate style of management, extravagant life-styles of some NGO leaders, a lack of accountability and the continuing lack of opportunities for women staff have all raised questions about the credibility of NGOs and their commitment to the poor.

While, the majority of NGOs focus their work on Dalits, Adivasis and women, the leadership of many of these NGOs remains in the hands of men and members of the upper castes and classes.

The leadership of some of the larger NGOs by charismatic leaders has tended to fragment NGOs and hinder the building of coalitions and networks.

Many NGOs are skilled in working on local issues but do not have the capacity to relate to national or macro level issues, while those organisations working on policy interventions at macro level do not have much contact with ground realities.
NGOs can increase dependency of people’s organisations by maintaining control of leadership, even when they are up and running.

While NGOs today have greater access to government funding, foreign funding is still sought after, as this gives them greater flexibility and more opportunities for long term support.
There is a tendency in some NGOs towards large credit and savings schemes and to view these schemes as the panacea to poverty.

As we enter the 21st century there are many changes taking place around us, and the impact of NGOs work at the micro level is being questioned. A third of India’s population continues to live below the poverty line. People are asking whether the present structures, policies and strategies of many NGOs are still relevant, and whether the capacity of NGOs to bring about change is keeping up with the changing environment. Higher professional standards and systems are expected of NGOs, and advocacy work is becoming increasingly important.

Despite these difficulties the majority of NGOs programmes are successfully facilitating the empowerment of the marginalised. While some NGOs continue to cause concern, the majority is doing impressive work, and credibility and accountability are still high.

C. Foreign Aid to Indian Development: An overview:
There are four main sources of foreign funding to India: bilateral assistance from rich northern governments to India’s central government; multilateral assistance from UN agencies, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, the IMF etc; international solidarity groups, international trade unions and other international organisations funding their Indian counter-parts; and international non-governmental development aid agencies and private trusts funding mostly the NGO sector in India. In the first two cases assistance is given primarily for government-sponsored development programmes in the form of grants and loans.

The official development assistance (ODA) in 1998 was $1,594.6 millions which constituted only 0.4% of India’s total GNP (UNDP 2000) making India less dependent on foreign economic assistance than are many African and Latin American countries. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation Development (OECD) countries is by far the world’s largest group of donors for bi-lateral aid. Multi-lateral aid is channelled through agencies like UN organisations (UNICEF, UNESCO, FAO), the IMF, the World Bank and regional development Banks (the Asian Development Bank) and other institutions such as the European Commission. Subsequent to the opening of India’s economy to multi national corporations (MNCs) as a part of India’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) there has been an increased flow of funds into the country.

However, the impact of foreign aid on India’s development policies is highly controversial. While most aid is”tied” and in many instances given according to the political and commercial interests of donor countries, in some cases foreign aid has served to challenge some of the Indian government’s policies on poverty alleviation. It is estimated that under 25% of official aid is spent on poverty alleviation, and most official aid is channelled through the central government which sometimes uses it for political ends that are not strictly development-related.

The growing tendency of bilateral and multilateral agencies to fund local NGOs directly is a cause for some concern. There is a danger that direct funding could effectively transform local NGOs into contractors, reducing their independence and undermining the empowerment process.

D. Areas of concern of International development aid and Recommendations:

In the context of this paper, Dalits are seen as a combination of all the Scheduled Castes and Tribes in India. Therefore, out of a total population of just over one billion there are approximately 300 million Dalits living in India, accounting for 30% of the total population. Out of these 300 million people, 90% live below the poverty line, a total of 270 million people. It is understood that in India as a whole 345 million people live below the poverty line, therefore Dalits make up approximately 78% of all Indians living below the poverty line.

Within India, due to the largely patriarchal society women face discrimination and oppression at all levels and stages of their lives, this is equally true within the Dalit community. Therefore, Dalit women are discriminated against twice, firstly for being a Dalit and secondly for being a woman, as a result there is the need for a specific focus to be put on addressing gender imbalances, especially in relation to the position of women.
The discriminatory position of Dalits is recognised by the Indian constitution, with a range of guarantees of equality and affirmative action programmes existing to address the issue.

However, within their categorisation of Scheduled Castes and Tribes the Indian Government refuse to recognise Dalits who have converted to other religions, such as, Christian and Muslim Dalits. This is wrong and it is important that International organisations work with all Dalits irrespective of their religious beliefs.

In the North:
1. This topic is quite new and not much detail is available at the moment. To draw conclusions we need to understand the current position of the International development aid agencies that are operating in India with special reference to their general policies and strategies in India, their position and approach to dalit issues, the quantum of aid allocated to poverty eradication programme, the staffing structure dealing with development aid programme and the decision making process in the country.

We recommend that an in-depth scientific study be carried out before any concrete recommendations are made. Once the study is completed the findings should be shared with all concerned people (politicians, civil servants, Multi and Bi-lateral agencies, INGOS, Indian NGOs, Dalit organisations in India and outside India etc). A formal dialogue/workshop should then be held in India (for those who have a presence in India) and in the north to discuss/debate the findings.

2.Awareness raising on Dalit issues among civil society, the general public, politicians, civil servants and the decision-makers in the North are crucial if any changes are to be made in Bi-lateral aid programme. Advocacy and campaigning on the Dalit cause in the North on behalf of the community in India can make a difference in the Northern Governments through their Aid policies. Continuous dialogue and information sharing with the North is important. At the moment there are specialist groups in the North (Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International etc) focusing on specific issues but that alone is not enough. We need a body that will co-ordinate, network, communicate, share information with the various advocacy groups working on Dalit issues in the north.

We recommend that an independent “Dalit Research/Information Centre” be established in the North to communicate and feed regular information to Governments, civil society organisations and other advocacy groups in the North. The centre could undertake further research and co-ordinate efforts with various groups in the North and in India. We also recommend that in all the northern countries, that give development aid to India, at least one advocacy local group should be initiated and supported. This group can lobby the stakeholders in that particular country.

3.Most of the agencies have general and sometimes specific country policies and strategies. Those that have India country policy and strategy paper have developed policies based on poverty angle and refer to Dalits as the poorest sections of society. As I understand it, the analysis, which they have used to come to this conclusion, is mostly based on traditional approach/knowledge and Government facts and figures. I also believe the process, which they normally follow, is not participatory enough and does not reflect the views of the majority Dalit community.

In the process the programmes and strategies for Dalits and non-Dalits are not clearly distinguishable. Different kind of policies and strategies are required for Dalits and non-Dalits as issues and problems are different. Right policy, focused approach and relevant programmes are crucial in the policies. Further research will shed light on this.

We therefore recommend that all the Northern Governments, non-governmental development aid agencies, Multi and Bi-lateral agencies and other groups that give aid to India’s poverty alleviation programme should review their policies and strategies to explicitly reflect the Dalit issues in their papers. We also recommend that at least 50% of aid to poverty alleviation programme should be allocated to programmes that focus on Dalits. This is because out of 345 million poor people in India 90% of Dalits fall under this category and a majority of bonded and child labour are also Dalits.

4.In the North when recruiting staff for the South Asia or India desk one of the main criteria for person specification is good knowledge of Indian or South Asian development issues for the job. Another general requirement used is gender sensitivity.
We recommend that any staff recruited to India or South Asia desks in the north, besides the main person specifications, should also a have a good knowledge and sensitivity to dalit issues as main criteria for selection. We also recommend that all staff in the North responsible for India aid programme at decision making level should undergo a special training or exposure to Dalit issues.

5.Human Rights Watch, a Washington based Human Rights organisation, in its report titled”Broken people: caste violence against India’s untouchables” has made specific recommendations to the United Nations, to the World Bank and other International lending Institutions, India’s donors and trading partners (See the annexure).

We endorse these specific recommendations of the Human Rights Watch and ask the northern agencies to implement these recommendations without delay.

.Most of the International Multi and Bi-lateral agencies, UN organisations, Northern Governments, International non-Governmental organisations work in India through India based offices and local Consultants. They help their head offices in the north to develop policies and help in monitoring their development aid programmes in the country. These offices/consultants play an important role in shaping their policies, strategies and programmes in India. There is a strong feeling among the Dalits and others that Dalits are not sufficiently represented in these offices at the decision making level. A common concern is that the staffs at senior level in these offices are often from a higher caste/class or westernised individuals with professional degrees. There is a feeling that their perspective on Dalit issues may be different from that of Dalits themselves and therefore the Dalit issue may not be reflected in their aid programme. We acknowledge that individuals of all communities and classes can contribute to development efforts for the poor and oppressed, and staff cannot be selected on the basis of caste in International agencies. However, given that a large proportion of development aid is targeted at the poor, the majority of whom are still Dalits, then it is important the views of Dalit community is heard and involved in planning and implementing such programmes. The vast majority of agencies expect staff at senior level to be gender sensitive but may not necessarily require sensitivity to Dalit issues. We believe that Dalits have their own perspective on their particular problems and how they should be tackled and that this perspective should be voiced.
We therefore recommend that adequate representation should be given to dalits at senior levels. We also recommend that in house training programmes should have in-built Dalit sensitisation aspects so that current staff may gain a proper Dalit perspective. We recommend that adequate support and funds should be allocated in developing leadership skills, capacity and professionalism among the Dalit youth with a view that they may be in a position to fill posts at a senior level in the future. As development consultants play a big role in advising the international agencies, we recommend that adequate representation should be given to Dalits in selecting consultants.

7. At the moment the support from International non-Governmental aid agencies is given to the local NGOs with the understanding that they work with the poor who make up 34.6% of the total population (346 million). Not only are the vast majority of the poor from Dalit communities but also the majority of Dalits are poor. From our knowledge many of the NGO programmes which are aimed at helping the Dalit community are service-oriented such as education, health, income generation, housing etc. but very little on social and cultural aspects. Also it is a known fact that many NGOs who manage such programmes lack proper perspective, policies and strategies and in the process the approach is a poverty centred approach rather than rights based approach. As a result the status quo of Dalits is maintained and discrimination and human rights violations of Dalits continues at the same levels. Though service programmes are important for bringing Dalits into the main stream of development what is equally crucial is a rights based approach. Community organisation and empowerment programmes are central to their development. This is equally true of other international agencies and northern governments who direct their aid budgets mainly through the Indian Government, whose approach is mainly, service and target oriented.

We recommend that International agencies and Governments review their development programmes in India towards poverty reduction, include an integrated rights based and service-oriented approaches. Equally important is that there is a focus in their aid programme budget in India to Dalit development and empowerment process by allocating substantial proposition of their aid. This should be one of the conditionalities of northern Governments and agencies while negotiating with Indian Government or local NGOs for their support.

8. The caste system is still a strong feature of Indian society and maintains the gap between the rich and the marginalised. Such division exists more in rural areas than urban areas, as identity of lower castes is easily distinguishable in rural areas. If the caste system has to be minimised, human rights violations against Dalits have to be stopped and Dalit empowerment realised, it is vital that middle and upper class society, boys and girls of all caste/class are part of this process. They have to be educated on the evils of caste systems and Dalit issues not from their parents and grant parents but from their friends and civil society. Integration and communal harmony among different castes is a necessary step towards bridging the gap between rich and poor. The role of civil society is crucial if any substantial changes are to take place in India. We have evidence of similar approaches producing good results (e.g.child labour).

We recommend that aid agencies and international bodies allocate money for development education programmes in India and programmes that help strengthen civil society. The international bodies should negotiate with the Indian Government for such initiatives to be inbuilt into their systems. Civil society bodies should campaign with political parties to include human rights issues with particular reference to caste discrimination in their election manifestos.
9.Dalits continue to be marginalised in terms of education, professional courses, IT and other abilities such as presentation skills, speaking at international forums, media and advocacy skills, links with national and international policy bodies etc that are essential to play an active leadership roles in influencing the polices of various bodies. There are many NGOs in India that work for Dalit causes but lack Dalit leadership. There are various Government committees in India that lack Dalit participation. There is a scarcity of Dalit consultants in the market available to International agencies to help them shape their policies. In short there is shortage of skilled Dalit leadership at various levels.

We recommend that the aid agencies and international bodies give priority to building the capacity of Dalit leadership at various levels. We encourage agencies to support south-south, south-north exchange programmes to learn from each other's experiences and help build networks among similar groups/initiatives at national, regional and international levels.
10. There are many different approaches the NGOs follow with regard to Dalit programmes in India. Some follow integrated approach, some rights based approach, some people’s movement approach and some economic development approach. Some are successful and some have not produced any results. We need to learn from each other where there is an impact and where there are problems. We need to analyse the nature and context of cast conflicts and solutions to such conflicts, assess the political dimensions of Dalit empowerment, assess the different models and ways of working on Dalit issues and sustainability of Dalit organisations.

We recommend that agencies initiate research and impact assessment studies of various Dalit programmes in the country with a view to learn from experience and to build into their future policies and strategies. One of the terms of reference in any evaluation or study should be on the impact of their aid programme on Dalit cause. This is an ongoing exercise that should be built into their programmes.

Source: ambedkar.org

Leo Bashyam, Christian aid, 35, lower marsh Waterloo, London.

http://southasia.oneworld.net/article/view/138553/1/5339

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