TEAR’s partner EFICOR helps communities in India access the government schemes to which they are entitled, enabling both communities and government services to flourish.
Often, the most significant transformation in a community is not the one that is most immediately obvious to the eye. In Khairi Mushari village in India, the community achievement that does immediately stand out is a brand-new, bright pink flood shelter (pictured above) built high over the flat plains. It’s their first community building, the result of years of planning by the village Disaster Management Committee (DMC) – a group formed and supported by TEAR’s partner, EFICOR. The shelter, funded by EFICOR, provides a safe place for families when the seasonal flooding hits, and is also used as a meeting place and school room.
Though highly valued, this is not the thing that the local people credit as making the most difference to their lives. Rather, it’s been EFICOR’s training about a government process called Right to Information (RTI). The RTI allows people to request relevant government information, such as grants, pensions or entitlements - and expect a timely response. The RTI is the Indian Government’s clear and accountable process for entitlements.
Having been trained and supported to apply for RTI, the village of Khairi Mushari has unlocked a wealth of entitlements to which they were previously completely unaware. This has included the provision of a sealed road, electricity supply to every house in the village, over 150 pensions for elderly people, 12 for widows and 8 for people with a disability. Collectively, they’re worth millions of rupees – far more support than EFICOR could ever, or would ever, provide.
It has only been with the backing of EFICOR that villagers have had the confidence to approach government officials, challenge unfair decisions, and insist on a transparent process.
Some members of this village belong to the Musahar people group and it’s unlikely that they would have ever been able to access their entitlements without EFICOR’s intervention. Referred to as “rat-eaters”, they are one of the lowest castes, and marginalised from most public life. It has only been with the backing of EFICOR that villagers have had the confidence to approach government officials, challenge unfair decisions, and insist on a transparent process. Now that officials associate the villagers with EFICOR, the paperwork is being correctly filed and requests are taken seriously. Members of the DMC say they are now confident to file RTIs without EFICOR’s assistance and advocate on their own behalf.
The change in the village is extraordinary. Most families are now eating three meals a day and are able to afford a wider variety of food. And, EFICOR’s support for Self-Help Groups in the village has enabled families to start businesses and better manage their finances. EFICOR has also helped SHGs connect with Jeevika, the government wing for livelihood enhancement of the rural poor. It has enabled women to access loans, which they have used to buy books and uniforms so children can attend school.
Khairi Mushari village is just one of many to benefit from EFICOR’s RTI training. They work in 15 villages in the area, and in each one they emphasise equipping locals to plan and voice their own needs. While the case of Khairi Mushari is positive, there are also many stories of frustration, where discrimination, corruption and endless red-tape have blocked entitlements and legitimate requests have been rejected or ignored. But among these is a growing sense of hope. There is, for these villages, a glimpse of a future in which their voice is valued, their views considered and their requests taken seriously.
India’s vast bureaucratic system includes a mind-boggling array of government grants, pensions, entitlements and compensations for poor and marginalised people. They range from flood relief to bicycles for teenagers, and provide a much-needed economic safety-net.
But the system meets two challenges. Some officials have siphoned the funds for other purposes, and the system has been prone to corruption. Also, those who are eligible for the funding often don’t know that they can access assistance; and if they don’t ask, they don’t receive. Given these challenges, some excellent government policies and funding have become a massive untapped resource for the poor.
In 2005, India instituted its Right to Information Act. For the small sum of 10 rupees, an individual or community can request specific government information – and expect a timely and accurate reply. RTI is designed to cut red-tape, discrimination and corruption. This helps to overcome the challenge at the government level, but it doesn’t help communities know that the funds exist. That’s where EFICOR comes in. By training and supporting communities to access their own government entitlements, they’re helping them tap into a vast resource.
EFICOR works to influence policymakers, influencing them to enact policies and plan programs which positively affect poor and marginalised communities.
Kennedy Dhanabalan, EFICOR’s Executive Director, sees three types of biblical advocacy, as modelled by Moses, Esther and Ezra.
In Exodus 33, Moses advocated on behalf of the people. In Nehemiah 5, Nehemiah heard the cry of the people and brought in reforms for the benefit of the poor and oppressed. Their model is one of direct advocacy on behalf of others. When a Dalit woman has been raped, or a poor person’s entitlements are denied, it’s important to ensure, along with the officials and concerned persons, that they receive justice, because it breaks God’s heart. Right to Information is a good tool to be used here.
Mordecai, when he wanted to influence the king to save his people against the decree issued to annihilate them, identified Esther who was in the King’s palace. He approached her to support the cause. This model seeks the help of people who are in positions who could influence policymakers, and so bring positive changes to policies.
In the book of Ezra, there are two groups of people. One to build the city and the other against the building of the city. Rehum and Shimshai (Ezra 4:8) wrote a letter to Artaxerxes to ask him to search the archive to find the rebellious people. In the same way, the people of Israel asked King Darius to search the archive to check whether King Cyrus had given permission to build the city (6: 17). This model teaches us to advocate based on thorough research by studying the situation and the law, and using the law to help the people to get justice.
Related projects have received support from the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).