Intern’s Report

Intern’s Report – Adhip Amin, SPSS Intern, 2015.

[[Adhip Amin, a recent undergraduate from Christ College Bangalore, lived in Mahant Maniyari at the SPSS headquarters in July 2015.]

After spending fifty – two, interesting and somewhat exhausting hours in a train, from Bangalore, with an ex- Indian Air Force fighter pilot who flew Indira Gandhi, an ex – CBI chief of the South Indian branch who apparently interviewed Rajiv Gandhi during the Bofors scam, and a young engineer about to begin his internship with a microchip company, I arrived in Patna on an extremely hot and sultry afternoon.

The following day, on a windy morning, I travelled to Mahant Manyari village, where the Samaj Parivarthan Shakiti Sangathan (SPSS) has its headquarters (HQ) and where it is most active. Mahant Manyari is 70 kilometres north of the part of the Ganga which hosts Patna on her banks. As is the case with the rest of the Indo – Gangetic plain, the land is flat so much so that distinguishing between land and a water body is hard; the horizon is so clear that one can see an individual walking or farming from probably a few kilometres away – one of my best memories of the village is waking up one morning and walking out to the compound to see a man cycle on a narrow road  between two large trees far enough, but not enough for one to not notice them together, with the morning sun making the image clear to see, difficult to imagine and easy to remember.

Sanjay Sahni, founder of the SPSS, and electrician par – excellence, picked me up from the old and venerable – Mahant Maniyari High School, incepted in 1928. The school serves not only as an educational institution, but also as an important landmark as there is nobody who knows not of the school in the area. After we greeted each other he took me to the HQ. When I entered the premises a few women in the entrance greeted me with ‘’Zindabad!” I responded back feebly and timidly. Living in Bangalore, I was completely unused to this sort of enthusiasm and energy, and the causes of it. As the days went by I would unfortunately and frustratingly let this division come in our way. I would often feel like an outsider.

In the time I was there, my work was rather unstructured. I primarily shadowed Sanjay around, trying to understand the demand for MGNREGA, the sentiments that the program generated, where it went wrong, how the SPSS would mobilize and act in the face of fraud and corruption,  the caste dynamics of the villages and rural economy, and of course what Sanjay and Santoshji thought and felt about all of these issues.

The staff of the SPSS are the beneficiaries, and most of them are women. As Sanjay likes to put it: all of them, including him, are part-timers. He spends 10 out of 30 days in Delhi working as an electrician and the remaining time in the village, and many of the karyakarthas too spend a significant amount of time either in farming or animal husbandry. The prime motivation of the SPSS is to empower society to deal with the state, to act collectively in the face of misappropriation and corruption, in a non – violent, and non – partisan manner.

Here lies the brilliance of SPSS: collective action not only for achieving a political and economic end, but also for self – improvement and for strengthening the individual – to enable each one to stand on her own feet, and be independent. Participation in SPSS in not restricted to only activism but also to teaching and learning. Sanjay believes in constantly talking and persuading people –  “bas mein har roz sirf bolta hun’’ [“I only spend all day talking”]. Time and again, one can hear Sanjay reiterate: ‘’mein sirf rasta dikhatha hun, mein unka kam nahi kartha hun, na karna chatha hun. Mera lakshya yeh hai ki log mere upar depend hi na kare.’’ [I only show the path; I don’t their work nor do I want to. My goal is that people must not depend on me”].This was not simply a political statement,

when I got there, Sanjay was in the midst of reforming and decentralizing the SPSS to smaller and smaller units, a lot of his functions had been allocated to a number of veterans within the organization. His wish was to decentralize it to the level of the individual. This is now called the ‘Small is Beautiful Campaign’ –Har aadmi aapne aap mein ek karyakartha hai.Every person is an independent activist.

While I was there, Sanjay spent considerable energy on the structural change and also on what he does daily: auditing of the MGNREGA. Mazdoors come to the headquarters typically if they haven’t been paid their dues. He compares the number of days that people have actually worked in the scheme with the information available on the website and with wages people have actually got with that what they have been allocated online.  He then writes a letter to the authorities highlighting the discrepancy and request to take action, if this happens on a large scale, usually an andholan is announced.

When I got there the mood was tense and people were quite agitated because no work had been provided for 7 – 8 months. The allocation of work under MGNREGA has reduced considerable due to two reasons: one, a broad, nationwide reason is that the disbursal of funds has reduced considerably since last year and b)  PRS (the panchayat Rozgar Sevak), who are responsible for allocating work, were on strike due to lack of payment.

When I once told them that the delays was probably in preparation for cash transfer because the government thinks that too much money is going into MGNREGA, Lakhi Devi, a member of SPSS, posed a very simple but powerful question: “har kanun mein brashtachar ho raha hai, tho har kanun bandh karegi sarkar?” [“There is corruption in every scheme. Does that mean the government will close all of them?”] She was questioning the ability of the state. Further, one can time and again hear people deeming all politicians as corrupt: ‘’sab chor hai’’, which hits at the legitimacy of the state.

Fieldwork is tough, and especially for somebody coming from the comfort of a nice city with very nice weather, it requires discipline – equanimity of mind and a religious like sacrifice for comfort. But as one goes along, one can see clearly the sheer clamour for thoughtfulness that SPSS appeals to. I realized, with my limited stay there that this not only makes thinking about policy more honest, but also cleanses the intellect of any wanton falsehoods, and hopefully, makes one humble.

 

— Adhip Amin.

30
Jul

My Internship Experience with SPSS – Tanya Philip, SPSS Intern, 2014.

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.

-Tanya Philip
Masters Student, Yale University