KR Ravi | Feb 25, 2009
Beyond the film itself and beyond the awards that the film has received, there is a dimension that might have escaped your attention. This movie has brought into sharper focus India and its development experience.
A correspondent for the Financial Times of London wrote about the movie and how it had brought India into the limelight with heightened interest among Americans in particular and the west in general. People in remote US cities—remote from Hollywood that is—are asking how they can know more about India and visit the country. Americans are learning about the frenetic economic development in India.
Dharavi itself can show us the way to a development model.
Traditionally India has followed a top down model of development in which government and administrators decide what is good for the people. This has not been very effective. I have more than once written about the weakness in this approach. Governments, advised by administrators, tend to think in an urban way. In a discussion about developments in Singrur, Nandigram and parts of Orissa, I pointed out that the urban psyche is different from that of farmers and rural poor. Thus an urban dweller might consider it a lucrative deal if he is given financial compensation for his property taken over for a project. In addition if he or his son is offered a job he will jump with joy. But such an approach has not worked in places in West Bengal and Orissa for example. I have suggested that anthropologists, psychologists and NGO’s working among the rural poor are involved in helping rural poor to cope with a modern world. I am a mere observer of human thinking but I can hypothesize that our approach to rural poor is flawed in the sense that their psychological needs, have not been addressed, their fears about losing their moorings have not been looked at, their sense of sacred places have been ignored their sense of bonding with a community and a place have not even been understood. It is easy and true to say that in West Bengal politicians have deliberately played a negative role. My response is that had the factors I have enumerated been addressed these politicians might not have been able to play as much mischief as they have done.
You may not know that HIV, war, riots, terrorism are not as critical to the poor as you may imagine—these are typical urban myths. Here is what a UN report says, “No act of terrorism generates economic devastation on the scale of the crisis in water and sanitation.” To my mind the scene in which the slumboy dives into a tank of human refuse was probably conceived with this insight in mind.
Slumdog Millionaire draws our attention to the down-up model I talk about. How residents of Dharavi have picked themselves up NOT by state handouts but by taking advantage of accessibility to the market and tapping their own entrepreneur zeal. I surmise that if the state facilitates earning of income then development will take off.
Development experts who have worked at grassroots level in many countries especially India say that the main request of the poor is a means to earn a better income. Dharavi provides that. With the higher income a demand for education, medicines, etc will take off and will facilitate viable delivery of these services. In short empowering the poor to help themselves and to devolve decision making to them may hold the key to development. Bangladesh has done better than India in this respect.
If Slumdog Millionaire serves to stir up discussion on how to tap the entrepreneurial energies of Indians it will serve a higher purpose.
By the way, some tour operators in the US have come up with tour packages for American tourists to travel to India. The highlight of the tour—a visit to Dharavi. I spoke to one such operator. He told me that he was approached by a resident of Dharavi who has agreed to take tourists around the shanty town for a fee.
‘You guys are smart’ he added.
K.R. Ravi is South Asia’s first Dr.Edward De Bono certified public trainer in lateral thinking, and a pioneer in spreading lateral thinking in the Indian corporate sector. For more details, visit http://www.krravi.com or contact him at email@example.com.
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