September 16, 2020
5. Local government and women’s empowerment in India
Interview with: Kripa Ananthpur
Discussing: Local government, traditional institutions, and women's empowerment in India
Listen to Kripa talk about:
- [2:14] Her childhood growing up in Mysore, and inspiration to study development studies
- [6:30] Her mother’s influence, and efforts to reduce caste discrimination
- [9:15] Her experience going to school led by freedom fighters
- [13:18] Caste discrimination and gender discrimination
- [15:12] Reality of people’s lives in Indian villages, compared to urban India
- [16:05] Bringing a gender dimension to research in Indian villages
- [21:06] The place of traditional institutions in Indian governance
- [23:51]Attitudes towards traditional institutions, local use of traditional institutions, relationship with liberal democratic principles
- [29:35] Providing local justice via traditional institutions and reliance of Indian courts on local justice mechanisms
- [31:33] What happens when traditional institutions disappear or are taken away
- [33:23] Challenges of gender mainstreaming, contextualised to the local village context
- [34:10] Missed opportunities supporting women’s local leadership
- [38:35]Need to educate and support children and youth as tomorrow’s citizens and leaders
- [42:05] Need to address hunger, support for Universal Basic Income
- [44:10] Her desire to see local government empowered, governing themselves through an empowered community
Deborah Cummins [0:43]
In this episode, I talk with Associate Professor Kripa Ananthpur about how local governance in India works, including traditional governance institutions as they operate in Indian villages today, and some of the misconceptions around the value and use of traditional governance institutions, when seen from the local perspective. We also chat about some avenues for promoting the rights of women living in Indian villages, and what this means for deepening democracy in India as a whole.
This episode is dedicated to Kripa’s mother, Meena Ishwar, who passed away in 2019. The comments made by Kripa in this interview are hers alone, and do not reflect those of the Madras Institute for Development Studies in Chennai, India, where she works.
Kripa, thank you so much for joining me.
Kripa Ananthpur [2:04]
Deborah Cummins [2:05]
So Kripa, can we begin with you sharing a little bit of your personal story? Where did you grow up? What type of community do you come from?
Kripa Ananthpur 2:15
Um, my upbringing was completely in a small historic town called Mysore. It is in the southern part of India, in a state called Karnataka. Growing up, it was in the late 1960s and 1970s. So we were living in a very different world at that point of time, very less technology and things like that. So it was a very good childhood where, you know, you interacted with people more than with technology.
And my mother’s influence on my life has been very strong because she believed that we should grow up with all kinds of things. So she deliberately put my sister and myself in a school that was run by this freedom fighter. It was open for all different classes of people, including disabled people and other kinds of people, and everybody was treated very well. And the medium of instruction was the local language in Kannada. So, seven years of my life, my schooling was in the Kannada language.
My mother’s justification was that you people want to learn English, and you would make an effort to learn English, but the local language, you will not make the same effort to learn if it is not taught properly right from the beginning. And she wanted us to be fluent in both. And in hindsight, she was absolutely right, because you know, I can do a lot of translations and go back and forth between the two languages. Growing up in that kind of a community and schooling, and also the language, gave me the immediate facility to do very detailed, very comfortable field work in the villages of India. And that’s something that I really bring to my work because without realising I had these early trainings to be a good researcher, I think. So I thank my mother for that.
Going forward, I actually was a science student. I took up chemistry, and human nutrition. I was particularly interested in human nutrition. But we had community development as part of that human nutrition syllabus, and I was getting very interested in community development. But a real turning point coming into the field of development studies was when I was aged 18 or 19. I was standing in a bus stop waiting for a bus to come home from college. And I saw this really poor lady with a small toddler and a baby. Usually in India, at the bus stops, there is a small kind of cart that sells tea and other kinds of things. And she had very little money so she bargained with this tea shop fellow, saying that with the money she had could he give her a little bit of tea and a little bit of milk for the toddler. So I was just watching it, and for me it was like a real enlightenment moment because I realised: it’s not that she does not know that she needs this. She knows that she needs to feed her child milk and nutritious food. She just doesn’t have purchasing power. And that’s when I kind of shifted my attention to studies in development studies. I went on to my Masters in Development Studies, and then PhD in Development Studies. And I’ve never looked back, you know. This is, I found my mission a sense.
Deborah Cummins [6:14]
What a wonderful story. And your mother sounds like a very wise woman. Would you consider her to be a good representative of women of her caste at that time? Or was she a bit more progressive?
Kripa Ananthpur [6:34]
She was really progressive for her time. She was a remarkable person, you know, always challenged societal norms and things like that. And at a very young age, she was very into societal problems and progressive thinking. For example, she grew up in a time… even now there is as you know, in India, there are entrenched caste cleavages and hierarchies. And imagine: about 75 years back when my mother was growing up, it was much more entrenched. It was a highly hierarchical society.
And the untouchables, as they’re called, usually did not mix with other caste groups or eat together. And my mother came from our caste, and she would bring these girls home for lunch. And then her mother apparently would say that they don’t look like her, they’re not from our caste. And she would scold them saying that “just because they’re slightly darker, why are you making these assumptions and things like that”? So she was always like this.
And she was one person who also taught both my sister and I – actually both my parents, but more from my mother – to be comfortable in any surroundings. Like, we would go to a five-star hotel for lunch, and we would be perfectly comfortable. Then we would go to a village and have food with the people there, and we’d be comfortable. And my mother would go on these adult literacy missions. She had not studied much, she did what was then called matriculation, which would be like 11th Form, or something like that. She could speak a little bit of English on her own. When I look back as an adult, and critically analyse my upbringing, I think that I was very lucky to have parents who are so progressive and well-rounded in their personalities, you know. They were intellectuals, that you imbibe in some way or the other growing up. So I am very proud of my parents and I look up to them a lot.
Deborah Cummins [8:59]
Your parents sound like truly wonderful human beings. And this school you went to as well sounds fascinating. The one that was run by an ex freedom fighter. Can you tell me a bit more about this?
Kripa Ananthpur [9:15]
At the time when we went into the school – this is actually a lady, her name was Sunanda Ma. And she was also a freedom fighter, and her husband was a freedom fighter. This was much later, you know, we got our independence in 1947, from the British. And all these people were part of that movement.
Sanskrit is our classical language in India. And all the scriptures are in Sanskrit. And it’s always been under the control of upper castes like Brahmins and others, who had learned how to read and write Sanskrit and the scriptures, right. This lady called Sunanda Ma, who was the freedom fighter, vowed that anybody and everybody should be able to speak Sanskrit. So, she started in the fringe of our residential area which bordered a more poorer neighbourhood, which was more rural. And it had more of these people who were domestic workers and other kinds of agricultural labourers. And she said, “I want everybody to be able to speak and say things in Sanskrit”.
So Sanskrit was part of our schooling. Everybody was, you know, made to recite Sanskrit, like the Bhagavad Gita, which is one of our big holy books. And then also one of the things that they did was, you know, we used to have annual school days when we had plays and things like that. And then made sure that at least there were like, four or five as I remember, disabled students. These disabled people were given a role in the play. So, you know, you just then start imbibing it without realising what is happening, it becomes the norm. It’s not an exception, so then you go on to behave like that. And I think that was a wonderful upbringing. When I look back on then, many of my views, the way I behave, and my attitudes are shaped by those early interactions.
Deborah Cummins [11:57]
That comes through clearly. And can you tell us a bit more about your work now? What does your research focus on?
Kripa Ananthpur [12:05]
Yeah, actually after my PhD, I worked as an independent researcher consultant based out of Mysore. And subsequently in 2001, I joined this institute called the Madras Institute of Development Studies. We are actually a research institution. We are funded by the Indian Council of Social Science Research. But I largely do research and my research is broadly on areas related to local government, local institutional dynamics, looking at formal and informal, traditional, institutional, you know, dynamics at the local level, women’s political participation. And, how do you kind of deepen participation for democracy itself.
Deborah Cummins [12:55]
Fascinating stuff. And to help put us in the picture, can you describe a little bit everyday people’s lives in India? To give us an idea of the context… I know that you grapple with very complex issues around caste and gender, can you speak a bit more to this?
Kripa Ananthpur [13:18]
When you talk about when India, you have to talk about the cast structure and how that operates, you know, sets up the social hierarchical system within which the society operates. So somebody asked me, saying that how is caste bias different from gender bias, or caste discrimination different from gender discrimination? So, my instinctive response to that person was that a woman is discriminated within the household. Whereas in caste, you don’t get discriminated at the household level. The discrimination always happens outside of the household. If you’re a particular caste in the household, you’re never going to be discriminated for that. But if you are a woman, that discrimination because you’re a woman starts at the household level, it starts in childhood itself. And that is something I don’t think we’ve been able to deal with nearly well enough. We have not been able to challenge this, it’s very deep rooted. I see that even in urban areas, you know, some people thinking that inherently men are better than women. So I think it is challenging, and it’s something that I hope in the next 20 to 30 years, we’ll start diluting.
Deborah Cummins [14:49]
Thanks, Kripa. Now, this segues really nicely into my next question. A lot of your research focus has been on deepening democracy through encouraging local political participation, including the local political participation of women. Can you speak a little bit about your work around these different areas?
Kripa Ananthpur [15:12]
You know, in order to build a very strong foundation, you need to focus on grassroots democracy and build a much stronger foundation there. And it’s only then that whatever that we are doing and talking about at the upper level or higher level starts mattering. I find that largely, when in any academic circle, you sometimes tend to live in these ivory towers, surrounded by all these theories and concepts and paradigms. And you get so caught up in it.
But when you actually go down to the field and talk to people, it’s really like, their lives are so different, you know? Agency as you’re trying to define it doesn’t matter. She just wants to at least have food, you know. It’s the small victories that matter to them. It’s literally like, you know, day to day, how do they negotiate. And with all the hardships that they go through, that optimism, that hope – that never goes away. I’ve learned so much from going to the field, because your problems are put in perspective when you go there, and you see that the things that we take for granted are coming so hard for these women. And in all that they are so strong, they’re actually kind of hopeful, they’re smiling, they’re struggling, they don’t even realise how strong they are.
And that actually started making me have a consistent focus: what am I doing, in everything, to bring a gender dimension to the work? So at the moment I look at women’s issues. Something that I’ve been noticing which people have written about also is that: how the women’s agenda all the time gets subsumed under the larger interest of either farmers, or citizens, and things. So women always comes last. First: let us kind of take care of the farmers, and then we’ll deal with women. Or we’ll take care of the democratic issues, but then we’ll deal with women’s issues. They don’t realise that these issues are part of the larger problems that are actually, you know, plaguing the society and the country.
And this is the reason why I’m feeling that, more and more, these gender issues need to be mainstreamed. And it cannot be seen as something separate to what is happening, but that is what is happening. So, that’s how I started coming into it. And with women, I particularly find that the patriarchal context hasn’t changed at all. You know, we have two Indias literally. We have a rural Indian, and urban India. It’s different in urban India. By and large, in middle class or lower-middle class and above women and girl children, they have the right decide on what they want to study. There have been a lot of interventions in women’s agency itself. But in villages, it’s very, very controlled by the patriarchal society. And they have very limited opportunities.
Many times, when we go and talk to these girls in schools, they are exposed to so little they don’t have any idea about what are the things that they can do. You know: lack of information, lack of opportunity. So building their capacity can make a lot of difference to how the society will evolve over time. One thing I can give back is information. So I always make sure that I give a lot of information to people when I’m in the field, at whatever level that you can give. So that’s one thing I always make sure that I give. So that’s how I kind of got interested in these areas. And it’s been a fascinating journey.
So I kind of stumbled upon the traditional institutions at the local level, because of talking about women’s political participation, in which gender reservation is mandated in the formal local governments. Because under the reservation of formal local governance, we had 33% seats reserved for women at that point of time. Now it’s increased to 50%.
I was talking to a group of people in the village and asking them about their impressions of women’s political participation. And they said, women are there in formal institutions because there is a reservation. But in our traditional panchayat, they’re not allowed. Even if they come, they’re not allowed to speak. Because this was in late 1990s and early 2000 kind of a period, and nobody had gone back to study these traditional institutions, as to what had happened to them since then. And then, you know, that that’s how we met.
Deborah Cummins [20:43]
Yes, it’s also my great love. So now, we know that different countries deal with these traditional customary institutions in different ways. How does it work in India? Is customary law actually recognised in India? Are these customary councils recognised?
Kripa Ananthpur [21:06]
In the traditional sense, technically or formally, they are not recognised because these councils are not supposed to exist when the formal institutions are there. They operate under the radar of the government. But it’s like an informal governance structure that works for them, because while the administration has been decentralised, the judiciary has not been decentralised in India. To maintain local internal law and order with these small villages, you need some sort of a mechanism that kind of maintains social cohesion.
But having said that, over the period of time, there are variations of these institutions. Some are like single caste institutions or lineage institutions in the northern part of India, which can vary. They’re not benevolent institutions. They can be very hierarchical, they can be very violent sometimes in terms of their retributions against those who violate traditional norms and customs. So you’ve heard of, you know, stories of honour killings and caste lynchings and things like that. Some of that happens. But the ones that I was studying in Karnataka were multi-caste, kind of an association of this caste leader.
So there was some sort of an accommodation. But they were actually very patriarchal. Although there was some sort of shift that had happened in terms of being more inclusive of all caste groups, because there was reservation in the formal institutions with which they existed, whereas when it came to gender, they were really patriarchal, you know, through and through. So there is no women’s inclusion as yet. I don’t think it will happen for a long time. But you have a formal counterpart which as you know, include women, and that’s made a difference.
Deborah Cummins [23:28]
And how do people actually view or respond to these traditional or customary institutions? Is that something that policymakers and those working in the aid and development sector appreciate and respect?
Kripa Ananthpur [23:51]
No, it is actually you know, it is, a pejorative word. Anything customary or traditional is pejorative. And whether it helps people or not, whether, you know. I mean, just because it’s not rooted in your liberal democratic principles, immediately it is seen as being bad. But they have survived, they have some sort of a utility. And then even women find that, you know, it actually makes a difference to them because it affords them some sort of protection and things like that. It’s actually, you know, it’s not important to these people who summarily dismiss these institutions as being bad for democracy.
Though very interesting, if we have time, I can just tell you one little story. So one of these customary institutions, they know they do this dispute resolution. So they’re also aware that outsiders view them pejoratively and negatively. And so when I started doing this research. I became friends with some of these leaders. And they would tell me that yes, I would always tell them that I wanted to come and see one of the dispute resolution mechanisms that happens. And they say yes, yes, yes, but they’d call me literally like half an hour before it happens. And you know, they know that I need to drive two hours to get there, and by the time I got there it’d be over.
There was one village where every Sunday by seven o’clock you had to lodge your complaints with the customary institution. And every Monday morning, they would have dispute resolution. So Karnataka usually Monday is seen as a day off for farmers. So in villages, generally they don’t go into the field on Mondays, so it is supposed to open on Mondays. So I landed up on one Monday and, kind of you know, made myself unobtrusive and sat just watching. And it was very interesting. Many of these reasons why many academics and outsiders, policymakers, miss this is because it happens in a way that is very kind of casual, and things like that.
It was in front of a temple. And some people gathered there, and finally around 11.30am or 12pm in the afternoon, the panchayat leaders were present, and cases were being heard. And there was one case about this one woman who had two older brothers. And one younger brother, he was not married. And she was living with her younger brother. And she had been given a piece of land by her father, which she wanted to sell. And it fell between the lands of our older brothers, who wanted the first option to purchase the land. So this case was coming a second time in front of the customer institutions. It had already come, and then apparently they had decided that the older brothers would purchase the land from her.
So when I was watching it, the discussion was that, she came to say that: you gave a decision about two months back, but nothing has happened. These people have not made any progress. And I actually want to sell it to somebody else. So then that got those brothers to say that, “why haven’t you done anything about it?’ and there was a lot of discussion on that. And this woman actually was standing and she was representing herself, you know. And then finally, there were some little issues, and then the panchayat said that: “okay, if you want her to, if you want the land, then go and put a down-payment on that right now. And if in 15 or 20 days if you don’t do what you have been asked to do it, you will lose access to that money. And we are not going to listen to any other respect.”
So one of the objections to this was that the lady was staying with her younger brother, and he might kind of misappropriate the money that she was getting from the others. So there was a lot of debate about it. And then the customary Panchayat leader said that: “listen, she’s come to us for one particular reason. That is for the sale of land. We cannot delve into what will happen to that land, or that money etc. We can tell her that she’s free to come back to us to discuss that. If the younger brother cheats her out of the money, she can always come back. So, they made that very clear. And they also told them that before such and such date, it has to be done.
So subsequently, I was talking to them and saying that: “how come there are no women?” And they said, “you actually watched what was going on? Did you think it was fair?” I said “yes, it was fair, you know, whatever that was done was very fair.” Then they said “then what guarantees would there be, had she gone to them formal courts, that she actually would have found a woman? Okay, she might have found a woman lawyer, but what are the chances of there being a female judge? It would have been a male judge that would have given the decision. So what is the problem with us giving these no decisions? You know, we take our views, and if it is particularly related to say, domestic violence or something we do take in views of women seem to be wise in the village. And we don’t give decisions in a vacuum. You know, we do think.” And they also said that, “in how many formal courts do they have chance, or recourse to, you know, going back and saying that your decision has not been implemented? You know, they have come back because the original design was not implemented.”
You know, it’s not taken lightly. You know, the level of debate that went into making a decision on this particular thing, I was really, really impressed. And actually, I should say that, you know, my views also changed largely. But if you actually talk to people who are out of this frame of mind, of trying to see how various institutions work, they’re just going to say that it’s not formal. So they cannot exist, right?
So, but in the absence of such mechanisms, the courts as it is can’t manage, you know, resolving disputes that are already there. We have a history of Indian courts trying to clear their backlogs in a sense, because it’s that overburdened. So if these mechanisms were not there, you know, it would not have been possible for courts to function at all. So you know, I have had this exactly as you said. A lot of people say that, you know, “oh, they’re bad, how can you work on it?” How can you even put the effort in, just by studying them? We are saying that they’re bad.”
But my point is that, you know, “before you take it away, make sure that there’s something that replaces what you’re taking away, you know. Otherwise you’re leaving them worse off, than they were before you intervened in trying to take away these intermediate associations. You know, which are not supposed to be formal or, you know, democratic and things like that.” So, we need to kind of think about this in a larger context, as to say how do they matter to them people who actually use them? Instead of how do we as outsiders view them? Yeah, so that has been my experience.
Deborah Cummins [31:43]
Absolutely. And it’s just interesting that people seem to take the perspective that if they don’t like it, then they’ll ignore it and somehow, magically make it go away…
Kripa Ananthpur [31:57]
But they also have a mechanism, you know. What I found is, in case they’re not functioning well, they die naturally. That has happened many times, you know. If they are not seen as being good, they’re corrupt and things like that, people actually stop respecting them, respecting the institution. So, it is kind of a process where people have a way of keeping or maintaining accountability. There are inbuilt systems of accountability and transparency in the institutions that I was studying, you know. But it is part of the society, it’s very embedded and you know, you cannot take it away so easily without putting replacement structures in place.
Deborah Cummins [32:42]
Yeah, absolutely. And that is such a good point that these institutions can and do die out if people are no longer buying into them, if they don’t see that it that it works for them. Now, can we shift the conversation a little bit, and bring it back to women’s political participation and, the interests of women in these contexts. So how do you think gender mainstreaming can fit so that it takes more of a bottom-up contextualised approach, rather than the current very heavy top-down approach that we see at the moment?
Kripa Ananthpur [33:23]
You know, if I knew that I would be… No, I think it’s a very challenging question. And I think it’s a very relevant question. It is a very important question, but it’s also very challenging, because I think it’s also very context specific. So what works in Africa might not work in India, might not work in Southeast Asia and other kinds of developing South. Because each of these societies are entrenched in particular societal value systems and patriarchal institutions, which need to be worked with, before we move on to, you know.
For example, 50% reservation in local government seats have been mandated, more or less, in most states in India. So on one hand you have that. But on the other hand, the mechanisms to make these women participate, in terms of increasing their literacy, income, increasing that capacity, and giving them more safety, none of that has actually taken off. But you’re expecting them to work very well. Right. So, what are the supporting sectors that are really required for women to become part of the mainstream? Like, you know, invest in social sectors like health, education, which are extremely important to women. Violence against women is a huge issue. So you have to kind of put in a whole bunch of, you know, investment in providing an environment that is safe for women to transact on a day to day basis, and transact at a higher level of politics.
I think for those just to give, say, reservation for women really loses its value, right? It doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t have any meaning actually, or make it a reality. So mainstreaming is… that is why I feel that, you know, often you’re just doing this very superficial kind of policy, you know, changes or policy innovations, without actually kind of looking at it holistically, saying that how are we going to kind of situate it in the larger context?
So for example, there are two things that I think are missed opportunities. For example, you have distribution of seats, right? So, what has happened is that many times, and this is something that we found again and again and again, okay. So we find that when we are talking, we train them, we kind of really build capacity and things like that. But next term, either because of the rotation of the reservation of seats, or because of, you know, institutional or community gatekeeping, these women are not allowed to contest again. So the political constituency that women need to build, to be able to be better elected representatives, gets lost. So every time you have a fresh, newly-elected woman coming with absolutely no experience in politics.
And obviously, you know, in 25 years, we don’t have a history which is very positive of women’s political representation making a difference to democracy. You need to understand why. It’s not because these women are not, you know, capable or effective. It is because they are not being allowed to build a political constituency. You very rarely find women contesting for a second time or third time and winning and making a difference.
And also, we have very strong self-help group movement. And we have seen over a period of time when I’ve done other projects, these women have become extremely capable, community level agents, or community level professionals, who actually can link people with higher tiers of governance. All this because they’re able to transact with outside institutions. How do you build on that? People just don’t build on it, you know?
So a lot of programmes that are working in silos, they don’t connect, or interconnect. And as a result, what happens is that even if you have actually made a difference, if you don’t anchor them in some sort of an institutional set up, and instead just let them be, how are they going to use those opportunities? Because we are talking about rural India, there are not many opportunities. So that is a missed opportunity, that these people don’t build on that.
Another missed opportunity, definitely for me, I think, is that we are not concentrating enough on children and youth. Because today’s children are tomorrow’s citizens and elected representatives and electorate. So we have to start inculcating a whole bunch of values and systems into them right now. And to kind of help women, actually, they need to get into politics by training them through their schooling. To say that, you know you are capable of doing it, elected women’s representatives do these things.
So early in late 1999 and 2000, we did a radio programme on imparting information on local governments. And it was like a radio soap opera, it ran for 13 weeks, and it was a big hit. Because we realised that, it was really that, women particularly didn’t have access to information. And as a part of it, when we took it statewide, we had children’s group listening to it, and actually we found that these children went and actually visited grand panchayat to see what does it look like? What is happening? You see, children are like invisible citizens, right? So their views are not taken into consideration at all in local development initiatives.
So I feel that the leadership training can start at the school level itself. And once we do that mainstreaming then, you know, if you can break some of these biases and barriers at the level of children themselves, when they grow up they are going to be much more open to new ideas and innovations than if they’re brought up in a very closed environment. So, I feel that’s how mainstreaming needs to happen and not these very superficial patchy kind of, you know, policies that seemingly make a difference, or seemingly offer gender mainstreaming, but they’re not really, you know…
Deborah Cummins [40:53]
Yeah. So Kripa, as we begin to wind down this interview, can you share with me: what’s your great dream? What would you love to see for the communities, and the people that you work with, and India as a whole?
Kripa Ananthpur [41:12]
I would like to see equality of opportunity. I want every child to have the same opportunity, and not carry the burden of being born to low class or low caste families. And that’s something that bothers me a lot. I feel like everybody should be… we should be able to start on the same platform, in terms of at least the basket of opportunities that is available to us. What we make out of it is different, you know. It is going to be determined by your own agency, your ability. But if they don’t even get that opportunity, if they don’t even know that these things exist so they can aspire to it, that I think is very very sad. And I would want to see that they can build that capacity for themselves.
One of the things that really bothers me is that so many years down the line, in India seventy years down the line, we still haven’t been able to battle poverty and hunger. And for me, sometimes… You’ll laugh at me when I say this, but since I’m in that space I have to say this. Going to work, and I’ll see someone begging, or someone making something very small. And I just pray so fervently that I hope today they get some money. And then they can have a full meal. At New Year, my one wish was that nobody would go hungry for at least one day. Because I think that hunger is something that is… There is so much food on the one hand, and so much hunger on the other. That they can’t reconcile these things to me is… You can put man on Mars and all kinds of things but you can’t solve this?
It bothers me as a citizen, as a human being, as a development professional. That the most basic thing as hunger. Human beings are capable of wonderful things. And in that sense, I think I support Universal Basic Income. If we’re not so bothered about where the next meal is going to come from. Or you make it affordable to them. The things people actually might make of their life, the direction it might go in, would be very different.
Deborah Cummins [43:53]
And what about politically? Bringing it back to much of the focus of your research, what would you like to see happen in terms of local governance, local political participation, etc?
Kripa Ananthpur [44:10]
In terms of local government itself, I would like them to become really empowered. At this point in time, they become a wing of the government, like an implementing agency. They’re not really local self-governments. They’re not making decisions for themselves, solving their own problems. That can happen only when there is an empowered community, both caste- and gender-wise. So they come together and start running their own lives.
I made a reference to this radio program that became so popular. And we had named it “We Are Our Own Masters”. So we gave a message to these people, saying that the person who is ruling you is your neighbour, your friend. It’s not somebody else. So in the end, we are our own masters, we have the ability to govern ourselves.
And one of the very first episodes, a woman told me “I couldn’t sleep the whole night”. I said “why?” She said “the title is so evocative, I never thought about it that way. We are always ruled, and governed. We never think about it, that I have the power to effect change. I never even thought about it.” And then you realise the power of these words, and how it does have impact on people, and how they’re starved for these kinds of things. The politicians only remember them when it’s election time, but the rest of the time, they’re just… you know.
I’m an optimist. For me, the glass is always half full. I think there will be change, I think things will get better. We have to go through these turbulent times to come out stronger. I think we’re all taking democracy for granted. We are now realising that we have to protect democracy, we can’t take democracy for granted. And I think that is a good place to end this.
Deborah Cummins [46:33]
I think you’re right Kripa. Thank you so much for joining me. It has been an absolute pleasure, catching up with you and learning a bit more about your work. Thank you.
Kripa Ananthpur [46:48]
My pleasure Deborah. In a sense, that you know, I really enjoyed this. You took me back to my childhood, and made me go through this entire journey that I’ve had in going into development. It’s made me think about a lot of things that I did not think about in a long time. And I realise how various aspects have come together to lead me here, at this point in time. So thank you for this opportunity.
Deborah Cummins [47:18]
Oh thank you, it really has been a pleasure.
If you’d like to check out Kripa’s work, you can find her at the Madras Institute for Development Studies. We’ve also included their website and other resources in the shownotes for this episode, which you can find at https://bridgingpeoples.com.
If you enjoyed this episode, and think others might too, please do share amongst your networks.
I’m your host Deborah Cummins. Thanks for joining me. This is a Bridging Peoples podcast.
Kripa Ananthpur is an Associate Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, and holds a PhD in Development Studies from the University of Mysore, in India. Her research focus is on local government, traditional institutions, and gender empowerment in Indian villages. She has led many large projects for numerous organisations including the World Bank, with a focus on encouraging and supporting local citizen engagement, particularly of women.