I wish to share with you a message of hope in this anniversary issue of Humanscape. As a recent entrant in the world of social action, I have been asking myself whether people’s campaigns are effective at all. Are they capable of bringing the concerns of people into the political centre-stage and affect the way government works? In two short years of my association with such campaigns, I have gained hope that a well-organised and sustained campaign can indeed bring meaningful changes to the lives of poor and marginalized people. I have drawn inspiration from campaigns on several issues; but here I will stick to the closely intertwined campaigns for right to food and right to information in Rajasthan.
In the last ten years, a strong campaign for the right to information has developed in Rajasthan. The first goal of the campaign was to reduce corruption by promoting transparency and people’s vigilance. Its larger aim is to promote people’s participation in democratic decision-making, and thus bring their concerns on the political agenda. Given the larger aim of the campaign, the movement has always had a focus on the right to food and work. In recent years, a strong Right to Food Campaign has emerged in the state. A network of organisations known as Akal Sangarsh Samiti has played a leading role in this campaign. Both campaigns have worked actively to bring relief to people suffering from hunger in the context of drought.
For drought-affected people, employment is crucial to escape hunger. Over the past three years hundreds of demonstrations have been held all over the state to demand an expansion and improvement of relief works. Measures to promote transparency were taken to ensure that these resources reach the needy and do not line the pockets of corrupt people. In both respects the campaign has had a major impact.
This year witnessed the largest provision of relief employment in the history of Rajasthan, and it ranks as one of the best drought relief efforts in India. This is partly influenced by the prospect of elections, but credit is also due to the campaign for making relief work a political priority in the state. The contrast, for example, with neighbouring Madhya Pradesh is quite stark.