This article was first published by the Mint newspaper on May 18, 2014.
An inclusive democracy is one that not only claims to take minorities into political confidence and gains their trust, but is also perceived to innovate and implement plans that are realistic and sustainable. Action-oriented measures are important because when political rhetoric doesn’t lead to actual empowerment, the excluded stakeholders are more likely to become unacceptable deviants to meet their needs, desires and sustenance without any broad social and national views, roles, duties and responsibilities to strengthen democracy and governance.
Innovations in empowerment of minorities have both political and governance gains. Innovative development and empowerment plans are necessary to correct decades of social, economic and institutional anomalies in minority sub-cultures of India.
In a pluralistic society like ours, there are many challenges including diverse undercurrents of needs, inequalities, denials and alienation vying with competitive aspirations of millions. How do we get past continued ad-hocism of programmes for the socially and economically excluded and innovate with changing needs and approaches? Can digital-age solutions and approach help? Let’s take a case of the Minority Cyber Gram Yojana (MCGY), a pilot launched by the ministry of minority affairs.
The MCGY pilot has been rolled out in Chandoli village of Alwar district in Rajasthan in February.
The aim is to make all 1,300 households digitally literate in one year, with two adults per household, preferably with more women. There are no Internet or telephone lines in the village and no resident has ever used a computer. There is much enthusiasm among the local population and programme facilitators. The identified role of digital fellows, provisions for Soochna Seva (information services on public schemes for minorities) and Digivan (vehicle equipped with digital tools to train and motivate) have become a source of community engagement and involvement to get trained in digital literacy, get information and services, and entitlement support in the near vicinity. The installation of wireless facility to bring in Internet from 6km away was a critical value-addition in terms of connectivity, access and empowerment.
The initial problem of community disinterest and perceived threat to cultural and social defence for women and young girls have given way to gradual alignment to the MCGY Kendra. The threat of corrupt local leaders and their foul play has waned due to the digital silver lining and its capacity to enhance scope for positive engagement by the residents.
The enlarged MCGY brief to engage the panchayats, its functionaries, the local schools, teachers and staff, local civil society and collectives is turning out to be a handy, non-prejudicial, non-partisan formula to infuse the digital factor as a transformative element for the people.
The MCGY has high scope and stake in the near future, once it is planned to roll out in all 710 minority blocks of the country.
The scope is tremendous because digital steps give a new meaning, significance and involvement to perform and bring results to address key perennial skilling, information and entitlement deficits.
The stake is huge as continued exclusion of minority population from the knowledge mainstream could further aggravate social and economic divide and result in social imbalances. This way, the democratic process will be continued to be denied of a well-informed, aware citizenry in the minority citizens.
Based on current political trends, it would be good if there is continued push on both technical and non-technical methods to bring in community transitions that result in empowering minority groups. This may require deviating from the current policy of transferring resources for minority empowerment by identifying problems and offering solutions in this digital age. This could script a new story in information, services, entitlements and empowerment of a large population with greater transparency and good governance.