Millennium development goals: a case of shifting goalpost?

Experts at national conference of dalit organisations question the development goals, debate how close we have come to achieving them

Ashish Rajput | December 7, 2012



After heated discussions on the provision of primary education and the need for allotting land for scheduled caste and adivasi communities, the ongoing National Conference of Dalit Organisations here discussed the challenges and opportunities in bridging the development gap between social groups, particularly through the millennium development goals.

Among those who spoke on Thursday, December 6, were Chiranjeet Singh Atwal, speaker of Punjab assembly; VS Krishnan, an IAS officer and former secretary with the union government; and Louis George Arsenault, UNICEF representative, India. The gathering has been organised by the National Confederation of Dalits’ Organisations (NACDOR).

“We should try to look through the perspective of the poor man and ask ourselves how far we have come toward achieving the millennium development goals (MDG),” country head of Action Aid Sandeep Chachra said, referring to the set of goals adopted after the 2000 millennium summit of the UN. (Read earlier report: http://governancenow.com/news/regular-story/dalits-zoom-delhi-march-dignity)

The MDG was established to assert that every individual has a right to freedom, dignity, equality and a certain standard of living that includes freedom from hunger and violence.

“There is no collective conscience on dalit human rights in India,” said Belinda Bennet, South Asia head of Christian Aid, who also explained that the development gains of the past decades must be shared with equity and that the strategies of post-2015 development agenda must focus on the lens of equality and the intersection of caste, class and gender.

Minal Pimple, senior director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign, stressed on the need for accelerated delivery of MDG to people left behind in social groups to ensure a credible post-2015 agenda.

“Dalits, who form about one-fourth of India’s population and constitute 4 percent of the world’s population, have the poorest socio-economic human development indicators. Dalit communities that are socially excluded are least able to participate in developmental processes and are not considered as accountable as others,” Chiranjeet Singh Atwal said. 

VS Krishnan said equality would be incomplete without dignity and laid stress on proper implementation of the scheduled caste plan and tribal sub-plan, saying that it has tremendous scope to improve the lives of dalits.

A declaration to bridge the increasing gap between dalits and non-dalits was signed at the end of the day’s discussions, which highlighted that the government should allocate a proportionate share to different social sections in all resources. These include land, capital, technology, business and employment in proportion to their population in the country.

It also said that it should enact a law that ensures proportionate participation/reservation for people from SC and ST communities in employment, vendor services, supply and materials and dealerships in the private sector.  Scheduled caste sub-plan and tribal sub-plan must be created within each department and ministry and the monitoring of this cell should be directly under the minister concerned, the declaration said, among other points.

Stress on education as the solution

“I have seen in a lot of villages that the standard of education provided to the children of our community does not meet their requirement and plays very little, if any, role in setting the foundation for their future,” said Kumari Sushma Verma from Bundelkhand, Uttar Pradesh. Also a NACDOR worker, Verma said the government has asked schools to pass every student irrespective of whether he/she is capable to move on to the next class.

“The only reason they (government) did this is because they are providing free education and are thus unwilling to spend double the amount on each child. If this goes on how are children going to be educated?” Verma asked while emphasizing the need to educate the dalit community and uplift them.

“If we go look at the government’s own numbers, every single child in India is going to a school. But the truth is entirely different,” said Angela Taneja from Oxfam, India. Taneja said focus should be laid on the importance of education and the current status of education provided to children, especially those from dalit families.

“Although a lot is being done to provide free education through various government programmes and schemes, there are many difficulties to enforce them effectively due to economic disparity and social conditions of the weaker sections of the society,” Atwal said. He laid stress on the importance of primary education, especially for those from the oppressed communities.

According to Atwal, the need of the hour is to “educate not only our kith and kin but the masses to bring a revolutionary transformation in society and breaking this hellish divide.”

UNICEF plans for India

Louis George Arsenault, the UNICEF representative in India said beginning January 2013, UNICEF through its programmes would focus on four key programmes in India. These are:

  • Preventing neonatal deaths
  • Addressing chronic malnutrition
  • Eliminating open defecation
  • Preventing child marriage and child labour and promoting educational equity

“These are the four main areas we will address, with special focus on scheduled caste and scheduled tribe communities from over 18 states in the country,” Arsenault said.

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