Contextualizing Development in India: An alternative perspective

The major theoretical frameworks of development lie from being capitalistic, to social, to being somewhere in between these two models. Throughout the process of defining these approaches, there have been many proponents and opponents for each one. Development as a concept in itself is multifarious. In the present context, the measure of a country’s growth is highly based on the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) or related parameters. Despite social factors being taken into account a good amount of appreciation is given to the capital gains. The social aspect usually remains hidden under the vagueness of socio-economic development. However, this gets worse in the Indian context where the politics and development models are maintained to preserve the hierarchy.

Measuring Development-The Fault in Poverty Line?

The poverty line in India is measured as per the criteria given by the Tendulkar committee which has taken into account many factors such as education and the importance of micronutrients in the diet also as a defining factor. Despite progress in the previously designed parameters, it still does not consider the real reason for poverty in India. The real reason for poverty here is not economic centric but is due to highly complicated and rigid structures of the nature of Indian society itself. On careful analysis, any critical and intellectual mind can see that most of the people who are living below poverty belong to Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). On the other hand, most of the white-collar jobs are taken by the “Upper Caste” groups. This factor, however, does come much into the national or international debates on poverty in India.

Another Pillar in Indian Development Sector-Non Governmental Organizations

Another thing to highlight here is that recent years have seen immense mushrooming of NGOs (Non-Government Organisations), most of them using this as a platform for their business enterprise. Immense NGO-isation and its flawed approach itself do not allow people to understand why they are being oppressed in the first place. The presence of such charity based organizations is very worrisome because it not only allows the state to escape from its responsibilities but it also rips the people from their ability of self-governance.

How should development be understood?

The first and foremost criterion to understand development lies in the art of contextualization. The nature of development should not only be based on the binary classification of rural and urban India but must be inclusive enough for every resident. The fact that India is a caste society is not hidden. Indian society and its governance are highly influenced by the casteist agenda which is often disguised in the name of “nation’s” interest. It is a commonly understood belief that “nationalistic development” can be achieved by bringing everyone into the supposedly mainstream society. This is where the concept of assimilation also comes into the picture. It is so powerful that the epistemic agency of a person who is forced to assimilate into the nation’s larger politics and dynamics gets destroyed. This leads to further marginalization and exploitation.

Whenever a society deals with a social problem, it is important to dissect it in a way that the foundation of the problem can be rectified and hence reducing the dependency on the “welfare schemes and policies”. This would further require the formation of something inclusive where the people belonging to the oppressed caste, gender, religion or tribal reality can themselves define the meanings of development for their community. This would allow us as a country to break down the ambiguity of the concept developed into a contextualized framework. Take an example of the Pathalgadi movement in Jharkhand. The movement started to safeguard the rights under the PESA (Panchayati Extension of Schedules Act), 1996 where the people under fifth scheduled areas are entitled to self-governance. Even the post-independent India did not provide these communities their rights and they continue living a life of deprivation and exploitation in the hands of state and non-state parties. Therefore, many activists started spreading socio-political awareness of this act and how nobody but the tribal communities of Jharkhand are capable enough to govern themselves. This is a very good example where people are not only reclaiming their rights but are also redefining the mainstream idea of development.

“Develop to progress and not to oppress.”

Authored By

Divya Pande

Education- Post Graduate with an M.A in Social Work (Dalit and Tribal Studies and Action) from

Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai.