Community Development in India: Progress or Rip-Off?
India's programs for community development began with high hopes and with a belief that a new way had been found to change India's villages and to offer the prospect of rising output and universal welfare in the countryside. Not every prospect pleased, but the program was widely welcomed thirty years ago when the government of India decided to bring all of India under the pilot project system that had been introduced in Etawah and a few other districts since 1948. Disillusion followed upon
... followed upon disappointment: the high hopes have largely disappeared and now seem naive and even foolish. When I was traveling about India during the summers of 1978 and 1979 and asked about community development, I was told, It is still there," in a tone which clearly implied, "Why do you give a damn?" The attitude was the same in the summer of 1983. The charges that have been made against community development are familiar to those who have been engaged in the study of rural India. Some date back to the earlier years of community development: (1) that the program expanded too rapidly; (2) that many development and extension officers were incompetent because they had been recruited too quickly and given insufficient training; (3) that innovation and adaptation was made impossible by the uniformity and detail of the instructions to the five thousand odd community development blocks of about one hundred villages each; and (4) that "felt needs" were frequently undiscovered; or, if discovered, ignored. To all these one must say, "Aye, true." In later years further charges were emphasized: (5) that block administrations were often corrupt and encouraged corruption; (6) that block administrations became subject to the preferences and even bigotries of politicians, and to the greed and even lusts of elected leaders of block and district councils; and, with growing fervor in the past fifteen years, (7) that the rich and powerful have not' only benefited but have monopolized the benefits, and have done so at the expense of the landless, Harijans ("Children of God" -Gandhi's term for untouchables) and other depressed groups. It is these charges, rather than the charges of incompetence, that give color to the view that the higher orders of society have used community development to exploit the lower orders. The charges are 75% true. There has been much corruption in block administration, much subjection of block administration to politicians, and major benefits have gone to the rich and powerful. But it is not true that the gains of the rich have been "at the expense of the lower orders," or true only in the logical sense that when someone gets something, someone else does not get it. The charges are 25% false in the sense that the "weaker sections" were not made worse off than they were or than they would have been in the absence of community development. Each of the latter charges can be rephrased: (5) that block administrations may have been as corrupt as other Indian organizations with favors to grant and that they did not do much to discourage corruption; (6) that block administrations finally became responsive to the desires of local people, as expressed by their democratically elected representatives; and (7) that benefits went very largely to those with the knowledge, experience, and other resources to use the advice and the inputs provided by the community development programs. Of course, one recognizes that knowledge and experience in dealing with authorities and possession of other resources are at least a good part of what one means when one says that a person enjoys power and wealth-but the connotations of the phrasings differ. And so also do the connotations of rephrased (5) and (6) differ. At least six separate issues have been confused: (1) how far from the ideals performance has fallen; (2) whether there has been progress; (3) who or what should get the credit for progress; (4) who has benefited; (5) who deserved to benefit (which includes the issue of who should decide who should benefit); and (6) how India might improve matters. Common views are that performance has fallen too far below ideals; that the progress that has occurred should not be credited to community development; that richer farmers who did not deserve so much have benefited unduly; and that creation of other systems would improve matters. These views have contributed to the decline in support for community development, but they are often not a good representation of the facts and often stem from unrealistic expectations or inappropriate criteria for evaluation.