I interned with Samaj Parivartan Shakti Sangathan in the summer of 2014. We stayed at the SPSS office which is located in Mahant Manyari Panchayat in Muzzafarpur district in Bihar.
The founder of the movement is the dynamic and inspirational Mr.Sanjay Sahni who doesn’t rest on his laurels of having started a movement of this scale but works tirelessly to empower the people in his district. His passion for his work and the time he puts into it was truly inspiring for me.
We worked on a project that evaluated the impact that SPSS had brought about in the areas where it was working. We surveyed a total of 180 villages both in villages where SPSS was active as well as those where SPSS was not active to try and gain a better understanding of how the presence of this large scale movement had helped people. Our survey was designed to measure the both the tangible and intangible impact that SPSS had had in the areas where it worked. We compared the difference in income and employment gained from MNREGA across different villages to find that MNREGA had worked much better in the villages in which SPSS was actively involved in mobilising people. We also found that the level of awareness among people in these villages were much higher than in others. Our mentors helped us every step of the way; right from designing the survey questions to coming up with the most effective methodology for execution.
Another aspect of our research was to learn about the current level of effectiveness in implementation of distribution of ration under the new ration card system. This was done in order to case for a social audit for PDS to the district Magistrate during our next meeting with him. Our findings revealed that there were a number of families in which the names of certain members had been eliminated from the ration card. Other issues including, local fairprice dealers charging higher than the government prescribed rate for rations etc.
Living in rural Bihar in itself was an experience that taught me a lot about the village economy and gave me insights about their financial and occupational constraints. We got a chance to understand the role of culture and rituals in the villages that we were surveying and how these played into their everyday lives. It was very inspiring to see the active participation of women in the SPSS movement inspite of the fact that the status of women in most parts of the state is dismal even today. Working with the SPSS team gave us a chance to get involved with the daily activities of the Sangathan as well as help put in place future outreach strategies.
Overall, this internship taught me a lot about advocacy and development policy and gave me a chance to interact with some of the brightest minds in the rural development space in India, notable among these is Jean Dreze who conceptualised and rafted the first version of MNREGA in India. This experience in invaluable for me as it exposed me to the gap between Economic Policy in theory and the way things play out in reality, tangibly affecting the lives of millions. I believe these learnings will positively go a long way in shaping my perspective around development policy making which is what I want to pursue a career in.
Masters Student, Yale University