Burdened by predicament and angst on the one hand and energised by hope on the other, the Ground Level Panel comprising of 14 people from across India, living in poverty and experiencing various forms of marginalisation, deliberated on development goals (Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Post-2015) as it currently is, and how it should be.
“The poor give up under the weight of their predicament”, Usha, Indigenous Community, Gujarat, Panellist.
“We stride forward in the hope of success”, Nandalal, Citimaker from Delhi, Panellist.
“If democracy binds us as a family, then why do we get excluded and treated differently”- wondered the panellists. The panel dissected this and many more issues threadbare, not from an academic perspective, but from their own and their communities’ life experiences. They did not stop with raising issues, but went on to look at the role of different players, stumbling blocks, a way forward and institutional mechanisms for bringing about change. Ground Level Panels are definitely emerging as a powerful tool for democratising policy making and for intra- and inter-community dialogue.
It was a truly humbling experience to listen to this unadulterated, grounded take on the Post-2015 agenda. The breadth and depth of lived experiences that were shared during the deliberations make you wonder why, why are we deaf to the voices of people living in poverty, while making policies and taking decisions about their lives? Ravi, one of the panellists, struggling to form words due to his Cerebral Palsy, echoed the sentiments of the panel: “Is it that the government doesn’t understand our issues? No, they have deliberately chosen not to respond”. Shamsul, one of the panel members from the North East of India, likened it to the practice of cats being fed just survival ration, so that they would hunt rats – keep people in poverty and give them just enough crumbs to make them stand in lines to vote, once in five years. And so the unanimous voice of the panellists said that their lives should be “not doles, but identity and rights”.
So, I ask you this: How long can we be deaf to these voices? How long will we keep them on cat ration? The answer seems to be: Not for too long if the energy and optimism that the panel reverberated are any indication. Let us stride forward in the hope of success.