People’s Empowerment: The Key To Development

Vekutu Vese Assistant Professor Department of Political Science St. Joseph’s College, Jakhama  

“Vigilance is the price of liberty”, said Laski, the famous political thinker. However, true liberty can be achieved only in conditions where people could effectively enjoy moral freedom. And once those conditions are created, vigilance is instrumental in preserving and protecting liberty. Ultimately, it is the liberty or moral freedom enjoyed by people that leads to development of a society. However in a country where half of its population lives in poverty and sub-human conditions, such ideals seem hollow and sound utopian. With almost half of its population still illiterate, India’s tryst with ‘liberty’ seems to be a distant dream. India has a diversified population and each segment has its own unique set of problems. Despite the government’s effort’s to tackle these problems, nothing substantial has been achieved, because of the lack of political will, rampant corruption and bureaucratic apathy. But the most important reason is the non-participation of the masses at various stages of plan formulation and implementation.  

So how do we ensure the people’s involvement? This can be done in different ways- through participation in representative and policy-making bodies, providing economic security, enacting laws which guarantee social security and above all by educating them about their rights, duties and responsibilities. This would build the movement of the empowerment of people.  

What do we mean by empowerment? It literally means giving lawful power or authority to act. If people are empowered, they would be able to participate in the planning, execution and implementation of developmental schemes. However, when we talk of empowerment, we generally tend to focus on the political empowerment of the people. But political empowerment alone is not enough. Economic and social empowerments are equally crucial.  

There is a close link between empowerment and development. Empowerment leads to development which, in turn, leads to greater empowerment. There is a need to engage with the poorest of the poor and empowered the vulnerable sections of the society, especially women to become economically self-independent. Once they are able to break the shackles of abject poverty, they can start asserting themselves in other spheres too. Thus, the process of empowerment will give birth to a whole lot of vigilant citizens demanding better governance.  

India is the largest democracy in the world. And a substantial amount of its population still lives below the poverty line. However, unfortunately the fruits of globalization and economic liberalization are being cornered by the already well-off sections of the society. Since the government machinery has, by and large, failed to further the pace of development, civil society must step in. Here the role of NGOs is extremely important.  

The process of decentralization along with the women’s reservation under the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments is a big step forward in bringing the fairer sex into the mainstream and involving them into the decision making process. These institutions of self-governance have resulted in empowerment through the devolution of powers and responsibilities at appropriate levels.  

Though the changed pattern of representation has not radically affected the decision making process, some changes are visible, which indicate towards the weakening of the influence of traditional power wielders. This is very much true in the case of women, whose entry into the Panchayati Raj Institutions has shaken the centuries-old hold of power by the privileged sections in the rural society.  

However, as mentioned above, political empowerment alone is not enough to ensure overall development of the society. In the social and economic fields much is left to be desired. The weaker and marginalized sections, such as the minorities, women, old, and disabled are still lagging far behind.  

In the economic sphere, women’s participation has been minimal. According to the 2011 census, female work participation rate is only a little above 25% as against around 53% in case of males. Further, only 20.5% of female workers are employed in the organized sector. Therefore, there is a need to focus on the economic aspect of empowerment of the weaker sections. As it is found that women are more organized, better savers, more efficient and are better equipped to manage resources than their male counterparts.  

Similarly, minorities and other marginalized sections of the society must get support from the government so that they are able to rub shoulders with the ‘haves’. As it is the people’s empowerment-political, social and economic that could ensure a more egalitarian society.  

Lastly, we must ensure the participation of the marginalized sections in the developmental process. Unless we empower and train them, there is a danger that the entire developmental process would get derailed and jeopardized. While ensuring their participation in the planning process, we must keep the notion of good governance uppermost in our mind. In this way, empowerment and development together would lead to sustainable growth and good-governance.