Development and the culture of critical engagement with the outside

A week ago, I was in Gangavati taluk of Koppal District, as part of ITfC's research study on “Developing an institutional design for Community Knowledge Centres”, for the Karnataka Knowledge Commission. The study aims to develop an appropriate design for centres at the village level, which can provide entitlements-related information to village communities as well as facilitate co-creation of knowledge in various domains pertinent to everyday life (such as agriculture, animal husbandry, health, etc.); and also spark off a local culture of knowledge-seeking behaviour and knowledge-oriented collective processes (e.g., community-initiated discussions and debates on scientific and indigenous knowledge).

As part of this study, I was trying to understand the existing outreach centres established at the village level, by various government department departments, to assess their performance and identify learnings that could be useful in developing a new institutional model, including two Raita Samparka Kendras and the district level Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) set up by the Agricultural Department.

At the district level Krishi Vigyan Kendra, the officer we spoke to seemed very disheartened about the outreach activities of the Kendra : “Here we are paid very well, and given all the infrastructural support to facilitate farmer trainings. We even are given a budget to hold residential trainings and cover the accommodation and food costs of the participants. But farmers don't come. I have tried my best – taking farmers to neighbouring states for learning best practices from other farmers, visits abroad have been arranged in the past, and even on the field demonstration trainings have been conducted by the officers of the KVK. There is no response. We can train people a couple of times, maybe three times, on the same issue – but if people just refuse to engage or learn, what can we do? They don't even tell us why they won't practice what they have been exposed to, at the training. We have visited them often, have gone to their homes in the evening, but there seems to huge indifference to the training curriculum. I can understand if they say the curriculum is irrelevant, but this utter lack of response – this baffles me. It is certainly not like this in other taluks. I was posted in Central and South Karnataka earlier, farmers there are more willing to engage. I think this indifference is so much a part of Hyderabad Karnataka”.

It is easy to explain this away as the inadequacy of training, or the result of the top-down transfer of knowledge historically adopted in government training programmes. But maybe there needs to be a little more thought on understanding the co-relation between development and a culture of critically engaging with unfamiliar information from the world outside – introduced into the community through electronic media, books, education processes and governmental interventions. It is somewhat easier to explain how critical thinking rooted in communities can enable entitlement seeking from the state, and help communities navigate the political economy of development effectively. But why does this culture exist in some places and not in others? I feel that without getting into a developmentalist mode of co-relating “levels of development” with cultural changes, we have to engage with this question in a meaningful way.