I woke last morning to the Twitter's top worldwide trend: "Main Bhi Chowkidar", literally translating to "I too am the Gatekeeper". That got me curious and I explored further to understand how this simple, yet punchy Hindi title got everybody's attention. What made it so unique, that everyone irrespective of political affiliations seemed to be tweeting that they too are the gatekeepers of this country.
The answer lies in the full text of the tweet. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: "But, I am not alone. Everyone who is fighting corruption, dirt, social evils is a Chowkidar. Everyone working hard for the progress of India is a Chowkidar". This statement, invoking a strong sense of ownership and responsibility for India's development, seems to have struck the right chord with the masses. Thus, instilling a belief that they too could make a difference and chart out the course for India's present and future.
This community-led approach stands in direct contrast to political campaigns that have involved dynastic or personality-centric politics. It also signals a change towards democratisation of Indian polity. As we all know, public policies in the past 60 years have disproportionately focused on the supply mechanics of development like building of schools, houses and toilets. Very few have focused on addressing community behaviours that are fundamental to social change. While a people-centred approach brings about a fresh wave of enthusiasm for demand-led development.
Whether it's "Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao" or "Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan", it is wrong to conclude that they are mere communication campaigns. What we fail to acknowledge is the role of communication in changing mindsets which in turn lead to a change in behaviour. You can only build a toilet, but it takes a behavioural change to have someone actually use it. But how do you change behaviour in a country that is as diverse as ours?
With inequal distribution of resources and varying degrees of socioeconomic development, it becomes pertinent to talk about equitable development. And as we consider approaches to address the equity question, we will first need to break the various caste, class, gender and geographical barriers, that prevent equal opportunities for all at the first place. Has the current government been able to break some of these barriers? Let us reflect on some of the major government programs in light of socioeconomic mobility.
Breaking of caste barriers
In my understanding, the most powerful programme for social change has been Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. In a society where we have historically disadvantaged communities, a prime minister picking up a broom and doing what has been classically considered as a 'dirty' job sends out a very strong message. Debunking the feudalistic mindset that keeping your surroundings clean is a job merely designated to the so-called Dalit communities, India took a major step in changing some of these societal norms. For the first time did India have such a big public drive towards sanitation and community health.
The message was very loud and clear: It is indeed everybody’s business to take individual and societal responsibility for keeping your surroundings clean; whether this is the house, community or nation.
The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has indeed brought about a significant degree of change in community behaviours. Today, if you find someone dropping a piece of garbage on the floor, then there is high probability that someone will remind you of Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan and pinch on your moral and social consciousness.
Breaking of class barriers
Similarly, an equitable distribution of economic resources and access to equal opportunities is of utmost importance, in breaking of class barriers. According to the World Bank Global Findex report, of the 51.4 crore bank accounts opened between 2014 and 2017 worldwide, it was found that a whopping 55 percent were from India. So, has been the case with a strong push for Digital India and cashless transactions. With over 100 crore mobile users, the number of mobile banking transactions shot up from nine crore in 2013 to 187.2 crore in 2017 and the number of E-payments shot up from 220 crore in 2013 to 2070.98 crore in 2017. Thus, financial inclusion and digital penetration seem to stand out as solutions for breaking of class barriers and upward socioeconomic mobility.
Breaking of gender barriers
Despite forming 50 percent of the population, women-centric development has traditionally never found a lot of political support. Neither do women represent a particular caste or a vote bank nor do they represent an economic class. It is in this context that Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao marked a watershed in the prioritisation of women's agenda in Indian policies and programsme. If we look at the data, nearly six crore free LPG connections were distributed to rural ad urban poor women, 9.68 crore household toilets were built, 1.5 crore Sukanya Samridhi accounts opened, 1.3 crore ante-natal check-ups done and the paid maternity leave was increased to six months.
These are indeed some significant measures that will go a long way in breaking gender barriers cutting across the various socioeconomic strata. In addition to only women public schemes, it is also necessary to focus on gender breakdown of beneficiaries for major welfare programs. Data shows that 17 out of 33 crore Jan Dhan accounts belong to women, 70 percent of the 15.3 crore beneficiaries of the Mudra Yojana are women and that women SHGs have quadrupled between 2015 and 2018.
Conclusively, it may be noted that India has taken a step forward towards people led development. This includes invoking a sense of ownership, inculcation of a national temperament and breaking of caste, class and gender barriers. "Main Bhi Chowkidar" indeed has the potential to turn into a mass movement for social change with an applied focus on individual responsibility for socioeconomic development.
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Updated Date: Mar 18, 2019 18:55:01 IST