Ek cup Chai- A cup of tea!


Look at the picture above. Anything interesting? At the first glance, No right?. Just some big  bundles of browning old paper, steel shelves overburdened under their load, some steel utensils, a make-shift stove. The shiniest thing in the picture is probably the white and blue dustbin. Did you notice the fire lit under the pan? Doesn’t that degrade the importance of the papers stored in this place even further, if they ever held any to start with.

The above picture was clicked in a Secretariat in Haryana. These files are possibly all the paperwork filed in the office over the years. So much for documentation, so much for record keeping. Oh Paper, thy fate has come to its end. Digitalisation is on its way to rescue you of your weight dear shelves.

Doesn’t this picture look a bit chaotic at the first glance? Now, to a Sarkari office this is a powerhouse! And if this didn’t exist, chaos would entail.

Arrey, zara bachcho ko Chai pilao, badi dur se aye hain” (Get the kids some tea, they’ve travelled far to come here). Thats what we heard every government official we visited say. From, the tehsildar to the District collector. Chai, suddenly felt like an equaliser. This place provided the chai for entire office, be it the DC or a Block Engineer. One of the services of the office everyone took some pride in. Chai– it arrived within ten minutes of it being called for. What kind of a cup it arrived in depended on the rank of the official. Not only the cup, the length of the conversation was also determined if you agreed to drink the chai or not. You had to say yes to the chai, cause denying it would mean that the official will be restless and not at ease while speaking to you. Meeting us was like a break for the officers. A breeze of fresh air, a moment of contemplation, and finally someone to talk to who didn’t have to butter them for something more important than just answering some questions for their college project.

“Bhai kahi publish mat karna, hame sarkar ijazat nahi deti kisi sarkari cheez pe tippani karne ki”, (Kindly refrain from publishing anything I say under my name okay, the government doesn’t give us permission to make comments on anything related to the government). Now this statement was mostly made by all officials apart from the ones on the top. They were the bosses and were very measured in their responses. They also weren’t so afraid of making statements and having them published, they had the DPRO to take care of them. Or maybe they knew that we were oblivious to actual big matters that would make them insecure. The DC, DCP, ADC sat on the first floor and others on floors above, ranks decreasing as you went higher. There was palpable amount of power in the air on the first floor and it decreased as one climbed to upper floors.

We just floated from one office to another consuming all the chai that we could and absorbing all the information take came with it.



Nidana- Sports Field

ये मैदान देख रहे हो आप, इस मैदान पे हमे गर्व हैं इसने कई राष्ट्रीय और अंतर्राष्ट्रीय पहलवान पैदा किये हैं.

IMG-20170323-WA0042(This ground that you can see is the pride of our village, it has produced several national and inter-national wrestlers).  This was the way they described the sports field to me. The villagers were really proud of that sport field and that was evident from their faces. This place actually had something unique which even I noticed, people from age groups ranging from age 4 to 50. There were around 70 to 80 trainees who used to practice twice a day, early morning and in the evening for 2 to 3 hours per session. All this was done under the supervision of the coach who is an ex-army person and had represented India couple of times in Kabbaddi in Asian games. The coach took an initiative in the year 2015 to build an indoor wrestling ground so as to have place with proper infrastructure inorder to overcome the constraints of the climate. This helped them practice even in the rainy season and in extreme weather conditions.

The village also has a youtube channel named as Kabbadi Haryana and the village hosts a kabaddi tournament every year in which wrestlers from every part of India come to participate in the tournament.

This initiative was supported by villagers and they were able to raise funds worth 50 lakhs within the village and without any government funding or any other external funding.  The sports ground is built on the pond’s land as this land is well connected with roads and situated in the heart of the village but if the government would have built the stadium, it would have taken the panchayat land which is quite far and doesn’t have great accessibility. This is done with the help of the community and we were able to raise 50 lacs internally within the village without any government funding or any other external funding said the coach to me.

But in the year 2016, when the stadium was under construction, due to natural calamity the wall fell down and it led to the extra expenditure of 5 lacs. Still, there is a long way for the stadium to reach basic standard as it still doesn’t have basic things like a mat and other stuff. They are looking for government funds as it is impossible to raise the money they require from their own village.

Around 100 people of different ages gather every day for this sport. They pride themselves in aiding the recruitment of 150 people in the army, paramilitary forces and police.  The status of this land is that it is gram panchayat land. This land is in access to the pond. Land, although is a pond land therefore with consensus amongst the villagers, the land type has been changed.

“We lack fund. I can only take care of the things they do here and I don’t charge a single penny from them for training them. But what about things which are to be done at home, particularly the diet. I can only suggest them a particular diet but I cannot see or force them to take that diet because not everyone is financially strong enough to take proper diet.  At the same time, diet is a very important component and it has to be a protein and nutrients rich diet. These wrestlers are not given proper diet and also do not have proper sports kit and accessories” informed me a coach.

विवेक जी आपसे बस एक मदद चाहते हैं की आप कैसे भी इस गाँव को रेसलिंग स्टेडियम के लिए सरकार से कोई मदद दिला दीजिये. इन बच्चों में बहुत हुनुर हैं ये हुनुर पैसे के आभाव में व्यर्थ जा रहा हैं (Vivek please help us to get government funding for the indoor stadium, as these children are really very talented and all these talent is going in vain in the absence of funds). This is how the meeting between me and the coach was concluded.


Is data our new oil?

Mukesh Ambhani made a mind-blowing statement recently in the Nasscom leadership forum, “The foundation of the fourth industrial revolution is connectivity and data. Data is the new natural resource. We are at the beginning of an era where data is the new oil”. He made this statement in the context of market transactions but we think it helps explain the crisis our study group faced on the field as well. State is our guardian, facilitator and what not and there is not even a single day in our daily life devoid of the State, yet it remains like an alien to most of us. We thought of this gap in several dimensions and one interesting aspect struck us. The lack of information or data or “awareness” in public policy terms.

We were shocked to see people rushing to even primary school teachers to find solutions for their life threatening problems. What was interesting here is not whether the primary school teacher is a capable enough or not but why would she/he know a solution to that? Why do the people run to them instead of the ‘police’? Are they not aware of the role of police? Is it that they don’t trust the institution of police?. These questions troubled us throughout. However during the process of study we came across several such instances wherein the common factor was that people really want information but do not know whom to go to?

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On the other hand we realised that the same lack of data about the appropriate state institutions leads to two serious problems, 1. Citizen left helpless 2.Top bureaucratic offices becoming “information cells” instead of “activity cells”. They are forced to spend a significant amount of their time and energy in connecting people to the concerned state institutions. Our State is a complex web of multiple channels and departments that we could see that at times even the senior bureaucrats are  left clueless about how to maneuver through them.


This experience on actual field triggered us to think of possible solutions. The state has devised several welfare schemes and institutions but are mostly left unutilised thus leaving our facilitator State in the darkness in-spite of all efforts because of the lack of connectivity. We thought of something that could get the relevant data to the citizens  so as to connect them to the appropriate state institution in place. The one stop for citizens in to get all sort of information thus in a way connecting citizens to state. Decomplexization of the State mechanisms.

On the other hand if activity cells turning into information cell is a big problem why not have an information cell in every village.This cell should be the first point of contact for any citizen faced with any problem in the village. The Cell will function like a specialized help-desk  capable enough to listen to citizens problem and connect to the concerned state institution. This can save people’s time and effort in from running into the wrong institutions based on wrong information.Apart from saving citizens time and energy the cell also ensures bureaucrats some peace of mind to do what they are supposed to be doing.Institutionally the cell can be located in very Panchayat office which ensures availability and cuts down expenditure.Now for better accountability and financial viability we were thinking of the cell in the form of a market model wherein they will be paid by the people themselves on a transaction basis.A  kind of similar model would be Akshaya centers in Kerala. This ensures better performance and above all saves government exchequer.

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What do you think ?



The whole post/Piece is completely the result of discussions amongst Aparna ,Vivek and myself. My role in this post is limited to a representer of the discussions ,narratives and ideas that came up in the group discussion.

The Growing Gap between the State and the Local People


The exposure of my field visit in Gujarat which starts from its two villages of Kutch and Aanand where I interacted with the local people and it ended by interacting with the bureaucrats who are the representative of the state/government. The whole field interaction started with the question of knowing what the local people meant by the  term ‘state’ and what the state has done for them in terms of delivering services and at the later part I moved towards the bureaucrats querying them about what they do for the citizens and how people see them as a government body. As we all know, the duty of the state is to deliver services to the citizen and on the other hand, the citizen has the full right to procure the services provided by the state and into this mechanism of the state there is no such issue between the give and take system of the state and the citizen i.e. policies and schemes are being implemented by the state for the citizens but the thing that is lagging behind is the miscommunication between the state and the people. The government are not aware about the problems of the citizens and the local people are also not aware about the mechanism though which they can reach out to the state/government for their needs and problems.

During my interaction with the villagers what I came across is that the local people are less bothered about the existence of the government though there are facing lots of issues in terms of public services but they are not willing to recognize that these services should be provided by the state. They are satisfied with whatever the state is doing for them, as for example: even they are getting water supply once in a five days they have no complain against the state regarding it and they are quite happy with it. The reason behind it is that people are not aware that who are responsible for their problem; even though we have the decentralized system where the state reaches to the last people but it is not functioning in the way it should be for the local people. It might be the case at the local level that gram Sabha and gram Panchayat does not possess the authority to send the people’s concern to the high level or as an institution it has become weak and invisible for the people. It is the story of only one sided where the citizen gets benefitted from the services and on the other side the state has no knowledge about the local level. By communicating with the government officials, it can be understood from them that they are providing tool for the community participation like gram Sabha for the people but it is the people who do not attend for their benefits and other than this, even after providing free education for the children, the parents do not send their children to school. Therefore, it can be understood from this that government have no idea about the ground reality as there is no proper need assessment done and also there is no proper acquaintance regarding who are responsible for which work. This is why local people face issue of where they should go for to solve their problems. As while asking bureaucrats about the issue of construction of a road and in regard to this he replied that the road does not come under his jurisdiction and it is the gram Panchayat who is authorized for it. Hence, to make the schemes and policies to reach out to the beneficiaries there are a need of mediator who will fulfill the widening gap between the state and the citizen. We have to give the power to the local level or  prevent the weakens of the local government and if we do not work on it there is no meaning of decentralized system because it is taking the citizens more far away from the state.


Inside stories from shyamgadh and Nidana…

The people in the two villages of shyamgadh and Nidana who lived in the abject poverty are not in a position to attend panchayat meetings. Most of them are even not aware of the functions and the activities of Gram panchayat and hence cannot realize the importance of panchayats. Although we were told not educate the people but I was not able to stop myself to inform them about the functions and activities of Gram panchayat and their independent  importance in the decision making. There were many incidents of the biasedness of the Sarpanch in distributing the benefits of any schemes, where the people who are close to them are directly benefitted from a schemes even when they do not deserve or the schemes is not applicable to them.  The responses I received from the people were also quite reasonable and justifies why they don’t attend the panchayat meetings and gram Sabha as there priority is to earn money to sustain their family and sparing one day for the meeting will cost them a day’s earning. I decided that it is important to explain them about the importance of the meetings since it will benefit them in the long run.
The gender based discrimination was clearly evident from the fact that people name their daughter as marni (which means die) and batheri (which means enough).Gender discrimination was apparent to the extend that we feared if a male can even interview a female member of the community.We decided all the female interviews will be taken by Aparna and minu. It was really very hard for us to not educate or ask them to stop such discrimination.

Gender and Field…a complicated story!

The choice of a place like Haryana for the field work came with several apprehensions right from the beginning. Without consciously alluding to myself as a ‘woman’, I was made aware of my gender in many more ways in the 4 weeks that we were on the field than I have been in the 26 years of my life.

It is important that I begin this story with a short introduction of myself. Being born in and raised in the city of Allahabad, I wasn’t necessarily raised like a modern metropolitan city girl. Hence, the social contexts of a small town and even a village isn’t really an unfamiliar site to me. But when I took the decision of choosing Haryana as the site of this project, both me and my peers were in slight alarm. The group, composed of six students, it was to be distributed in two teams of three each for Gujarat and Haryana. The fate of the only male member of the group was pretty much final from the point when the sites were finalised, he would go to Haryana. The other two team members were, me and another girl student who is from Kerala. So the first question regarding gender was answered at this point. But the question of gender did not leave us here. The second team member faced a tumultuous amount of questions from her parents in the following months since this project was entirely student designed and there was no “responsible adult supervision” involved which is generally the case with projects that India students participate in. There wasn’t going to be anyone in the field from the university to keep an “eye” on us and we were the primary decision makers for most part.

The beginning of this experience was at the check-in at the Clark’s hotel, Karnal. Even though the Hotel staff was courteous and very cheery we were very aware of the suspicious eyes that followed us from that day onwards. The days that followed we made sure that when the staff were cleaning or came to our rooms for something they always saw all three of us together and never the combination of a boy and a girl behind closed doors. It wasn’t something we talked about and decided amongst ourselves, but it still seemed like the right thing to do. While in Karnal, we went out to the village for conducting the interviews for which we used public transport. The negotiations with reference to fixing the fare for the travel were essentially limited to the male friend. Conversations on the field were also segregated on the basis of the gender of the interviewer. While it was a given that my male colleague would correspond with the men, we conversing with the men was not essentially seen as ‘unthinkable’. However, the possibility of Him conversing with local women was unthinkable. While we needed to interview people from different occupational backgrounds, this meant that going very early in the morning would be considered ideal because that’s when the people still haven’t left for work or during late evening after the men of the house have come back from work. Both going very early morning and late evening came with the risk of not finding adequate transport to get back to the hotel. While our male colleague could travel in an auto, it was almost a given that if we were with him, the people from the village that we were visiting with would drop us back home. While this was an inconvenience that we did not wish to cause, we were compelled to believe that letting them drop us back would be the ‘right thing to do.’ One very important component of the visit was the clothes that we chose to wear. Having being sensitized by several people around with reference to the clothes we carry for the field, we had carried only ethnic wear for the field. It was now that I felt the need to go to a store and invest in a ‘salwar’ or another piece of clothing that did not differentiate me from the natives, nevertheless my “mall-bought-max-salwar” didn’t really help me much to gel-in with the crowd.

Now came the day when we attended the Lokinti survey training in The Horticulture Institute  in Karnal (Haryana). In a room that had a seating arrangement made distinct on the basis of gender, I found myself to be the only individual for whom getting a seat from where I could hear the speaker was more important than if I was sitting next to a girl or a boy. The cosmopolitan experiences of my life have enabled me to identify with a lot of characteristics that go beyond the definition of my gender. While conversing with the speaker (who happened to be a man), I was least concerned about the way my views would be perceived basis my gender. And this was reciprocated by the gentleman who has had similar cosmopolitan life experiences. While my friends from APU (2 more girls and 1 boy) were the people I interacted the most during the time of the training, the eyes that seemed to follow the effortless interactions that we were having amongst us were many. At the risk of sounding patronizing, I was sensitized to the different cultural experiences that the individuals sitting in the room (several local field investigators) have had. My female friends and I were lauded in public for showing the ‘courage’ to come from far away places to Haryana. The fact that we had travelled this distance despite being girls was a very clear undertone to the conversation that we had with others. Having lived away from home for more than 7 years, I have spoken with my family members about once a week. While these conversations would be limited to questions pertaining to my health and general well-being, the time that I was on the field, I received calls twice a day to check if I was ‘safe’ and was reprimanded if I missed a call and didn’t call back. Although I consider my family to be very unorthodox with reference to my interactions with all sorts of people coming from different backgrounds and different social groups (gender even), my female friends and I were reminded everyday that we are ‘women’ and that our cosmopolitan experiences will not fly in the setting that we were in. A female friend of mine is in the habit of smoking. However, a walk to the local paan-shop meant that she could not go there alone without my other male-friend. While there, it was imperative that it looked like He was buying the smokes and not She. Daily experiences such as these made me more appreciative to the liberal life that we live in the cities.

There then came an evening when we were invited to the house of the local co-ordinator. It is necessary that I describe the background of this interaction. The house of the co-ordinator could easily be described as modern. With LCD TV Sets, and 3 cars to zip around the city in, our co-ordinator’s husband was a well-established lawyer in Karnal. After a sumptuous meal, my friend suggested that after the field work, she was keen on going around in the North and visiting Amritsar. This inconsequential suggestion came with an hour long discussion about how it might not be a ‘safe’ choice to make. It puzzled us that thought processes of the people who we perceived as ‘modern’ was so influenced by the context that they were operating in that it made them react in the way that it did.

While leaving Karnal, we were given a somewhat unsettling image of Jind. Apart from being a Jatt-heartland it also has a notorious image of being an extremely difficult district in terms of law and order. However, we were determined and decided to still visit the district. Jind is one of the most backward districts in case of gender disparities. The ADC in Jind was a woman from Lucknow who, while functioning in a context such as this, was seen as a ‘Memsaab.’ This sense that what she was doing was more commendable by the virtue of being a woman was visible in the interactions that she had with people. She was the first female officer that we had come across so far. She and I reminisced about Allahabad guavas and the congested lanes of Aminabad over a cup of chai in her office. Her extremely polished and polite tone took me back to my homeland where talking fast or raising your voice is considered extremely rude. After a while she asked us to sit on the side and observe a meeting she had to head. The meeting was to essentially take a quarterly update from and to allocate tasks to the Swachch Bharat Abhyan village volunteers and authorities. We saw a major shift in her demeanour while interacting with the village authorities, it was a site to withhold. A woman from a backward State in a position like this in a place with the above mentioned social context. This meeting filled all three of us with a new spark and a motivation for working in Jind. On one of the days in Nidana (the village we chose to study in Jind) while we were in one of the government schools, we (the girls) were made to speak with the students. We were made to feel like what we were doing was great by the virtue of being women. The amount of pressure that we felt while talking to the students and urging (on being asked to) the girl children to achieve big things and follow in our footsteps was immense. This was further exacerbated by the fact that we did not think what we were doing was essentially ‘path breaking’. Here again, the choice we had to make was of using the ‘right’ words, ‘motivating’ words. Obviously, we couldn’t have said “YOLO” and “party hard”, not that thats the advice I give to motivate young people but you get it, right? So, we went with the traditional “Identify your interest and work towards them”.

Then there also came this one “doomed” day in Panchkula. By this time all three of us had spent a lot of time in the field together and got very comfortable with each other. It was a cold November morning and the person who got our tea for us walked into the room while my male team member and I were on the bed within the blanket for only one reason, to stay warm. The man stopped in his tracks and stared at us and also we got very conscious and jumped upright. The days that followed were filled with continuous self-blaming for being so careless.

Our experiences in the government offices were varying. While visiting government offices in Panchkula and Karnal was an effortless exercise where we only had to worry about the conversation that would ensue with the officials, visiting offices in the districts such as Jind meant that we first needed to worry about what time we were visiting, were women officials present and whether there would even be enough people around for us to feel ‘safe’.

While it might be difficult for me to point at a particular situation where we were faced with a conflict because of the context that we were in, the aforementioned incidents made us think about the gender question and the context in which this question is operationalized in the larger sense. What kind of an effect do the field experiences of young female development professionals have on their work and eventually on their lives? Masking one’s choices to suit a particular unfamiliar context can disturb some and can seems natural to some, depending on their own backgrounds. This then brings us to the main question of whether it is relevant to speak of unbiased field work in terms of gender. Can and how can we ever control for this factor, gender, while analysing the data collected? I am yet to find answers to these.


The Anganwadi system..

The word Anganwadi means “courtyard shelter” in Indian languages. Indian government initiated Anganwadi’s across India in the year 1975 as part of the Integrated Child Development services. The intention of the designers were to  combat  child hunger and nutrition but their activities now would range from pre-school education to even contraceptive counselling and supply. The institutional structure also provides for an Anganwadi helper. The helper helps in basic things like cooking, cleaning etc. The Anganwadi worker and helper are the basic functionaries of the ICDS who run the Anganwadi centre and implement the ICDS scheme in coordination with the functionaries of the health, education, rural development and other departments. Their services also include the health and nutrition of pregnant women, nursing mothers, and adolescent girls.


Today in India, about 2 million Aanganwadi workers are reaching out to a population of 70 million women, children and sick people, helping them become and stay healthy. Anganwadi workers are the most important and oft-ignored essential link of Indian healthcare. But they are often not paid adequately. This   functional aspect of Anganwadi’s deeply touched us during our study. As part of our study on citizen’s perception of state we got several opportunities to interact with various Anganwadis in and around Haryana. We were left shocked to realise that the Anganwadi workers end up paying more out of their own pockets than their salary and reimbursements put together. In most cases these Anganwadi workers are from poor economic background and are expected to first meet all Anganwadi related expenses on their own and later apply for reimbursement. This is how Anganwadi as a state organ function on a daily basis, first payoff the expenses on their own and later reimburse. When we think of it theoretically it sounds feasible but field takes you to another perspective. On field as mentioned above we realised that most of the Anganwadi workers are financially insecure who are expected to meet all expenses initially. Naturally more than effectiveness of their interventions they will be concerned of nothing but money. To our surprise they said that there were instances wherein they received the reimbursements a year later and not received at all as well.

I am personally of the opinion that this meagre salary explains the inefficiency of various Anganwadis in India to a large extend. This connects well with our Panchayats wherein each Panch is paid only 3000 rs per month. What is even more surprising is that it is through these Anganwadis and Panchayats is government dispensing most of the welfare schemes. Institutionally and theoretically both Aganwadi and Panchayat are structurally sound but outside the theoretical world, these institutions mostly fail why? Lack of appropriate reward can be a good reason as pointed out by the Anganwadi workers themselves. As any reasonable individual they will always try to ensure their security over the institutional preferences.3000 rs per month do not even ensure the bare minimum sustenance.Knowledge about the difference in various state institutions on paper and ground is a reality check and will aid in formulating effective implementation designs in future.The on-field knowledge counts here.