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Case Analysis: Inclusive Change

Social change is said to be the most constant feature of all human societies. There are several ways in which social change actually comes about but the one that is immediately relevant is the way in which technological developments affects social change

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Social change is said to be the most constant feature of all human societies. There are several ways in which social change actually comes about but the one that is immediately relevant is the way in which technological developments affects social change. A single invention of geared wheel has produced thousands of inventions, which, in turn, affected social relations enormously. The automobile has brought number of social changes which have altered individual lifestyles. Computers and the internet are the latest of a long line of developments that Indian society has been dealing with in the past decade and more so in the past five years. Demonetisation in India has clearly been possible due to the growing outreach of internet and computers.

Nachiket and Amal belong to the era of young Indians who are educated and want to be part of the growth story that will allow them to make a living in the service or trading sector as well as contribute to the change that modern society and economy are promising. Nachiket’s ATM business was banking on a combination of government policies and the possibility of rural Indians adopting behavior changes that these policies require. Amal is catering to the growing trend and demand for ethnic clothes among the expanding middle class and the upper classes. Both have to now deal with the ‘unexpected’ in the form of demonetisation and offer two very different points of view on rural communities.

Nachiket tries his best to reach out to the policy makers to suggest ways to keep his ATM business running. He hasn’t got much reprieve from there but instead found it at the “bottom of the pyramid” when the owners of the space he rents for the ATMs, either waive full or partial rentals. So, he remains an optimist to the end.

Amal sees how the social hierarchies continue to operate in a rural society despite the country proclaiming democracy and the constitution declaring all as equal citizens since 1951. Therefore, he sees that, even as the entire village economy reels under the cash crisis, the ones who are hit the hardest are those who have the least bargaining power with their employers. He therefore is more critical and demanding of the technocrats to make the RuPay cards in the local language and print the passbooks in local language.

The evolutionary social change theorists state that the direction of change is from simple to complex, from homogeneity to heterogeneity, from undifferentiated to differentiated in form and function. Going by this theory, the Indian society of the 21st century is highly heterogeneous and differentiated. The impact of demonetisation on the Indian society therefore, will also be tremendously diverse and complex. Most media have extensively covered the urban reactions as that is where their maximum viewers and readers reside.

Even as there are contradicting stories of whether there has been a drop in the rabi sowing or not, few are talking about what is it that the farmers are coping with and what are they expecting? The aye-sayers of demonstisation think that there is a price that has to be paid for cleaning up a deep rooted mess but what form is this “price” taking is not too well understood.

I got a glimpse of this, when I was with the CEO of the only bank in India, which is actually a union of several village banks in Kodinaar, a block of the GirSomnath district of Gujarat.

A group of 8-10 farmers from three or four different villages located 15-30 km away from the Kodinaar town, came into the CEO’s office, when I was with the CEO on a women’s credit society matter. The CEO allowed the interruption because he wanted to hear them out.

The farmers spoke about how they have had to stand in long queues and the local bank manager talks to them roughly and does not give them satisfactory answers, which will help them plan their economic affairs better. The CEO listened patiently and then explained how the RBI had not released adequate money for the previous week and that this week they have increased their bank’s quota. This, in turn, would help the bank to give out more money in the coming week. The villagers were satisfied with this simple explanation not because they will have more money, but because they were explained in detail the situation. They said, “If only the manager would have explained this to us we would not have come so far.”

What this tells us is that people want to be part of the conversation, they want to know that they are being thought of, their troubles are being understood. They need to feel a sense of dignity in being acknowledged.

What the villages that Amal works with are saying is something similar, it is no fault of theirs that there were no schools or teachers worth their name when they were growing up in their villages. Most written communication in a formal setup needs a certain amount of decoding, which, those who have been declared literate – because they ‘can sign their names and read numbers’ (sadly this is how we define literacy in India), are unlikely to feel confident of doing. Bank forms in many states may be translated in the local language but the decoding only comes with more advanced years of schooling and college…. And banking!
The villagers are trying to convey that they do not want to be taken for granted that they are the ones who have to pay the price of cleaning up a system (‘band to hamara hi bajegaa’) in which they perhaps played a role not as designers, but were simply expected to play along because it was always so; “India mein aisi hi hota hai.”

The villagers of Chamma are happy to see Amal as he is seen as a representative of a society that is “more educated” but who understands them better. Similarly the farmers of Kodinaar are happy that the CEO of their bank has explained to them the situation. Neither are able to offer any real solutions, but hearing difficulties of ‘seemingly more powerful and influential men’ somehow makes them feel equal in some ways.

Technological development creates new conditions of life which forces new conditions in adaptation. W.F. Ogbum, in his article, ‘How Technology Changes Society’ (1947), writes: “Technology changes by changing our environment to which we, in turn, adapt. This change is usually in the material environment, and the adjustment we make to the changes often modifies customs and social institutions.”

However, the willingness to modify depends on the social hierarchy that they belong to. Barring a very small percentage of women who become part of the formal economy, most rural women in the Indian society are subservient to the patriarchal norms of the world and comprise the lower rungs of decision-making hierarchies.
These women also comprise a large section whose unpaid labour in the domestic sphere has a huge contribution to the economy when they look after children, the elderly, cook, fetch water and fuel for the whole family. They also form a large section of the informal economy such as family owned enterprises and farm economy such as the women of Chamma who roll out papads or make pickles. There is no doubt that these women contribute to the household and the nation’s economy, but that contribution remains unrecognised. Thus when their role in the economy is invisible it is no surprise that the entire debate on demonetisation has thus far portrayed women as being victims.

But these women actually show a great amount of wisdom and practical common sense and prefer to deal in cash so that it is in their control and not that of the men of the household, or a system whose rules and language were not designed for them. Cash allows them to deal with unexpected guests, or illnesses.

And so. even as we try to guess how Amal and Nachiket would fare at the end of six months, it would be more worthwhile to keep track of whether this huge technological shift is further reinforcing the rural-urban divide and the gender divide, as these are not even being taken into consideration as technology is simply deemed to be ‘neutral’!

In popular imagination , it is the educated and the men, who know more, who contribute to the economy. Whereas, women are portrayed as those who work at home, the backroom operators, completely belying the fact that women actually are contributing to the economy by their unpaid labour in a huge way.

It will pay to examine how the cash crisis is impacting this belt of workers.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Jahnvi Andharia

The writer has been involved with women’s issues since 1989 and is now practice lead with ANANDI Technical Support Unit, a feminist organisation working towards promoting women’s leadership

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