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STORY THIRTEEN Position, Not Condition India, 1996 197 Kendra was insistent. “We’ve got to have an AC car, Ben. We must make sure they order one, otherwise we can’t go. Ben, I know Uttar Pradesh at this time of year. It simply has to be AC.” Ben and Kendra were scheduled to fly the next day to Uttar Pradesh. Ravi, the executive director of Humankind’s India office in New Delhi, would have a car waiting at the Varanasi airport to drive the consultants to the project area, three hours further away, on the border between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Record high temperatures were killing people all over India, and Kendra did not want to take the chance that the car might not be air-conditioned. As soon as they walked into Ravi’s office to go over the arrangements, Kendra glared at Ben and lifted her eyebrows once. “Ravi, would you mind terribly arranging for an AC car?” Ben asked, on cue. When Humankind first contacted Ben to evaluate its funding partnerships with local NGOs in India, he was pleased, even a little excited. Humankind was one of the largest international NGOs in the world, with a presence in thirty countries. Though their slogan—“A world without poverty? It’s up to you”—was too glib even for the true believers, he had heard good things about Humankind and was looking forward to getting to know the organization. And, so far, he liked the idea of working alongside Kendra. Like Ben, she had years of experience and was known as an advocate for poor women. As she put it whenever she introduced herself as part of the evaluation team, Kendra was “responsible for gender.” At the domestic terminal at New Delhi airport the next morning, Prakash, a Humankind program officer who would be accompanying Ben and Kendra, introduced himself and handed them a briefing paper. Prakash was a husky, self-confident, tall man in his midtwenties, with a square jaw and a strong handshake. Immediately he addressed Ben and Kendra by their first names, asking them more questions than they asked him. He also admitted forthrightly that this was a jaunt for him. When he traveled to the GS project area, as he was required to do twice a month, he always took the overnight train, third class. To go by jet plane was a treat. They would be visiting one of Humankind’s “most successful” partners , a local Indian-registered NGO called Grameen Sarvodaya, which everyone referred to as GS. Ben and Kendra’s official assignment was to evaluate GS’s readiness to “graduate from the Humankind family” and replace the funding it received from Humankind with money raised locally . The first step would be a visit to GS’s home base, followed by a further visit with GS staff to its main project, in a remote area a further hour and a half by jeep. GS had been a Humankind partner since 1991. As the thorough briefing paper Ben read on the plane showed, the “target” families in the twenty-five villages covered by GS live in extreme poverty. They are landless; even those who “own” land, lack secure title to their land. They farm the poorest-quality land and lack whatever could make it more productive . Fertilizer, knowledge, and good management of the local water resources are in short supply. Moreover, the tenacity of the local feudal system (in cahoots with corrupt officials), the caste system, and the inferior place of women, rather than diminishing after independence, has been reinforced. As if to give a textbook-perfect example of poverty, the briefing paper went on to note that “these problems are exacerbated by physical remoteness and the government’s standard neglect of its responsibilities .” One could almost write out a recipe: take uneducated people living on barely fertile land, add a coterie of feudal landlords to 198 Story Thirteen take away their property rights, render all legal protection useless and all government services inactive, and then isolate the whole package by making sure there are no passable roads leading to it. As he read on, a couple of large doubts arose in Ben. For one thing he had begun to see more and more clearly that if nothing really changed in the position poor people were often forced to occupy in society—and what could keep people in their place more forcefully than a caste...


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MARC Record
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