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South Asia

India's New Middle Classes - Friends of Progress or Apolitical Mall-Rats?

Duncan Green's picture

One of the topics that kept coming up during my recent trip with Oxfam India was the role of the rising middle classes. We had a great debate with Aseem Prakash from Jindal University, who is in the middle of a paper on this (I’ll link when it’s published). According to Aseem, different definitions yield numbers for India’s middle classes ranging from 5 million ($10-$20 per day) to 214 million ($2-$4 a day). What’s not disputed, however, is that the numbers are rising rapidly as India’s economy continues to boom.

Behind the numbers are some increasingly complex dynamics, as a new commercial middle class, including rising numbers of so-called ‘lower caste’ entrepreneurs, joins the post-independence middle class of mainly dominant-caste government technocrats who placed their faith in the power of the state to lead India’s rise.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

UN
Over two billion people now connected to Internet but digital divide remains wide

“While citing the rapid development and growth of the Internet, a top United Nations official today urged greater efforts to bridge the ongoing digital divide and ensure that everyone around the world can harness its benefits.

There were 2.3 billion Internet users worldwide at the end of 2011, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo, said in his address to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which opened in Baku, Azerbaijan. In addition, mobile broadband reached more than 1 billion subscriptions, while the use of fixed broadband was estimated at 590 million subscriptions.

“While this progress is surely significant, we have a long way to go in our collective efforts to bridge the digital divide,” he told participants, noting that only a quarter of inhabitants in the developing world were online by the end of 2011.”  READ MORE

'Bricifying' International NGOs is Hard Work: The Challenges Facing Oxfam India

Duncan Green's picture

I spent last week trying to understand an intriguing experiment. About five years ago, Oxfam GB’s 'white men in shorts' left India, along with all the other Oxfam affiliates, and a new, completely Indian-run Oxfam India took over. All part of ‘Bricification’ within the Oxfam family (there’s an Oxfam Brazil in the pipeline too).

So what’s changed? After a period of reflection Oxfam India has opted for a strategy combining programming with increased levels of advocacy in areas such as smallholder agriculture & climate change, natural resource management, right to education and health, violence against women and women’s empowerment, along with a hefty dose of emergencies work and disaster risk reduction. Its two ‘emerging themes’ are urban poverty and ‘India and the World’ – for example the impact of Indian investment in Africa, or India’s role in the G20.

But it hasn’t been easy. The apparently unanswerable political logic of ‘Indianizing Oxfam’ has faced some pretty steep challenges, as I found out in a consultation with partners from Indian civil society. These come in two broad areas: political and financial.

Quotes of the Week: On India's Media Boom

Sina Odugbemi's picture

“For the Indian media, it is unquestionably the best of times and it is also, unfortunately, the worst of times.”

--TN Ninan, chairman and editorial director of BSL group

“Given its size, India presents the greatest challenge to the view that diverse and often critical media will hold power to account.”

-- John Lloyd , FT contributing editor and director of journalism at the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute


As quoted in the Financial Times, October 19, 2012. A week inside India's media boom, by John Lloyd

India's Slums: How Change Happens and the Challenge of Urban Programming

Duncan Green's picture

Got back from a fascinating week visiting Oxfam India last week, so the next few days’ post will be on India, sadly the world leader in poverty (by a long way). One of the areas that Oxfam is keen to develop there is its work on urban poverty, where it already works with migrant labourers, waste pickers, domestic workers, and on issues such as housing and access to identity papers. So I spent a couple of days visiting programmes and talking to partners in the slums of Delhi and Lucknow. (I prepped by reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers – wonderful book)

I know they’re grim to live in, but I have to confess to really enjoying visits to urban ‘informal settlements’, especially at dusk, with that particular sense of intimacy as cooking smells and firesmoke drift through the air and domestic workers, rickshaw pullers and street vendors return at the end of another hardscrabble day to grab an hour or two to socialize and relax.

But today, we’re encroaching on that precious leisure time, chatting to an animated group of slum leaders, mainly women, on the edge of Lucknow (see pic). Here, an Oxfam partner, the Vigyan Foundation, is promoting community organization to demand identity papers, water and sanitation, and access to health and education.

From Kigali to Kabul: The Role of Art in Post-Conflict Reconciliation

Uwimana Basaninyenzi's picture

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the experience of Rwanda, a post-conflict society that is using art as part of its national reconciliation effort. I argued that Rwanda’s active support of cultural industries, including film, music, crafts, architecture and theater, among other art forms, has played a key role in its peace building efforts  in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide that killed nearly one million people. Using anecdotal evidence, I specifically examined the use of theater, which helped national audiences express difficult emotions, re-examine established ideas, and improve their emotional well-being. In this blog post, I will examine how the creative sector has helped facilitate national reconstruction efforts in another conflict zone: Afghanistan.

To begin with, it is important to note that every country’s experience in using art in their reconciliation process is different – anywhere from how their history of conflict influences their engagement to the state of cultural policies in countries. In Rwanda’s case, the government began working alongside international partners shortly after their civil war to establish a platform for the growth of creative industries. Through relatively peaceful periods, they were also able to create an enabling environment that sustained this growth. However, in the case of Afghanistan, the cycles of conflict have made the growth of the cultural policies all the more challenging. Despite difficulties, there are several interesting examples in Afghanistan of how a network of actors, including government, civil society, and international partners, has used art in its attempt to facilitate healing and rebuild national identity.

How are Citizens’ Movements Getting More Active in Asia? Lessons from a 10 Country Dialogue

Duncan Green's picture

Yesterday’s post discussed two of the case studies from last week’s Asia Development Dialogue on active citizenship. Today’s installment covers my more general thoughts  on the discussion, based on some final reflections I was asked to give at the end of the day.

First, I felt pretty privileged to be able to eavesdrop on a conversation between activists, political leaders and academics from 10 Asian countries: a women’s rights organizer from Myanmar seeking advice from a women’s leader from muslim Southern Thailand on dealing with ethnic conflict; a woman mayor from the Philippines asking a Cambodian leader if she had considered expanding her work on nurturing grassroots women’s political leadership to other countries. Fascinating.

Building Active Citizenship and Accountability in Asia: Case Studies from Vietnam and India

Duncan Green's picture

Last week I attended a seminar in Bangkok on ‘active citizenship’ in Asia, part of an ‘Asia Development Dialogue’ organized by Oxfam, Chulalongkorn University and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and supported by the Rockefeller Foundation. It brought together a diverse group of local mayors, human rights activists and academics, and discussed a series of case studies. Two in particular caught my eye.

In India, Samadhan, an internet-based platform for citizens to directly demand and track their service entitlements under national and state government schemes, is being piloted in two districts in Madhya Pradesh and Orissa. The pilot is supported by the UN Millennium Campaign and implemented by the VSO India Trust. Here’s the blurb from the case study:

‘Aadhaar’ is Reaching India’s Poor, but at What Price?

Johanna Martinsson's picture

Since the Unique Identification Authority of India embarked on its unique identification project (UIDAI) in 2010, an estimated 200 million people have voluntarily enrolled.  As discussed in a previous blog, the UIDAI aims to administer some 1.2 billion unique identification numbers by the end of this decade.  The 12-digit online number, also referred to as Aadhaar (“foundation” in Hindi), is issued upon completion of demographic and biometric information by the enrollees. The number will give millions of Indian residents, previously excluded from the formal economy, the opportunity to access a range of benefits and services, such as banking, mobile, education, and healthcare.  The UIDAI specifically aims to extend social and financial services to the poor, remove corrupt practices plaguing existing welfare databases, eliminate duplicate and fake identities, and hold government officials accountable.

Changing Lives through RTI

Luis Esquivel's picture

The Right to Information (RTI) has been highlighted as a key condition for citizen participation, social accountability and good governance, while also being recognized as a human right. In this context, the number of countries adopting RTI legislation has increased significantly in the past decade.

While in some countries RTI has been seen as part of the anti-corruption or state modernization agendas (for instance Mexico and Chile), in South Asia, particularly in India, it has been seen as part of the empowerment agenda. There, the 2005 Right to Information (RTI) Act has been embraced by grassroots groups as a powerful tool to demand their entitlements, especially those under government-sponsored social programs. This has resulted in use of the RTI Act by people to improve their living conditions. Although to a lesser extent, citizens in Bangladesh are beginning to realize the potential that their RTI Act has in this area.

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