PUCL Bulletin, May 2004
Research, advocacy, and human rights
-- By Pushkar Raj
If one does not wish to sound like a contemporary politician one must not under-emphasize relationship between research and advocacy in social and human rights sector. It goes without saying that without the support of serious reflection and research the advocacy would lack desired degree of credibility. Certainly not a very satisfactory situation for the concerned organisations and partners.
If advocacy is to become effective harbinger of change in policy it has to be backed by facts of ground situation that concern people at large at grassroots level. It is just like being a good advocate who studies his case in minute details and convinces the judge of merit of his arguments.
There are areas as mentioned in Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which require detailed and sustained study to bring the situation thread bare in its all dimensions and its systematic redress. We all are aware that the five of the eight MDGs mentioned concern health and education and it is a pointer to the fact as how significant is human development to human welfare.
Take for example poverty. A quarter of billion of Indians suffer from it. Much of it is structural. The agrarian relations as they exist in rural India tend to be direct cause of it. The question is political. Despite Nehruvian humanism, Karpoori Thakur’s and Laloo Prasad’s socialist antecedents, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi pretensions and Mayawati’s avowed commitment to the cause of deprived and down trodden we are burdened with, to use a phrase of Frantz Fanon ‘the wretched of the earth.’ Certainly there are limitations in this regard for partners like us. But that must not serve as cause of cynicism and indifference on our part. There certainly is scope, hope and vast area for action. What is that area of action?
The poor can escape poverty in two effective ways. These are by way of freedom from illness and freedom from illiteracy. The need of the hour is much more effective use of public resources, domestic and foreign, as well as substantial increase in such resources.
The effective use of public resources of course in country like India is responsibility of bureaucracy. The experience has shown that bureaucracy tends to be mere self perpetuating in light of ignorance and indifference of public in general and poor in particular. Information communication technology (ICT) here becomes very crucial. Raising poor citizen’s voice through ‘ICT’ can increase their influence with policy makers - and reduce the diversion of public services to the non-poor for political patronage. By rewarding the effective delivery of services and penalizing the ineffective, policy makers can get provider to serve poor better.
One of the fundamental reasons state services fail poor people is lack of assertion, or in other words, demand as a matter of right from the side of poor. Poor people do not send their children to government schools or take them to a public health clinic. Reasons could be many. It could be poor quality of services, missing material, absent workers, abusive treatment. For example absence rates among teachers and health care workers in public facilities in rural India according to one research survey is 25 percent in primary schools and 40 percent in primary health facilities (Economic and Political Weekly, Feb 28, 2004, p. 908). Similarly in Pune low income purchaser of water paid up to 30 times the sale price of metered water that middle and upper income households receive (EPW, as above p. 910).
In another instance in Delhi when a fruit seller’s child was not admitted in a government school he opted to be silent till he was prompted against it.
Should partners engaged in social sector endeavor to develop niche areas in research and advocacy? One would agree that there are no two ways about it. Focus will certainly help. Disparate actions do lead to horizontal penetration but that remains limited to already aware segment of populace. It has to be supported by effective vertical reach so that the target group is touched and empowered.
Next question is what kind of research and advocacy can be taken up. Any research that has a direct bearing on policy formation and goods and service delivery system at local, regional and national level would be welcome. An example would suffice. A decade of Panchayati Raj in rural India has brought many positive changes in rural India. But it has given rise to many new complexities. One of these complexities is rise of human rights violations against the marginalised sections who might benefit the most from true implementation of Panchayati Raj.
There is a backlash by the existing and newly developing elite. What is the nature of this backlash? Who are the people effected? Are the one who are already marginalised better off or worse off? Can we gauge the degree of erosion in self esteem and dignity by such violations and its impact on effected people’s future lives? Can we do something about it? Can we at least lobby for a legal cell within Panchayats? Can we make Panchayats a partner in checking the variety of human rights violations which are supposed to be protected by the police which is the only institution for the said purpose at the local level?
Can we look into the fact of siphoning of public services, goods and money at grassroots level are not reaching the target group? Can we explore the possibility of using ICT at this level to check the mentioned malpractices?
I believe we can. Need is for a sustained brainstorming, authentic research and consequent committed collective action.
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