Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Breaking the Ice - Starting a dialog with community

The work started with an informal chat with the village communities to gauge the interests before actually beginning the organized PRA. A visible commitment on the part of the project was necessary for a healthy participation and support from the community. The acceptable response of the community at such early stage might be biased or misleading as it might be based on the success or failure of any such previous experience.

In recent past land acquisition activity has taken place in villages around Xuanzang Memorial Museum, the land acquired are used for cultivation and owned by the farming community. The economy of village still revolves around agriculture and the farming community is on the top of the social ladder in the villages. The farming community is also having a strong influence on the opinion of the villagers. Land acquisition is a very sensitive issue in the villages. We initiated a few discussions with the community on this issue, in one such meeting at Surajpur we discussed the purpose of the land acquired and the benefits the area can reap from the upcoming infrastructure.
Most of the youth (from the farming community), who are studying in colleges welcomed the move and were eager to participate in tourism sector. Old People (Farming Community) had mixed feelings, some have experienced the direct and indirect benefits from the tourism infrastructure while others felt the benefits are usually delayed and very few people are actually benefited in the entire process.
Most apprehensive were the people who are directly involved with farming and depended completely on agriculture for making a living. These people were from various age groups and felt that they were not educated enough or lacked skills to participate in any such development. They further expressed they should be given employment in the upcoming infrastructure on priority basis. The land acquisition also impacts the established status hierarchy in the village. The status in the village is primarily associated with the land owned by the family and the second factor is number of people in the family employed with government or private firms (Doctors and Engineers in family). Land acquisition tends to skew the social status and the families where none of the kin are employed in government jobs think they will loose the social status. Status is generally associated with number of workmen they employ and harvest at their doorsteps at the end of harvest season.
People who have received compensation against the land acquired feel the amount paid as one time compensation is big (Sufficient), but they say the money will eventually be spent and this hot money is not the true replacement of the assured livelihood. There are people who have an alternative view to the same situation too, they have other source of income are generally happy as the cost of the left over land has sky rocketed and some of them have some business plans for future.
There are many such rumors floating in each of the village regarding some land acquiring drive. We had a similar experience at Sarilchak where the community said they have heard about the Nalanda Museum planning to acquire some lands in their village. A similar story was told at Bargaon, the community said they have very little land left and that Archaeological Survey of India plans to acquire most of their lands.

Certain PRA methods, however sensitively employed, may themselves be misconstrued and harm the rapport. Exercises like area mapping and transects etc can create more anxieties about the projects intentions. Since these actions may have some superficial resemblance to the behavior of professionals like land surveyors; and people can get quite alarmed. Since such data was not very essential in the first phase of community participation we decided to conduct such exercises once the community participation reaches to a certain level and sufficient trust is built.
In first half of the January, we informally met different men and women groups, decision makers and PRI members and shared with them what we plan to do with the communities in coming 5 to 6 months. We asked for suitable time and places where we can sit together for 2 to 3 hrs at stretch. The community people were inquisitive and enquired the purpose and objective of such long meetings. A consensus was reached regarding suitable places for the PRA meetings and suitable time for respective groups. Decision for place and time was important, often wrong identification of place and times leads to poor, limited and discontinuous participation and hence Information gaps. These informal meetings were also an opportunity to assess the limits of local knowledge and awareness, and the constraints to existing community systems of problem solving.

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