July 24, 2011

Voices of the People

Can community groups play a role in shaping state policy? If yes, how can they go about doing this?
Two events of the week made for some reflection.
We had gathered at the Journalism and Communications Department of the University of Madras after a viva voce of a doctoral candidate, debating the highs and lows of the thesis presented by a journalist who works for the 'Dina Mani' in New Delhi.
A senior academic joined us and the discussion took a different path.
It had to do with the schemes of the new government of Tamil Nadu - to provide laptops to all students.
A debate is going on among academics, activists and educators on the merits of loading it with the software of a dominant company. Is this public money well-spent? Will not such a deal fix the state to keep paying more as upgrades are required and will this be worthwhile expenditure?
Or would it be better, as some state governments have done to employ Open Source software?
Governments find it easy to set up high-power committees and high-level teams to look at all kinds of issues.
But what about sane voices from ordinary people with extraordinary wisdom and knowledge? Are these voices ready to be part of citizens' panels and let themselves be heard?
Can Jayalalithaa create that space as she moves forward in her new term as chief minister?
The second reflection came up over coffee at a school soon after the school's annual scholarship award programme.
The school's managers and senior teachers were talking about measures that they were taking to cater to poor students.
That is when the need for a breakfast scheme came up.
Thousands of children run into classrooms without having a morning meal. They slump on the benches and then fall asleep, unable to bear the pain of hunger while the drone of lessons goes on.
The state has a huge noon meal scheme in place.
But isn't a breakfast scheme far more important and key to the student community?

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