Ground Level Panel of representatives from Denotified and Nomadic Tribes in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals

While the Indian Constitution, in 1950, directed successive governments to ensure Food, Shelter, Health, Education and Livelihood to all citizens, many have been left behind; to whom these guaranteed never reached. Denotified and nomadic tribes are unable to access these, and are now living on the margins of Indian society because of the discrimination they face due to their identities. Members of the Ground Level Panel identified many impediments that must be removed for this section to be wholly included in Indian citizenry; and get access to rights and entitlements. You can read the report here.

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Subverting hierarchical Knowledge Systems: Not because it is good, but because it is the correct thing to do!

By Pradeep Narayanan

Participation Pays.jpg

The book, Participation Pays- Pathways for Post 2015 (www.frontline.i…icle7809369.ece), presents a number of examples where Community Participation was intended to subvert some mainstreamed hierarchical processes. Originally, it wasto be titled “Subverting for good”. However, owing to the pressure to promote readership of the book, the current name was chosen.

Nevertheless, what we need for now in the global knowledge arrangement, is subversion. Primarily, not to challenge the existing power relationships but to provide a demonstrated solution in the form of a subverted relationship which mainstreams the voices from the margins – the kind of knowledge that does not even get acknowledged as ‘knowledge’ in the current system.

The key areas of knowledge-based hierarchies, which have been sufficiently detailed out in a number of resistance literature includes:

A. Dominance of North over South. There comes a point in time when there is no evidence required to prove the dominance of the North in creating knowledge as well as certifying the knowledge. It is not that the knowledge gets created in the North – the knowledge is created everywhere, but collated and interpreted in the North or by the North. The flow of investments also is exponentially high in the North when compared to the South.

It is always seen that the North produces the ‘best’ of literature, progressive as well as regressive, even about the South. This is of course being challenged and there are efforts of South-South collaborations with Southern countries researching issues pertaining to them. I think the most significant ‘subverting’ step would be to promote Southern researchers studying issues pertaining to North, from the lens of the South.

Of course, the North and South need to be defined keeping in mind the power relationships.

B. Knowledge Creation function shifting from Universities of Higher Learning to various policy think tanks and even companies, both public and private. It is interesting to note from the Open University discussion paper, that increasingly ‘influential’ knowledge is getting created at spaces, which are not necessarily the conventional universities of higher learning. With universities losing out on public education funds, their time-use on creating literature for learning is getting de-prioritised. A lot of these functions are getting transferred. University faculty are probably as burdened with raising funds as any NGO. The NGOisation of universities and productisation of university research probably takes away the independent agenda setting ability of universities. The problem is ‘who sets the agenda’ in these spaces of knowledge creation. Universities which had discretionary and untied public funds have had greater potential to create literature which could be of more pluralist agendas than such funded institutions or policy think tanks, which could often get tied to the agenda of the funders.

The ‘subversion’ here would be to ensure funds being diverted in an un-tied way to such universities of higher-learning; and thereby promoting the ‘independence’ of knowledge-creating spaces- independence but from market forces as well as State-led influential players.

C. Knowledge-Creation is becoming a specialist job, wherein there is homogenization of a knowledge-infrastructure that not only creates but also certifies the knowledge as knowledge. The growing academic control over knowledge as well as presence of “dominating” journals, which certify certain methodologies as the appropriate methodology, is leading to exclusion. The local knowledge, especially community knowledge, is unable to find a place in plethora of academic literature, because their ideas do not get the ‘form’ needed to be accepted.

The struggle even from progressive academics is to provide ‘form’ to ideas from the ground, and most often as publications in their own names, rather than as community knowledge. The skills of ‘scientific writing’ dominate the very ‘source of creation of ideas’ and thereby the writer becomes the author, whereas the person whose idea finds ‘form’ through the skills of writers is just a respondent. It is important that certain rules of knowledge infrastructure get subverted. Authorship needs to be redefined- to encourage local ideas and not just to encourage good writing.

In other words, the core issue here is to find forms for community voices, wherein participatory methods are promoted in such a way that communities are involved in ‘analysis’ and ‘inference making’, rather than just data collection. It is important that such methodologies are promoted and also ensured that literature acknowledges community participants as authors! The researchers need to be empowered to be a facilitator of research rather than a controller of the knowledge creation process.

D. Research Ethics are being developed as mechanisms that protect ‘institutions’ and ‘researchers’ from future controversies, rather than with the intention of ‘protecting’ community respondents’. The latter is an incidental outcome. Ethics are not an elitist concept. It needs to be dethroned from the pedestal it is occupying.

The subversion here is to facilitate a large number of community-led ethical review processes, wherein the community representatives become integral to define the ethics of a research process. Such a review process would surely focus on the interest of the community; and in fact, prevent a scenario, where research ethics are often ‘misused’ by the research so as not to deal with certain contemporary political issues.

E. Subverting Post-truth politics: It is important to see what part of the knowledge structure and system that is existing today is not able to engage with the post-truth politics, wherein the truth is ignored and counter ‘truths’ are manufactured.

That ‘truths become irrelevant’ to a mainstreamed narrative is probably a product of the existing knowledge dissemination systems, which align with the interests of the powerful. It is necessary to subvert the existing process of knowledge-dissemination systems, so that the truths, especially from the ground, find a visible space in the policy discourse

Knowledge creation is a political process, and is characterised by inequity. It is an instrument for the powerful as well as an outcome of use and misuse of power. If we want to address inequity, subversion of our knowledge system in favour of those at the margins is a natural pathway for social transformation.

Will it really transform society? Maybe not. But we need to do engage in the process because that is what “knowledge creation” is about. It is about searching for hidden and invisible knowledge in the margins and mainstreaming it. It is to be done because it is the correct thing to do.

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Voices of Children (Khusro Park Demolition)

Life changed for children living in a DUSIB shelter for homeless women and children in Khusro Park, Nizamuddin, on May 18, 2017 when policemen armed with lathis and accompanied by bulldozers, razed the shelters.

Members of the Praxis Delhi team visited the permanent shelter nearby, where the children were moved after spending a night on the streets of Delhi to listen to their voices and understand their trauma.

You can read the report here:

Voices Of Evicted Children Khusro Park


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Hosting a Ground-Level Panel: A Facilitator’s Handbook

The Ground-Level Panel brings together people facing different kinds of vulnerabilities and marginalisation to take part in a deliberative and participative dialogue process, during which the participants discuss a significant policy issue that impacts their lives. The aim of the Ground-Level Panel process is to provide a counterpoint to the dominance of ‘professional, political and academic voices in the global policy-making processes’.

The Facilitator’s Handbook aims to guide facilitators in organising a similar ground-level panel. It focuses on the day-to-day process that was followed during the first Ground-Level Panel hosted by Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices and draws from the findings that emerged from the deliberations to offer broad suggestions and tips for facilitators.

GLP-Facilitator Handbook-e version

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Do Not Leave Us Behind- a grounded perspective of the Sustainable Development Goals


Discussion among Panel members

The United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted in the year 2000 until 2015 as the world’s time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions – income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter and exclusion, while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. It was a pledge to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable to build decent and healthier lives for billions of people and guided development thinking, planning prioritisation and operations since their inception. In recognition of the absence of civil society and marginalised people’s participation in the framing of the MDGs, the principle that guided the formulation of the new set of goals for 2016 onwards, began with a commitment to the principle of “Leave no one behind”.

In the process of contributing to the voices  calling for inclusion and participation in decision making at different fora, Praxis has been involved with creating spaces globally, for direct interactions between marginalised groups and policy-makers and those who effect change, as well as similar communities across the world.

With the Sustainable Development Goals being launched in September 2015, and formally adopted by the United Nations lauded as “the people’s agenda, a plan of action for ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere, and leaving no one behind” it is the ideal time to reflect on  which people are likely to be left behind. Praxis facilitated a Ground Level Panel in this regard, which brought together participants from the previous GLPs, and representatives of vulnerable communities that were part of creating thematic participatory videos, action research and other processes facilitated as part of Voice for Change to influence the post-2015 agenda setting process. This group of fifteen individuals comprising men, women, transgendered persons, able-bodied, disabled, minorities, dalits, and homeless spent two days on 7 and 8 September 2015, taking stock of the SDGs and deliberating recommendations for feasible ways of ensuring inclusion and meaningful participation of all in achieving the SDGs.

The panel looked at each goal, and the indicators that were then proposed, and came up with their own recommendations. The report of the event can be viewed here

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Speaking at United Nations, activist calls for empowering marginalised as first step to global development

While lauding the progress that the world has made since the Millenium Development Goals were launched in 2000, Amnesty International’s Salil Shetty cautioned against letting complacency get in the way of development. He stressed on the need to go beyond rhetoric, and actively promote well-being, especially so for the most marginalised. He suggested four tests to measure the success of the SDGs – Ownership test to esnure the marginalised are primary decision makers at every stage; accountability test to ensure governments hold up the right to information and independent mechanisms of seeking answers; Non-discrimination test to protect rights of the marginalised and means to challenge power structures; and coherence test to ensure consistency in the pledge for sustainable development and international and national policies being followed by countries. A commitment was needed from leaders around the world, and only then would the world be able to raise itself from the current crises of poverty, hunger, terrorism, injustice among others.

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Ground Level Panel: Agrarian Communities’s Action Plan on Climate Change

Praxis conducted it’s second Ground Level Panel from May 29-31, with a presentation of the findings in consultation with community members on June 1 at the Constitution Club, New Delhi.

The Ground Level Panel consisted of 13 farmers and agricultural workers from six districts across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand who came together to evolve an action plan on climate change. The expertise of the panellists lay in their lived experience and not as researchers, policymakers or academicians. Over three days from May 29-31, the panelists collectively explored their local realities, experiences, perspectives and strategies they employed to cope with the effects of climate change. This process aimed to lead to policy formation through the members of the farming community and their informed responses to how Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and State Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCC) affects them. The ground level panel process enabled the community members to transition from being carriers of knowledge to the owners and users of knowledge.


Climate change has become a significant global issue at the turn of the century. With the ride of temperatures, there are warning reports from the World Bank that there will be severe impacts in the next 10-20 years. While this has prompted climate change’s visibility in global policy debates, there is a lack of community participation. This is of real and immediate concern, especially in a country like India, where 70% of India’s population is still dependent on climate sensitive sectors like agriculture, fishing and forests. People at the margins – the landless, small and marginal farmers, Dalit and indigenous people, rural women and children and other such relatively voiceless communities, are pushed further away from policy debates.

Taking lessons from a Ground Level Panel organised by Praxis in 2013, where a group of 13 people living in poverty and marginalisation came together to respond to the UN High Level Panel’s recommendations on what should replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), this second Ground Level Panel on agriculture and climate change was facilitated by Praxis, with support from Oxfam India, Dialectics and Partners in Change (PiC). The 13 farmers belonged to thirteen habitations located in 6 districts across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to discuss the impact of climate change on their lives and the need to examine the state level action plans on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Among them, they represented several identies – there were seven women and six men in the team, of whom one was less than 25, four were in the 26-40 age group and eight were above 40. Three of the panellists were landless, while the others owned some amount of land. The group had religious diversity, with one following the tenets of Dr Ambedkar, two Muslims and the rest Hindus. There were eight farmers, five who worked as agricultural labour and five who engaged in daily wage work along with working on the fields. There were eight Dalit panellist and five from the OBC community. There were also three who migrated on work to supplement their income.

The Process:

The Ground-Level Panel employed a deliberative and participative dialogue process, during which the 13 participants discussed how climate change had impacted their lives and shared their inputs on the State Action Plans on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Goals. The panellists derived their expertise from their day-to-day experience. The aim of the panel was to ground policies and global agendas in knowledge from the margins.

The Findings:

The panelists deliberated on key questions, which relate to the impact of climate change on their agricultural practices, livelihoods, environment and life styles. They also reflected on state and global policies and made recommendations, giving reasons for their recommendations, which were shared with civil society, government agencies and the media.

For the community, climate change has a multitude of variables which range from climate to agricultural production and from agricultural practices and other vulnerabilities which result from this to their coping mechanism for the same. It would be inappropriate to simplify this complexity as climate change.

The panellists felt they were trapped in a maze of changes in climates that led to changes in agricultural production to changes in agricultural practices which then impacted their lives. This maze was difficult to get out because it perpetuated itself constantly. One of the examples that the farmers mentioned is that they were encouraged by the State to use fertilisers to improve yield. These were supplied widely and while it did serve the purpose initially, they had to keep increasing the quantity of fertiliser and water as years went by. What has happened is a complete depletion of soil quality and a situation that farmers are contributing to climate change with the use of fertilisers.

Read the consolidated report here. The three state reports can be read on following the links below:

Uttar Pradesh

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Participation – Going beyond the rhetoric

Tom Thomas, Chief Executive of Praxis, recently addressed United Nations member states at A post-2015 agenda for people and the planet – Echoing voices from civil society, an event organised by Beyond 2015, the Permamnent Mission of Denmark to the United Nations and other organisations to brief them about developments in discussions on the post-2015 agenda. The broad focus of the discussions were on the vital importance of the inclusion of equality across all levels and themes of the post-2015 framework, and addressing all dimensions of sustainable development through implementation and accountability mechanism.

During his presentation, Tom built a case for deeper participation and raised a few vital questions about whose participation we envisage, in what areas and what kind.

Here are some excerpts from his speech:

“A wealth of inspiring, deep and not always inward looking recommendations have emerged from people living in poverty. Equity and equality stand out as the core of people’s concern, and People, Planet and Participation have emerged as the three most important pillars on which to build the post 2015 framework.

These welcome beginnings notwithstanding, the larger question that begs an answer is how participation will be placed in the post 2015 framework. Rhetoric as usual or will the UN and governments be more imaginative to infuse into the framework a participation that has the potential to deepen democracies and produce superior outcomes?”

Pointing out the need for exploring and unpacking ‘community’, which is a conglomerate of excluded and marginalised identities, he calls for the inclusion of not only invisible groups such as disabled, lower castes and religious minorities, among others, but also ignored groups like youth and children.

“It must be recognized that there will be many sub population groups that will be normally invisible and ignored, even through ‘participatory processes’ – both by commission and omission. While a certain amount of discussion has taken place over the past decade about the invisible sub groups like the disabled, the elderly, the lower caste, religious minorities, women, etc., not enough has been said about the ignored population. Youth and children are a classic example of groups that get ignored as many of the processes are designed with an able bodied adult male as the active participant.”

Limiting participation to the process of goal setting would be a big mistake as it will reinforce their identity as receivers of dole.

“Raising communities to the level of active participants and partners in the framing, roll out and monitoring, will not merely make the targets more achievable, but also raise the self esteem of communities, an essential factor to help them stay out of poverty and better theirs and their communities’ lives.”

Participation should not be the kind aimed at increasing efficiency of a project or goal, but rather the kind that aims at empowerment. An empowered citizen, he says is better equipped to claim rights essential for better living.

“… what we need support for and champions from the member states, is to move participation from a mere ‘efficiency coefficient’ to an ’empowerment coefficient’.”

Rejecting the two big barriers cited for seeing participation as an essential component of any planning or implementing exercise, Tom points out examples of Praxis’ experience on how involving people cuts down the cost and increases the accuracy of information.

“The (high) estimates are for expert-led monitoring that as the authors themselves admit will finally at best yield estimates. The question then, would be, whether we want a monitoring that gives us accurately wrong information by experts or approximately correct information led by communities? Participatory monitoring not just gives you approximately correct data, it also engages communities in understanding and analyzing data thereby raising their critical consciousness and self esteem and make them not just recipients, but active partners.”

And last, but not the least, as Praxis experience with the shows, these are “testimonies of people’s capacities to vision for a future that is achievable”.

Tom ends with a call for action, urging the audience to help communities and civil society organisations claim spaces of participation within the post-2015 framework.

You can read the full speech here

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Ray of hope for sewerage workers struggling for safety and dignity

Dignitaries release the Voice for Change: Negotiating Case, Dignity and State Apathy book at the consultation held in Delhi on Friday.

Dignitaries release the Voice for Change: Negotiating Case, Dignity and State Apathy book at the consultation held in Delhi on Friday.

Event photo

Safety and the importance of following government mandates emerged as the topmost priority at the national consultation on issues faced by sewerage workers organised at Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi on Friday, August 22, 2014.

The consultation, which was hosted by the National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers (NCDARSAW) and Occupational Health and Safety Management Consultancy Services (OHSMCS), began with the screening of Gutter Mein Zindagi, a participatory video made by the sewerage workers with support from Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices. The video showcases the daily risks and plight of sewerage workers, the contractual nature of employment and the resultant life of drudgery and uncertainty they get pushed into. The consultation also saw the release of two publications –‘Down The Drain’, a study on the occupational health hazards and the perils of contracting faced by sewerage workers; and ‘Voice for Change – Sewerage Workers Negotiating Caste, Dignity and State Apathy’, a narrative based on the experiences of sewerage workers in Delhi.

The consultation saw sewerage workers share the hazards they faced in terms of lack of safety mechanisms, absence of an accountable authority they could turn to in case of emergency and the undignified way in which the work was carried out. “We don’t even have a place to wash after cleaning the drains,” said Chetan in the video shared at the consultation. “We don’t even know the name of the contractor,” another worker said.

Referring to their plight, Mr Raju Sarthar from the Delhi Safai Karamachari Aayog (Delhi Safai Karmachari Commission) said it was imperative to stop outsourcing of sewerage work and bring in permanency in the contractual nature of the job. He also pointed out that initiatives had been taken to provide cashless medical facility and an order to the effect would be out soon. This comes as a beacon of hope to many contractual sewerage workers who are forced to shell out money on treatments for diseases contracted during duty.

Mr Sarthar also said that the accidental death of any worker on duty would see a family member provided with their job along with a sizeable compensation, both of which were made mandatory by the government in 2013.

Mr Ved Prakash, of the Delhi Jal Board Workers’ Union said the board should demolish sub-contracting in sewerage work. “It should initiate creation of safe and secure environment for sewer workers” he said. He also pointed out the need for awareness among the public about the plight of sub-contracted sewerage workers.

Mr. H.P. Mishra of Kamdar Swasthya Suraksha Mandal said there was a dire need for data on sewerage workers and the need to increase awareness about existing legal provisions. “There is no awareness among workers themselves.”

Mr. Dunu Roy from Hazard Centre said “Delhi Jal Board should show transparency in sharing the amount spent on cleanliness.” He also added that impact on health was severe for both permanent and contractual based workers, hence the focus should be on health and health services. He also noted the importance of working on the structure of sewer lids, which would decrease the health effects and threat to the life of sewer workers.

Dr. Ashish Mittal From OHSMCS pointed out that the workers lacked proper training about the technical aspects of working in a sewer. He said the workers needed to be trained in performing first aid in case of emergency.

Links to the video Down The Drain (Gutter Mein Zindagi):

Link to the Voice For Change book:


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Friends, the 500 countdown to the MDGs lapsing begins today. Which means, we have the daunting task of 500 days remaining to evolve an alternate plan which will guide the development world for the next decade or so. Praxis believes that development can be fruitful and sustainable only if voices of the poor and the marginalised are heard and acted upon. Today, we share our learnings from communities on various issues revolving around the MDGs and invite you to follow/share your thoughts on twitter marking @praxis_india, #Act2015 and #MDG500

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