Power is the ability to have an effective say. It is to have one’s
say in such a way that what is said matters. To have one’s say, one
needs forums. People need forums for talking. People need structures
for participation to make them feel that they matter. That their
voice counts, that their participation counts.People don’t have at
present such structures as would give them an adequate, effective
and ongoing say.
These forums have to be accessible to people. They need also to be
small in size. The bigger a forum becomes the more the smaller
voices get drowned or go unexpressed. Hence the need for
neighbourhood-based, small-sized talking-forums to institutionalise
people’s participation in governance. These neighbourhood forums are
to be well linked, well-federated at all levels, even up to the
world level, that people have their mechanism, institution, to
interact with governance powers, other stakeholders in governance,
at all levels.
One of the ways we could effectively begin promoting this would be
to insist that the self-help groups of savings, credit and the like,
that are being organized all over, be made into territory-based
neighbourhood groups and then be promoted as neighbourhood units of
participatory governance. The State of Kerela in India has more than
1,75,000 neighbourhood units organized and federated already up to
the third level of federation. The same State had also a movement of
planning by people, initiated by the State, where planning began at
these well-defined, numerically-organized neighbourhood forums. Such
forums were also used for experiments in monitoring by people,
auditing by people etc.
Such neighbourhood groups could be situated within neighbourhood
sabhas (neighbourhood parliaments?). And Grama Sabhas should be
redefined as the federation of such neighbourhood sabhas. When
people have such forums, the Right to Information Act of the
government will become all the more effective. We could also involve
the children in the process by organising them as children’s
neighbourhood parliaments and their multi-tier federations at the
levels of the village, panchayat, block and the district as is being
widely done in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Kerala, has already 35,000
children’s neighbourhood parliaments federated even up to the state
level. They conduct the state level children’s parliament in a
legislative assembly hall of the Kerala State. Here and in various
parts of the nation, children are being initiated into participatory
governance through these, leading to their personality growth and
promotion of leadership skills.
The various other concerns that represent the Millennium Development
Goals (MDGs) could also find a forum for participatory action from
below in these neighbourhood parliaments...
Women in these neighbourhood groups can become the women’s
neighbourhood parliaments and get federated at various levels to
become a bargaining force for women’s empowerment.The same way these
same neighbourhoods could turn up as neighbourhood environment
parliaments with “neighbourhood–responsible” or neighbourhood
ministers for environment. They, federated at various levels, could
again become an effective organised voice at various levels to fight
for environmental sustainability. Again these same neighbourhood
groups could also play the role of neighbourhood health communities
or neighbourhood health parliaments to ensure community
participation in action for integral health.
So too neighbourhoodization of marketing, through such neighbourhood
forums and their multi-tier federations, could be the antidote to
the alienation that globalization of marketing creates. When
organised power for people gets inclusively institutionalised this
way, the people will ensure that promises are kept and that the MDGs
are realised in a way that no other approach would.
From “Miles to Go” Mid-Point Report on Millennium Development Goals
in Tamilnadu 07-07-2007, by Wada-Na-Todo, Tamilnadu.
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Party is over !
Democracy beyond Political Parties
An unsettling question raised its head in various ways during the
elections that just got over.
The question: Can we continue to trust political parties to ensure
the health of the nation? Or, to
put it differently: to ensure the well being of the people of
We saw unimaginable types of criss-crossing, alliances and betrayals
of trust by parties and party leaders of various hues. Even
"ideologies" were thrown to winds. The situation made political
thinkers wonder if there was any more relevance left to the very
concept of political parties.
Wrote Amrita Abraham in Indian Express commenting on '96 elections,
"It seems likely to go down in history as the terminal phase of the
party system we have known since 1957".
is not, yet another party. Not even another ideal leader taking
reins from the existing parties. Given the present structure and
arrangement of things, every party runs the risk of encountering the
same problems. And every leader, of getting submerged by the
pressures of ground realities in the parties.
trends in judicial activism raised fond hops in many that things
could be put under control. But, even the judges concerned are aware
that it cannot be a long-term solution. Asked Justice Bakhtavar
Lentin, former Judge of the Bombay High Court, "If the judiciary is
to be a super government, what will be the check on the judiciary
itself?” Judicial activism is an unhealthy trend. Evidently, when
too much power gets accumulated in the judiciary, judiciary itself
could get corrupt.
People to monitor
What then is
the way out? It appears the only agents on whom we can depend for
the well-being of the people are people themselves. People
themselves need to monitor the processes. They are interested to
know what is best for them. And they cannot betray themselves. They
need to talk. They need to control the course of events. And, not
just once in five years. But throughout.
The challenge, then, for anyone interested in people’s wellbeing is
to ensure that people have the required fora to continually
interact. Health Action has been insisting through its pages that
the present fora are not viable. That they are too big. That we need
smaller neighbourhood fora of about 30 families and their networks
at the level of village, panchayat, mandal, district, state etc.
That such a network could make a people, who otherwise feel
helpless, alert and responsive. With such a network, every other
democratic provision, including the political parties, if need be,
could be made more answerable.
Starting straight away
We need to enter straightaway seriously, almost on a war footing,
into the task of building such "grassroots parliaments." Starting
early this way could give such neighbourhood sabhas (NS) time for a
maturation process that they will be ready to make an impact at
least during the next elections. How soon are we expecting the next
general elections, by the way?
- .Edwin M.J
CHILDREN'S NEIGHBOURHOOD PARLIAMENT
Let me begin
by narrating an experiment we had in a coastal village in
Kanyakumari District called Mel Manakudy. Sr. Sasikala, headmistress
of Little Flower School, Mel Manakudy, was ready to make some new
experiments in the school to make the school children respond to the
needs of the community around.
for her, the village had been organised into 23 neighbourhood
communities of about 30 families each, with each community having a
president, vice-president, secretary, joint secretary, treasurer,
etc. These neighbourhood communities had gone through a
Participatory Learning Action (PLA) process which includes exercises
like resource-mapping, social mapping prioritising of needs through
venn-diagram, goal-fixing, making micro-plans and long-term plans,
did their venn-diagram - called also chappathi diagram -
they used paper chappathis of various sizes to prioritise the
problems they faced and gave the biggest chappathi to the problem of
alcohol. Their calculation showed that as much as rupees 9.8 million
were spent a year on alcohol. This in a village where the people
would plead with their parish priests for a project of three or four
lakhs from abroad for a community hall or so. The school, by way of
responding to this problem, organised the entire children of the
school into 23 groups, basing on the 23 neighbourhood groups the
school children belonged to. Each group was put under a
teacher-animators then were given special sessions by a team from
Thiruppu Munai, an alcoholic rehabilitation centre in the
adjacent town of Nagercoil. The artistically talented among the
teachers put the basic messages in the form of a variety
entertainment that impressed on the minds of the people the various
ways alcohol affected individuals and communities and the ways to
fight the problem. And each of the 23 groups of children was trained
to perform the variety entertainment. On a fine evening, children
took a rally around the village carrying placards and shouting
slogans focussing on the menace of alcoholism. A public meeting
the twenty-three groups of children performed the cultural programme
in their respective neighbourhood communities of about thirty
families each. The fact that their own children were performing made
the programme more appealing to the parents and impactful. The
teachers were there to help in the discussions that followed the
performance. In one such neighbourhood community, a fisherman called
out to his wife as soon as the programme was over. "Come here," he
said in a gruff voice that used to defy the sound of the waves. The
people were wondering what was going to happen. "Take this money,"
he added giving his wife Rs.60/-. "I was keeping it for my drinks
today. But after seeing my daughter perform and hearing what has
been said I have decided not to drink any more."
thought it was only an impulse of the moment. But the man kept it up
for quite some time. A few others too gave up drinking or, due to
the "gentle pressure" of children, reduced the intake or volunteered
to undergo de-addiction therapy.The cultural sessions initiated by
children were followed up in each neighbourhood community by six
more educational sessions on alcoholism conducted with the support
of the parish animation group. Eventually the local St.Andrew's
Hospital had a separate clinic open for helping the alcoholics to
cope with the problem of their addiction.
is an example of how children can make an impact for social change.
Given the neighbourhood community system the village had, it is
possible for a creative school leadership to keep intervening this
way on various issues the village faces and give the children a
sense of fulfilment, meaning and direction and empower them to
become agents of change. However, the above example does not portray
the full import of what we mean by the title,
"Children as agents of change".
as far as the above narrative goes come as "participants" only
towards the end of the process. True, they do contribute as change
agents here. But only as executors of somebody else's plans. Others
identify the issues; others prioritise the needs; others decide on
the intervention; and others work out the strategies and methods.
And children in all these phases are just passive recipients, so to
say, and become active agents only in acting out a programme worked
out by others. But the children could be and do a lot more as change
agents.Elsewhere we have more telling examples of children at the
earlier stages of participation.
stages of participation differ.
participate by being merely the beneficiaries of others' projects!
Some, as in the above narrative, act on others' decisions. Some
participate by just deciding to choose among various alternatives
thought out by others. Some go further and participate also in
identifying the various alternatives to a problem identified and
presented by others. And some participate at the very stage of
identifying the problems themselves. The earlier the stage they
begin the participation, the greater the control they have over the
whole process. The more they are in charge.
Children in Charge
are efforts all over the world to help children to be in charge.
Children refuse to be anymore just objects to be looked at. They are
not anymore to just listen to whatever the elders say without being
listened to. They are not any more to be kept away from
decision-making fora and processes.They are demanding today that
their viewpoints be also heard. They are beginning to participate in
various social and political decision-making fora. They too want to
determine the direction of tomorrow's world.
are not anymore just to be governed but to govern. Not in the sense
of just preparing for tomorrow's governance. They are to govern now.
And they have begun to share governance in certain places. Two
recent publications by Roger A. Hart entitled, Children's
Participation: From tokenism to Citizenship and Children's Participation: The Theory and
Practice of Involving Young Citizens in Community Development and
Environmental Care, contain abundant examples of how children of
various age levels all over the world are becoming participating
example, to get the children of five to six years identify by
themselves the problem of environmental pollution and involve
accordingly? Very simple. Just make them count the number of birds
that come near their class-window on particular seasons, and keep
notes. Later get them compare the differences in the number of birds
in the same seasons of the succeeding years. They will come to
realise that there is a problem and that some thing has to be done.
the various rural participatory appraisal processes like the
Participatory Learning Action (PLA) mentioned in relation to the Mel
Manakudy experiment above are a big help. Children enjoy the various
exercises in PLA wherein communities in the village draw on a big
paper or on the floor various maps which depict the situation of
their village or community, marking with colours and symbols the
various indicators relating to various aspects of their life and
the process is for the entire population, it is the children who
show keener interest in this and come out with more accurate data
and sharper dimensions of the picture. The exercises like
resource-mapping, social mapping, time-line, trend-line etc. give
children a grasp of the situation, the problems, the needs and
challenges that must be responded to. Venn diagram or chappathi
diagram helps them to prioritise the needs and issues and leads them
to formulate their vision and evolve goal statements. In places
where children do their own PLA separately, they go on to make their
own micro or long term plans. Or if it is the entire community that
makes its plans in the neighbourhood, children watch with interest
and see where they could come in.
planning by community, comes the monitoring by the community to
ensure that it achieves what it sets out to achieve. And children do
especially well in this stage. An important aspect in community
monitoring is putting the project and the goals in visible terms
like putting it in the form of drawings, maps and symbols on a
blackboard, chart etc. In addition to the goals, the achievements in
relation to goals are also made visible.
visibility helps the community to comprehend the process and thereby
leads to a greater mobilisation of the community. Such ongoing flow
of information as regards the project the people are involved in,
keeps raising people's awareness of change. It keeps also giving
them a sense of belonging and pride as a community, and enthusiasm
to proceed further. Roger A. Hart gives an excellent example of
community based monitoring from an extremely poor neighbourhood in
little Baguio on the steep slopes of Olongapo in the Philippines:
centre is a large, well-designed community-based monitoring board,
with up-to-the minute data on every house or all residents to see.
Children would greatly enjoy collecting data and mapping it on such
boards. This is an excellent opportunity for school teachers to
engage children in a valuable ongoing role for their communities,
which has great benefits for schoolwork in literacy, mathematics,
and map skills.
of children from district neighbourhoods throughout the community
could become the experts for their neighbourhood cluster and even
take responsibility for establishing a community based monitoring
board among their own small cluster of houses. The radical idea here
is that of making the research process continuously visible to the
community. Determining what indicators a community needs use to
assess its development should be an effort involving the whole
community. Where no community research, planning, and evaluation
process has been established, children can, with a little help,
develop their own monitoring system as a first step in convincing
the community of the value of this kind of research. The critical
step is for children to understand that the first need is to
determine what they wish to assess and then creatively identify
indicators that will accurately reflect that phenomenon.
Brainstorming indicators in-group and then trimming them down to a
reasonable number of realistic indicators would be a fascinating
exercise for school children of any age.
Neighbourhood Community Network
successful operation or community-based monitoring in the
Philippines, for Roger A. Hart, is built on "a neighbourhood
clustering approach." "Each neighbourhood cluster includes 15 to 25
families, who elect a leader to represent their interests in the
larger community organisation. This model could easily be repeated
with school children." Neighbourhood Community Networks are emerging
throughout the world as the new paradigm to ensure people's
participation and governance by people.
Basic communities of Latin America
are an example.
"Ayalkoottams" of fifty neighbouring families each, established
already in215 panchayats by the government of Kerala, networked at
the level of the village and linked to panchayat structures, is
another historic development. A booklet published by the State
Planning Commission of Kerala gives interesting details on Vidura,
one of its model panchayats. Situated some 30 km from Trivandrum,
capital of Kerala, this panchayat has neighbourhood parliaments of
about fifty families each - each of these neighbourhoods consisting
in turn of family-cells of ten families each. Planning begins from
below at these neighbourhood parliaments, called "Ayalkoottams" in
Malayalam. The plans made at these neighbourhoods are taken to the
village parliaments called village sabhas. From village sabha the
plans are referred for approval by the inter-village fora of the
panchayt. As 40% of the "planned expenditure" of the State is put at
the disposal of the panchayats in the state, for them to plan and
implement on their own, decisions and discussions at these levels
carry a lot of weight. Once they decide on implementing something,
then follow also the processes of community monitoring and, later,
social auditing, phases where these neighbourhood structures once
again have a big role.
Where do the
children come in this picture of Vidura panchayat? They too have
here their own children's parliament within each of the above-said
neighbourhood parliaments called ayalkoottam. And these children's
neighbourhood parliaments too are federated. Says Mr. Appukkuttan
Kani, the former president of Vidura panchayat, regarding his
attendance at gram sabha level parliaments of children: "The
children amaze us. They are sharp, specific and forthright. They
even ask us to change our life-styles. They confronted for example
regarding my smoking. How as a president I could fail to give good
example in a matter that tells on health was the concern expressed
... And when our children speak we have no other go," he adds with a
have their own strengths. One of them is their own way of prevailing
on adults. They could call people "uncle" and "auntie" and stop even
a chief minister's car and ask donations for their park, as the
children of the environment-friendly Taru Mitra movement did in
Bihar. They got away with not just a bigger-than-expected donation,
but also with additional money for them to buy sweets. But whatever
be their strengths, like most adults they feel helpless and
frustrated unless they have adequate fora and structures to express
themselves and get things done. Like adults too, hey should be
helped with fora or participatory and direct democracy, for them to
come together, to get listened, to talk, discuss and decide together
and to act together. Here, both for adults and children, the
above-mentioned concept of neighbourhood community networking has
much to offer.
Let us list a few of
the benefits of such neighbourhood networking:
The aspect of
smallness makes it ideal for and even to mobilize it for action. As
such it could offer the most accessible form for children to get
initiated into social action.
It is highly accessible: you don't have to get a bus to
attend the meetings.
It offers, so to say, viable and readymade arenas for
children to enter into action.
The fact that it is
networked gives children scope to expand into ever wider realms. It
gets you automatically to the wider world through its multi-tier
As it includes everybody in the neighbourhood like a mini
electoral ward of the panchayat, and leaves out nobody, it could
effectively speak on behalf of people as a mini or parallel
government. It could claim to be the organ of people's voice, which
in democracy is God's voice.
It can be
effectively linked to civic governance structures and thus could be
a forum or people to participate on a day to day basis in
It ensures better answerability or accountability
It paves way for better transparency in dealings
Monitoring is easier. The beneficiaries themselves, now that
they are organised into viable structures can have an eye on the
processes that are supposed to benefit them.
Ten: Better owning of the
programmes and processes is ensured. The people in the neighbourhood
are the real stakeholders and they will tend to show interest in the
Follow up is easier. Someone living in the neighbourhood
itself could often be entrusted with the responsibility to keep
It is easily the most natural focus of
convergence of many related activities.
Such a neighbourhood-based network or 'a network of basic
human communities' offers a context and a scope for action by
children in a way no other approach does. With such neighbourhood
communities and their networks children could really take charge and
contribute mightily to change the world.
Adolescent Gram Sabhas, an Option for School Health
and Community Action
For the twenty-three neighbourhoods of Mel-Manakudy, a sea-shore
village in Kanyakumari District, India, it was an irresistible
performance. Reason: the actors in this one-hour-long variety
programme were their own children and then also it was not the same
group that performed in all the neighbourhood sabhas.
Neighbourhood Parliaments of Adolescents and Their
Multi-tier Federations in Kanyakumari District, India
Adolescents of about 30 families each come
together in our network of neighbourhood parliaments of adolescents.
Here they analyse the situations around them; discuss the issues
behind; do value clarification; make decisions, plans and budgets;
monitor the process, etc. In the process they get empowered and
grow. Our district has 7,034 such parliaments of children and as
many adolescents’ parliaments. We network these neighbourhood
parliaments through representative structures to form 2,002 village
parliaments, 125 panchayat parliaments, 9 block parliaments and a
citizens – the non-adults – do the job better than the adults! The
children and adolescents often involve themselves better, make
sharper analysis, and are more forthright in their articulation and
keener to get things done. They exert their own gentle pressure on
the adults and leave them with no choice than to get things
improved. In some villages, the problems that remained unsolved for
years like the need for an access road, a reading room, better
facilities at the day-care centre were solved on account of the
interventions by children and adolescents. In Nettamcode they made a
demand to panchayat that streetlights be made available in an area.
It didn’t seem to come through. The adolescents tied hurricane lamps
to the electricity posts. The streetlights came in no time. It has
been a joy for us to see them coming forward to take care of the
less fortunate among them.
Komanvilai, for example, adolescents collected money to support one
among them for his books & school fees. Adolescents in these forums
are initiated to take responsibility for the situations around them.
They begin taking responsibility for their neighbourhoods through
neighbourhood parliaments, and gradually, through their networks,
reach out to the wider world. By accepting responsibility they get
formed as responsible citizens. We call this “formation through
involvement.” We bolster this further by various group interaction
sessions, awareness programmes, meditations, inner healing sessions,
exposure programmes, discovery sessions, etc. The above process of
action by adolescents is backed by nearly 500 Community Mobilisation
Teams (CMTs) which bring together people of various associations and
nongovernmental organisations at various levels.
CMTs are a
component of Convergent Community Action (CCA), a Central Government
strategy/programme promoted by the Department of Rural Development,
of the Ministry of Rural Areas and Employment. Right from the time
of Collector Thiru. Sekaonkhar, Convergent Community Action (CCA)
was introduced in the district. Later Intersectoral Facilitating
Teams (IFTs), another component of CCA, were constituted at
district, block and panchayat levels. Our district accordingly
became the 51st district where CCA was introduced as a pilot
As a part
for this, a special CCA Taskforce for Adolescents and Children of
Kanyakumari District came into being with some government officers
and panchayat and NGO representatives as members. We are happy that
the work of this district-level effort turned out to be one of the
pilot programmes of Tamil Nadu Taskforce for Adolescents which
brings together various related departments, some chosen NGOs and
the UNICEF with a fivefold emphasis i.e. education, health and
hygiene, protection from exploitation and abuse, personality
development, and career development and employment.
programme in the district is limited at present to the rural areas.
The aim is to have nearly 12,000 such neighbourhood parliaments, so
that the entire district is covered and this becomes a model for the
nation. This District Taskforce organises its second District
Adolescents’ Festival on September 30, 2005 to promote awareness and
to encourage them further. Our seminars on this approach, conducted
under such titles as “Governance by Children" and "Communitization
of Education" at national and regional levels continue to be in
demand and people who participate in these seminars keep replicating
the programme in their respective places.
for sustained action for adolescent health. The bane of many
interventions made by many quarters, especially for adolescents, has
been that they have been piecemeal, sporadic, unlinked to other
processes and hence unsustainable and of limited impact. It is as if
interventions come and go isolated, and the problems go on forever.
We see also unwanted duplication and even multiplication of
interventions by various agencies that often end up cancelling out
one another’s effect and neutralising the impact.
naturally is that we be able to evolve a new strategy for
adolescents that is, on the contrary, a well-integrated part of a
concerted process and also sustainable. This requires among other
things that we ensure that the programmes we suggest be linked to
some viable structure and processes that promise to be somewhat
permanent and ongoing and invite participation by all concerned.
Such a structure and process should also promote a “coming together”
or convergence of the various actors, whether governmental or
non-governmental for a concerted effect.
factor that is never to be forgotten in dealing with adolescents is
that adolescents do not want just to be beneficiaries and passive
recipients but want to make their own contribution and to be
themselves partners and agents of the processes for change. An
action aimed at them should also involve them in action. Experts in
youth animation have also been careful in distinguishing “action”
from “activity”: action is a personal response to a situation
involving one’s intellect, will and value systems and it arises out
of one’s personal reflections; activity on the other hand can be
just a routine, mechanical and unthinking act. “Action forms the
person acting; an “activity” can leave the person untouched. Thus
while it comes to forming tomorrow’s citizens, the slogan is
“formation through action”.
intervention then should be tied to a process where people instead
of just carrying out activities thought out and proposed or imposed
by others, are put through a process where they assess the
situations and arrive at solutions themselves. Happily, what we are
after is not just an intervention, but a strategy design. A strategy
that hopefully ensures all the basic components mentioned above.
question then is what could be an approach that is strategic enough
to ensure that
- It is permanently ongoing
- It invites
- It allows scope for youngsters to be more than
- It is formative
- It effectively reaches all
and includes all
- It has significant impact
- It is
adequately “placed” i.e. tied to required structures that ensure
- It is well integrated into other relevant civil
to be some options that we could go for that would help to meet some
of the requirements listed above. One such is the
neighbourhood-based approach. Another, the process of convergence
represented by such government initiatives of the Central Government
as Convergent Community Action. Third, to ensure the above network
of adolescent-animation taskforces is linked at various levels like
the state, district, block, panchayat and the village.
propose is a structure that has been initiated as a part of
Community–Based Nutrition Programme in Malappuram District of Kerala
and by Nala Oli Iyakkam of Kanyakumari District, Tamilnadu. Here
they had a two-pronged structure: one was that of Neighbourhood
Sabhas of about thirty families each and their representative
networks at the levels of the village, panchayat, block and the
district; and the other, of Neighbourhood Groups where membership
was limited exclusively to women in poverty risk groups, and their
networks. While the Neighbourhood Sabhas that included both the rich
and the poor and men and women could take up common civil concerns,
the Neighbourhood Groups that had only poor women as members
concerned themselves with poverty alleviation measures like savings,
income generation, etc.
neighbourhood has its governing body consisting of a president,
vice-president, secretary, joint secretary and treasurer. In
kanyakumari District, they had also “ministers” in each of these
neighbourhoods for various concerns like health, environment,
consumer interests, income generation, etc. These “ministers” too
are networked through representative structures at the levels of the
village, panchayat and the district. We wish that the action for
adolescent health too converged at the neighbourhood. That the
various sectors involved focus their efforts at the neighbourhood
structures and forums.
Nothing assures as
much permanency as a neighbourhood-structure. As long as the
houses in the neighbourhood are there, the neighbourhood
continues to be there.
It ensures better
answerability or accountability.
paves way for better transparency in dealings.
It is right on the
target. Ultimately every activity is aimed at people and
people live in neighbourhoods.
Monitoring is easier. The beneficiaries
themselves, now that they are organised into viable
structures, can have an eye on the processes that are
supposed to benefit them
ensures easy organisability.
Especially when it comes to
adolescents, it offers viable and readymade arenas where the
youngsters can put into action whatever they learn.
cost-effective. You don’t have to take a bus to attend
Better owning of
the programmes and processes is ensured. The people in the
neighbourhood are the real stakeholders and they will tend
to show interest in the interventions.
Follow up is
easier. Someone living in the neighbourhood itself could
often be entrusted with the responsibility to keep track.
It is easily the
most natural focus of convergence of many related
Organised neighbourhoods, being small
in size, well- defined and networked could offer the most
accessible forums for adolescents to get initiated into
social action and expand into ever wider realms.
facilitates flexible, situation-specific responses.
An example of what this neighbourhood-based action by adolescents
can achieve is the community-involvement programme by a high school
in a coastal village called Mel Manakudy in Kanyakumari District.
Here the entire village is organised into 23 neighbourhood
communities of about thirty families each. Each of these
neighbourhood communities has its ministers for various concerns
like health, civil amenities, etc. And the school wanting to make
the school community responsive has taken the initiative of
organising the entire body of school children into twenty-three
student groups. That is, students hailing from each of neighbourhood
communities form a separate group with its own governing council and
a teacher animator to assist it. The students then are conscientized
regarding the problems affecting the village and are helped to make
the required interventions in their own neighbourhood.
One such case: the “ministers” from the neighbourhood communities -
i.e. the adult category - identified alcoholism as a major problem
affecting the village and wanted to have awareness and treatment
interventions. The school-neighbourhood-groups supported this effort
in an interesting way: each student group went to its neighbourhood
community and performed a variety-entertainment programme where each
item was meant to educate the people on the immensity of damages
alcoholism causes. The fact that their own children in the
neighbourhood were performing had a welcome effect with a lot of
impact. The performance by the high school students turned to be the
curtain raiser for further five serious evening sessions in
neighbourhood communities on facing the menace of alcoholism. The
school is planning to involve its adolescent students in such
interventions on other concerns related to health and environment.
sectors – whether governmental or non-governmental - make various
interventions without reference to one another. This takes away the
scope for a concerted impact and leads to dissipation of energies.
Against this background comes a shining ray of hope in programmes
like Convergent Community Action (CCA) where various government
sectors and voluntary forces come together to plan together at
CCA that is
initiated as a pilot measure in some fifty districts in India
through the Union Ministry of Rural Areas and Employment has four
• Intersectoral Facilitating Teams where government
functionaries functioning at levels like the village, the panchayat,
the block and the district come together at their respective levels
to plan and thus to have a coordinated impact.
Mobilisation Teams (CMTs) where representatives of NGOs, women’s
organisations, youth associations etc. come together.
Panchayat councils and gramsabhas.
• Four: Neighbourhood Groups,
especially of poor women, which so to say become the focus of
convergent approach leads to mutual reinforcement of various
initiatives and sustained impact. Our interventions related to
adolescent health too would be the stronger if they were linked to
such a process. This would call for some policy lobbying. Maybe our
own initiatives in integrating such a process in the youth
interventions we plan could turn out to be a trendsetter inspiring
other sectors to follow suit.
Adolescent Animation Taskforces
way of initiating such a convergence would be to get adolescent
animation taskforces organised at all levels. i.e. the state, the
district, the block, the panchayat, and the village. The Adolescent
Animation Taskforces should bring together, the panchayat, the
school, Tamilnadu Integration Nutrition Programme (we understand it
has an adolescent contact programme), the govt. health services,
voluntary health services, non-governmental organisations,
youth-focus organisations, youth organisations themselves etc. for
planning and implementing health interventions through a
neighbourhood-based adolescent network. (Paper presented by Edwin M.
J. at the Taskforce for Adolescent Programmes in Tamilnadu sponsored
NEIGHBOURHOOD MARKETING PARLIAMENTS
Alternative Marketing through
While dealing with the
various self-help groups in the district, we found certain problems
crop-up very often when it came to income-generation activities. To
explain: The marketing world today seems to be characterised by
'Brands' seem to be more determinant today than the quality of a
product. People do not, say, ask for coconut oil as they used to do
in earlier times. They rather ask for, say, 'Postmen', 'Idhayam' or,
so i.e., the brands given by various firms.
spend big sums trying to promote and popularise the brands. Be it
through T.V. advertisement, competitions, cultural programmes, etc.
The problems for the poor entrepreneurs here is that they, being
poor, cannot compete with mega marketing forces in creating a slot
for their own product by projecting another brand. They could end up
by being losers in the game.
factor is the mega forces that keep the sale outlets with them. The
big market forces give a lot of incentives to the retail or whole
sale dealers, which the poor entrepreneurs are not able to give. The
incentives include big commission rates and other perks. The big
companies are able to do so
• Because they do it in large scale
as a part of a mutually supportive multi- enterprises system; and,
• Because they have confidence in their sales promotion system.
the poor women in our self-help groups, for example, produce curry
powders of various sorts. The consumers who use them were highly
appreciative of these powders saying that they were of high quality
and genuine. Still what get sold are the products by big companies
which are found to be of lesser quality than our products.
How do we beat the problem? How
do we ensure that we sell our products without spending too much on
building brands which, any way, we cannot afford? How do we ensure
that, even in spite of all the incentives given by big market forces
we still have an abundance of sale outlets?
• The answer we
found seemed not only to solve the above problem but also give some
• The answer is to make the thousands of
neighbourhood parliaments, we have, serve also as buying and selling
The approach we propose is as
Each neighbourhood community will elect a “Commerce
Ministers” will each be responsible for buying things that are
required for the community. That means whatever can be bought
together are bought together for the community.
ministers will be federated at the level of the village,
panchayat, block and the district.
Each block will have a
marketing centre, equipped with a van that will transport the
material to various panchayat centres.
From panchayat centres
the village centres will buy the stuffs and make the provisions
available at the neighbourhood level.
The commerce minister
at each neighbourhood will run a kind of an informal shop where
the materials will be sold to people.
The entire structure
would be like a chain of marketing societies at various levels
beginning from that of the neighbourhood.
The various households
in the neighbourhood will become the members and shareholders in
the marketing society. They will get dividends according to the
shares they have from whatever profit the society makes at
The fact that the
profit comes to their own selves could be an incentive for them
to buy through the neighbourhood networking system.
The approach could be
such that it does away with unnecessary travel expenses. The
first market should be within areas where they can reach without
a transport vehicle. Vehicles are only to be used to take it to
areas where they really need it.
This approach of getting the things produced in places as near
to them as possible give also an opportunity to people to
counter check as regards the authenticity and quality of the
marketing system is integrated with the present support and
subsidies given by the government for income generation programmes
through self-help groups, we could go a long way. What we envision
is a system where the poor, especially women will get:
- Work and wages for their
work as workers;
- Dividend from profit from their products as shareholders;
- Share from profit from their products as co-owners;
- Commissions for the sales as sale agents;
- Profit from the sales as co-owners in the marketing
- Good quality items at reasonable rates as consumers.
The above would mean
• Selling the concept of a neighbourhood network based marketing
• Creating consumer interest consciousness as a part of the process
• Getting shares
• Getting 'commerce ministers' identified and fixing their emolument
• Training them in finance management system
• Networking the neighbourhood commerce ministers to form 'village
commerce council' and evolving procedure for their functioning
• Federating the above respectively to form commerce councils at
panchayat, block and district levels
• Finding the infrastructures, instruments and transports required
for the above
• Continuously monitoring, guiding and motivating them
• Ensuring a professionally competent staff to guide the above
Once this is
done, we believe we would have found an effective antidote to the
alienating tendencies of globalization. With the above vision in
mind, this particular project aims to achieve the above in the nine
blocks of Kanyakumari district. The thrust of the present
application is alternative marketing. We have seen that income
generation measures, especially by poor women, will not bring in
adequate results unless adequate provision is made for alternative
propose to have a network of hundreds and thousands of neighbourhood
community-based sale out-lets, federated at various levels into a
marketing. This will be owned and controlled by the
people-at-the-base, instead of being exploited by various types of
middle-men. The structures mentioned above were organized in a
ten-year long process with health, children's welfare and poverty
eradication as the major thrusts.
neighbourhood groups and women's self-help groups are in thousands
throughout the district. The neighbourhood units meet once in a
week. The village/panchayat meetings take place once in two weeks.
The block meetings are held once in a month. And the district
parliament meetings are held every second Saturday.
years these structures have won the attention of both government
departments and various other social thinkers and voluntary
organizations. We are getting visitors from various states coming to
study this programme. People as far away from Kanyakumari, the
southern most tip of India, as Manipur situated in the North Eastern
part of India, are visiting the project very often to study the
programme. Our focuses over the years were in terms of savings,
credits, income generation, children's rights and governance by
alternative marketing programme is not just about getting better
income in a mere short-sighted venture. It comes also as means of
strengthening the movement for neighbourhood parliaments. Our vision
of global multi-tier federations of neighbourhood parliaments is a
call for a new political, social and economic order. It is
structural struggle for a society, brought about through structures
for direct democracy or sociocracy that go to rout out the
helplessness that people experience in the merely representative
democratic structures that we have today.
NEIGHBOURHOOD PARLIAMENTS OF WOMEN
IN POVERTY RISK
The state of
Kerela, India, has a very interesting programme of neighbourhood
assemblies (ayalkoottams) for peace.
A trend-setting programme
that has won quite a few international awards as one of the best
A short note
success story I could think of as regards partnership for
development to eradicate poverty is the one of Kudumbashree of the
State of Kerela, India.
This is a
programme where we experience the partnership of the various
departments of the central and state governments, the
community-based organizations, banks, UN agencies like UNICEF, NGOs
and even business firms.
government of Kerela, for example, has geared eight departments of
the state government to focus their activities on these
community-based organizations (CBOs) of the poor in terms of
neighbourhood groups and their federations.
that makes it especially appealing and effective is the focus on
systematic involvement or partnership of the people at grassroots,
especially the poor women and children, in terms of what could call
neighbourhood parliaments, in Malayalam "ayalkootams", of about
fifty families each.
especially on "vanitha ayalkoottams" or the neighbourhood
parliaments of women in poverty risk: the State has 1,84,435
Neighbourhood Groups (NHG's) such neighbourhood units of poor women
federated into 16,934 Area Development Societies (ADS) and 1058
Community Development Societies (CDS) at the level of the local
aim when it started: to eradicate absolute poverty in ten years.
Their achievements as per their report of July 2008
families covered: 36,33,797
Thrift: Rs 9,841.4 million
Credits: Rs 24,887.9 million
Mobilized as loan from banks: Rs
Acres of Land under Lease Land Farming: 50,445
Group Micro Enterprises: 3,282
Individual Micro Enterprises:
Dwcua Units: 1,740
Urban Self Employment Programme : 25,034
New houses: 44,410
activities this multipartite programme focuses, are human resource
development of the poor, community health, education, children's
neighbourhood parliaments, infrastructure development, micro finance
, destitute rehabilitation, lease land farming, micro house, micro
enterprises for income generation, etc.
involve children in the process organizing 43,782 neighbourhood
parliaments of children and federating them at various levels like
that of the area, panchayat, block, district and the state. The
children actually had their state parliament meeting in the
legislative assembly hall of Kerela state. Among the much
international recognition this programme had over the yeas was the
choice of it by UNDP as one of the best 15 best practices in the
world. The thing that makes it a success is the systematic,
neighbourhood-based, small group-based organization and federation
of the people at the base, with focus on the most vulnerable in
poverty risk groups.
themselves identify those at comparative poverty risk levels using
externally observable criteria. The state government reinforced the
programme further through its "people’s planning campaign" where the
state set aside 40% of its planned expenditure for projects planned
by people themselves in their neighbourhood forums and their
federations. Whoever be the partners, people should have the
ultimate control over the process and people are effectively
organized and linked miracles can happen.
Neighbourhood Parliaments and Peace Building
The whole world remains so
interconnected today that we cannot have peace in any part of the
world unless we work for peace in the entire world. We are all
interrelated and interdependent.
Such global peace needs global efforts for peace. We have
responsibilities in this regard. We all make the world we live. We
wish we consider the following in working for world peace.
A New Peace Order
impossible without justice. We need to work for a just world, if
global peace is to be ensured. Such a world would include a new
political order and a new economic order. Such a new world order
would call also for democratization of power. People should be able
to exercise power not just on a once-in-five year basis as it
happens in the present representative democracies. We need also to
have provisions for direct democracy where people at some level are
able to have an ongoing and effective say on how the world is to be
run. Placing the chances for peace in the hands of a few power
hungry politicians as is done now is a risky proposition for world
Structures for Peace
Democratization of power calls also for structures that are
appropriate and adequate for people to exercise power. One of the
ways to ensure power structures for people is to promote
neighbourhood parliaments and federate them at various levels like
that of the village, panchayat, mandal, district, state, nation,
international regions and the world. When people have such “talking
forums” or parliament’s people will find it easier to articulate
their views and have them heard; and when they speak it will be for
peace as none is more interested in peace for people than people
multi-tier global federation of neighbourhood parliaments could be
thus a step in the right direction to give expression and thrust to
the yearnings of humanity for peace and justice. Hence we propose
the “Dream of new world governance” as a structural provision to
ensure peace. The structural provision we feel is as important as
building attitudes for peace.
of Life, Love and Action for Peace
Interreligious, interracial dialogue through neighbourhood
parliaments. The bad situation is that tomorrow’s wars are likely to
be religion-inspired. So too, racism – its Indian version, casteism
- divides people but destroys peace. Various forms of terrorism base
themselves mostly on religion and ethnic identity. Religions and
ethnic animosities are threatening world peace. We need to learn how
to be peacemakers in such situations.
Identities and Sensitivities
positions taken by people on various issues, the identities with
which they associate themselves are precious to people. They enjoy
being respected in the positions that they have taken and in their
of dialogue is sensitive to such sensibilities.
Dialogues processes, whether among individuals or religions or
races, are best served when they follow certain principles.
Focus on what unites or what is common rather than what divides.
• Appreciate the good points in other identities/ religions/ groups.
• Be wary of pointing out the negative aspects in other identities/
religions or castes.
• If you are pointing out the negative
aspects, let it be first on your own religion or group and let it be
done in an attitude of constructive self–criticism.
Dialogue of Life, Love and Action
Unfortunately, for too long, inter religious dialogue has remained
mostly a cerebral affair limited to a few elites. It has to come
down to people and to grassroots. Dialogue among religions, cannot
be merely one of ideas. We need also dialogue of action and life.
of action means: whatever we can do together with people of other
religions we do it together with them. When we work with people of
other religions this way, we create better trust and good will.
make the entire process of dialogue of life, love and action a
mass-based movement at grassroots when we have neighbourhood
parliaments of people and their multi-tier federations.
www.ncnworld/papers/dream to know more about neighbourhood
parliaments and their global federations ??
Whereas a people’s system of monitoring and involvement will help to tone up any health promotion system,
Whereas people themselves are the ultimate stakeholders in community health and as such are keen to make it work if only they are given adequate forums and structures for the same,
Whereas presently people do not have viable, inclusive, participatory structures that are small enough for the “small’, most vulnerable and the least, to actively involve and have a say in an ongoing way,
Whereas in big forums the small voices of the “small” and the most vulnerable get drowned,
Whereas health is an inclusive concern with not just physical, but also mental, social and spiritual dimensions,
Whereas mental, social and spiritual health, especially, will not be achieved by people without some sense of dignity and scope for participation for people,
Whereas community health is not supposed to be a mere extension service to rural areas wherein people remain mere passive recipients and objects, but more to be a process of empowering people to claim and obtain health as their right,
Whereas even as regards physical health, the concern is not just to be in terms of preventive and curative involvements, but also promotion of all that lead to health like safe water, balanced nutrition, and affirming social interactions,
Whereas all the above require organized responses by people at the base,
Whereas inclusive, territory-based organization and federation by people, will make the contribution of local and other governance structures towards health more effective,
Whereas the present self-help groups are not territorially and inclusively organised so as to measure up to the above challenges,
It is proposed
- That neighbourhood health communities (NHCs) be organized all over India;
- That these NHCs be territorially organized units of about thirty families each*;
- That these NHCs be inclusive like mini-wards, within wards, where everybody residing within the territory is considered a member;
- That these NHCs have each its own office-bearers like president, secretary, treasurer etc;
- That these NHCs each prepare a health action plan for the neighbourhood, using Participatory Learning
Action (PLA) techniques and taking into account preventive, curative, and promotive aspects;
- That these NHCs be federated at the levels of the ward/village and the panchayat to form respectively ward health sabhas, panchayat health sabhas, block health sabhas and district health sabhas, interacting with decision-making forums and governance structures at the respective levels;
- That these NHCs and their federations at the above-mentioned levels be enabled to help keep monitoring the services of health providers and promoters at the base and holding them accountable;
- That these NHCs and their federations be motivated and enabled to do also documentation and promotion of indigenous home remedies and alternative therapies;
- That these NHCs and their federations be encouraged to involve in activities like promoting home gardens of organically grown vegetables; alerting people on the need to balanced nutrition; organizing heart-fitness measures like walks, exercises, relaxation, meditation, yoga and counselling; administering DOT for TB patients; taking responsibility for midnight blood check for filariasis; planning and organizing for AIDS-related prevention, community-based care and rehabilitation measures; anti-alcoholism campaigns etc.;
- That the base level staff of the government health departments and of programmes like ICDS be directed to integrate and focus their programmes on and make maximum benefit out of these NHCs and their federations;
- That gradually these NHGs are guided to be the base for a community health insurance system enlisting also the services of government and voluntary sector institutions;
- That the above be promoted as joint ventures of government and non-government organizations, international funding partners, community-based organizations and panchayat raj institutions.
* 30 could be the standard number. It could be from 15 to 45 families. Where self-help groups are territorially organized, two neighbouring self-help groups could make a neighbourhood health community (NHC).