MODULE 1 - (continued)


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Reflecting on Development Policies and Strategies

Advancing ESC rights entails a paradigm shift from existing models of development.  Eco­nomic, social and cultural entitlements are normally associated with needs and brought into the ambit of development policy.  In order to advance ESC rights, it is essential for activists to reflect on and understand the implications of development policies pursued by national governments and international agencies.  They also have to have an historical perspective on the development strategies pursued by governments and international agencies, if they are to be able to critique them and, where necessary, propose alternative models that respect ESC rights.

A brief history on national planning and the meaning of "development”

The industrial revolution gave rise to the need for social planning.  Urban squalor and pov­erty caused by industrialization called for the provision of welfare meas­ures.  (See Module 19, pp. 370-71 for some history on early monitoring of these conditions.)  Initially, it was left to charities to cope with these "social problems.”  The latter proved to be so enormous, how­ever, that they soon required intervention by professionals and the state.  Poverty, ill health, lack of education and hygiene and unemployment required extensive social planning and in­tervention in everyday life.  Planning became a central tech­nique of development, redefin­ing social and economic life in accordance with the demands of industrial society.  This "sci­en­tific” (rational and efficient) planning was infused with an instrumental attitude towards people and nature.

In the 1920s and 30s, following the mobilization of national re­sources to fight World War I, planning attained prominence with Soviet planning, the scientific management movement in the United States, and Keynesian economic policy. [7]   The spread of colonialism and the ex­port of "modernity” paved the way for planning in the colonies.  Planning became a central tool in modernizing traditional developing societies.  The nationalists who emerged in the colonies also believed in planning as a way of building strong and modern postcolo­nial nations.

The planning model was intended to achieve wholesale transformation of human and social structures, replacing them with new, rational ones.  The zeal for this type of transformation is apparent in an article published in 1952 in the Journal of Economic Development and Cul­tural Change.  The author, in discussing factors that obstruct development in newly inde­pendent countries, argued:

If we try to interpret the aspirations of the presently economically less advanced countries, we find there also a strange ambiguity which appears to be the result of partial unawareness of the close interconnectedness of economic advancement and cultural change.  For the spokesmen of poorer countries most emphatically favor eco­nomic progress resulting in an elevation of general levels of living, and blame their poverty on previous colonial status or quasi-colonial imperialistic exploitation.  At the same time their rejection of colonialism and imperialism manifests itself in a height­ened sense of nationalism, the symbolic expression of which consists in the repudia­tion of foreign philosophies and external behavior patterns and the reaffirma­tion of traditionally honored ways of acting and thinking.  For example, the national­ism in Gandhi’s independence movement was associated with the return to highly inefficient methods of traditional Indian activity, and in present-day Burma independ­ence is not only accompanied by a resumption of traditional names and dress, but a strengthening of Buddhism, a religion which reflects an ideology totally opposed to efficient, pro­gressive economic activity. The realization of economic advancement meets thus with numerous obstacles and impediments. [8]

The zeal for modernizing developing societies was also reflected in the official poli­cies of the international institutions.  For example, the first World Bank mission to Colombia, in 1949, called for a comprehensive program of development.  The Bank mission stated:

One cannot escape the conclusion that reliance on natural forces has not produced the most happy results.  Equally inescapable is the conclusion that with knowledge of the underlying facts and economic processes, good planning in setting objectives and al­locating resources, and determination in carrying out a programme for improvement and reforms, a great deal can be done to improve the economic environment by shaping economic policies to meet scientifically ascertained social requirements . . . In making such an effort, Colombia would not only accomplish its own salvation but would at the same time furnish an inspiring example to all other underdeveloped ar­eas of the world. [9]

Thus, "development” was about salvation.  The process was facilitated with the launching of Development Decades by the United Nations.  With each decade, the emphasis changed.  In the 1950s, it was growth and national planning; in the 60s, the Green Revolution and sectoral and regional planning; in the 70s, basic needs and local-level planning; and in the 80s, the emphasis changed to environmental planning for sustainable development and planning that incorporated women or the grassroots into development.

The impact of these development programs has not always been positive-witness the situa­tion of the becak drivers.  In fact, these programs have often been particularly detrimental to women and indigenous people.  According to a critic,

Even in terms of increased production, rural development programmes have had du­bious results at best.  Most of the increase in food production in the Third World has taken place in the commercial capitalist sector, while a good part of the increase has been in cash or export crops.  In fact, as has been amply shown, rural develop­ment programmes and development planning in general have contributed not only to growing pauperization of rural people, but also to aggravated problems of malnutri­tion and hunger. [10]

It is thus important that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) which are involved in car­rying out development programs examine their programs from the perspective of rights.  Do their programs contribute to enhancing the rights of people or do they undermine them?  These are real debates and cannot be ignored.

Click to Open: Review - Editorial: Indonesia's Hungry: But is welfare the way to go?

Debate on the Role of the State

The editorial from the magazine The Far Eastern Economic Review, reprinted on the pre­ceding page, illustrates the debate on economic growth versus ESC rights.  In arguing for economic development, the editorial ignores the dignity and freedom of the woman it de­scribes-and countless others who are in similar positions.  It also advocates reducing the role of the state in dealing with poverty, since state welfare does not help the poor; what is needed is economic activity generated by private enterprise.

As the editorial illustrates, those concerned with economic and social issues cannot escape the debate on the role of the state.  At the grassroots level, activists are engaged in challeng­ing the negative effects of development and the role of the state in contributing to those negative effects.  At the same time, state intervention in promoting devel­opment is being challenged by others who advocate reduction of the state’s role in economic and develop­ment activities more generally.  The concept of the state itself and its responsibilities, in­cluding its role in public policies, has been brought into question in this era of globalization.  The postwar consensus that existed in most Western European coun­tries regarding the role of the state in ensuring basic human welfare has been undermined.

The market versus state debate is important for those working on ESC rights issues.  At the same time, it should be clarified that states have obligations to uphold human rights irrespec­tive of the economic system they follow.  The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has made clear that under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, "undertaking to take steps [to guarantee ESC rights] neither requires nor precludes any par­ticular form of government or economic system.”

The following passage by Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen provides a useful framework for ap­proaching the debate regarding market versus state.

The competing virtues of the market mechanism and governmental action have been much discussed in the literature.  But the comparative merits of the two forms of eco­nomic decision are so thoroughly context-dependent that it makes little sense to es­pouse a general "pro-state” or "pro-market” view.  To illustrate the point at the most obvious level, we could note the simple fact that what a government can do, and will in fact do, must depend on the nature of that government . . . The implicit faith in the goodness and the good sense of the government that underlies much reasoning in favour of government-led economic development cannot, frequently, stand up to scrutiny . . .

There is a similar question about the context-dependence of the role of the market mechanism as well.  What kinds of markets are we talking about?  Most of the theory of efficiency or effectiveness of the market mechanisms relates to competitive mar­kets in equilibrium.  It is not unreasonable to assume that small violations of those competitive conditions need not alter the results violently, but actual markets can take very different forms indeed.  For example, the cornering by a few operators of goods in short supply-leading to a massive accentuation of shortage and suffering-has hap­pened too often to be dismissed as imaginary nightmares.  The recent history of Asia and Africa provides plentiful examples of market exchanges being used to make profits out of the miseries of millions.

There are also cases where the market manages to misjudge the extent of a shortage quite badly and causes suffering-even chaos-as a result, without this being the re­sult of much willful manipulation.  This happened, for example, in the Bangladesh famine of 1974, when misguided speculation on the part of traders contributed to an enormous hiking of rice prices, followed later by a sharp fall towards pre-hike prices (meanwhile the famine had taken its toll).  To take a general "pro-market” view with­out conditions attached is no less problematic than taking a general "pro-government” view. [11]

It should be stressed that it is not a question of one form of government or another.  It is rather a question of the type of governance that ensures the realization of ESC rights.  In the current debate, the negative role of the state (particularly relating to restrictions and controls) has been given much prominence.  What is important to stress, however, is the positive role of the government in developing and implementing public policies relating to the provision of education, health care, land dis­tribution and other social and economic entitlements.    

It is now well established that positive interventions by gov­ernments can bring about rapid changes in living conditions.  Among ten developing coun­tries that achieved the largest re­ductions in infant and child mortality rates between 1960 and 1985, five were cases of what Dreze and Sen call "growth-mediated success”; that is, the success was achieved as a result of economic growth. 

The other five countries belong to the category of "support-led success.”  The latter achieved reduction in mortality despite low economic growth through concerted public programs in the areas of health, education and social security. The relation between public intervention and the removal of endemic depriva­tion has been established even in the experiences of the rich and industrialized countries.  One example is the sharp increase in longevity in Brit­ain dur­ing the decades of the world wars, which were periods of rapid ex­pan­sion of support for public food dis­tribution, employment generation and health care provi­sioning.  In the contem­porary pe­riod, persis­tent hun­ger and depri­vation in some sections of the population, even in rich countries, seem to have a clear connection to a lack of public policy and inter­ven­tion. [12]

The Right to Know, The Right to Live
An Experience from Rajasthan, India

“To secure the livelihood of the marginal sections of the rural society, control over resources as a means of production was considered essential. The mobilisation and movements in different parts of the country to secure the livelihoods have thus focused upon the entitlements over resources, primarily natural resources. The initial work of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in Rajasthan in the early 1990’s also focused on these aspects. The process of securing these entitlements was through the mobilisation of the marginal sections, against exploiters. Often, the mobilisation was against the state, as the state, for instance by denying minimum wages in development activities, had established exploitation as a norm.

“On the other hand, the right to information was seen as an elite urban preoccupation. It was considered to be part of the freedom of expression and democratic rights . . . The process of securing the right to information . . . relied on the due process of law and . . . influencing the policy makers. The issue was debated more in the intellectual arena and never on the street corners. The press was also involved in securing the right to information, as a fundamental right to expression.

“These two attempts were carried out as independent and often parallel activities. It was in 1994 that MKSS, during its work on securing the livelihood, articulated the convergence between these two issues. The year 1994 . . . was the first time that the method of public hearings—a process adopted in popular environmental movements—was adopted in the mobilisation of the marginal farmers and landless labourers. The major theoretical shift, however, was in the articulation of the right to information from a freedom of expression to an inalienable right of the weaker sections to right of life and livelihood.

“Thus, the movement that was begun to secure livelihood at a Kasbah had completely altered the macro discourse on the right of information by making it a precondition for secure livelihood and not freedom of expression alone. For the majority of the rural poor, who depend on state development activities for their livelihood, the right to information would empower them to secure the minimum wages and demand that development is not limited to statistics but transforms their living conditions for the better. Second, the movements in Rajasthan to secure livelihood by mobilisation of the exploited saw the merit in situating their struggle in the context of right to information as well.”13

The achievements made by some developing countries through government intervention are evidence that it is possible to achieve rapid improvements in living con­ditions despite slow economic growth.  It is worth pointing out, for example, that despite high economic growth, Thai­land and South Korea still have lower life expectancy at birth than Sri Lanka, Jamaica and Costa Rica.  Similarly, in India, the State of Kerala has experienced exceptional achievements in the social field despite its low income level; it has a higher life expectancy at birth (of about 72 years) than some other economically successful countries in the region (Thailand at 69 years and South Korea at 71 years).

How did Sri Lanka and Kerala achieve social development despite being part of a region where economic deprivation is endemic?  Kerala’s success can be traced to public interven­tion relating to elementary education, land reform, the role of women in society and equitable provision of health care and other public services.14  Neglect in these same areas has been re­lated to the extreme social dep­rivation that is prevalent in some other provinces in India.  In fact, the glaring contrast between Kerala and other In­dian provinces is evidence that ensuring ESC entitlements requires a range of public interven­tions that increase the agency of indi­viduals by providing them basic education and health facilities.

The Indivisibility of Rights

Realization of ESC rights also requires the protection of civil and political rights as enabling conditions for the participation of citizens in the formulation, implementation and monitor­ing of social policies.  However, the importance of these enabling conditions does not mean that civil and political rights take precedence over ESC rights.  In reality, they go hand in hand.  The experience of a group in Rajasthan, India (described in the box on p. 24) shows that those working on ESC entitlements can embrace civil and political rights as a means of ad­vancing ESC rights-and thereby advance freedoms in general.  The group in Rajasthan de­manded access to information, not as an individual’s right related to freedom of expression, but as the inalienable right of the weaker sections to life and livelihood.

Reorienting our Perception on Rights

In developing a rights-based approach, it is important to reexamine our way of thinking and acting on issues that confront disadvantaged individuals and groups.  The human rights movement has historically sought to ensure that those who were silenced or "disappeared” through civil and political repression regained their voice, visibility and freedom.  The movement, however, has too long neglected the rights of millions of people made invisible or "disappeared” as a result of social, economic, and cultural policies.  Those engaged in human rights activism might reflect on the following powerful and moving passage from N. Scheper-Hughes’s Death Without Weeping, which challenges our perception of rights.15

Everyday Violence: Bodies, Death and Silence

“Writing about El Salvador in 1982, Joan Didion noted in her characteristically spartan prose that ‘the dead and pieces of the dead turn up everywhere, everyday, as taken-for-granted as in a nightmare or in a horror movie.’ In Salvador there are walls of bodies; they are strewn across the landscape, and they pile up in open graves, in ditches, in public restrooms, in bus stations, along the sides of the road. ‘Vultures, of course, suggest the presence of a body. A knot of children on the street suggests the presence of a body.’ Some bodies even turn up in a place called Puerto del Diablo, a well-known tourist site described in Didion’s inflight magazine as a location ‘offering excellent subjects for color photography.’

“It is the anonymity and the routinization of it all that strikes the naive reader as so terrifying. Who are all these desaparecidos—the unknown and the ‘disappeared’—both the poor souls with plucked eyes and exposed, mutilated genitals lying in a ditch and those unidentifiable men in uniform standing over the ditches with guns in their hands? It is the contradiction of wartime crimes against ordinary peacetime citizens that is so appalling. Later we can expect the unraveling, the recriminations, the not-so-guilty confessions, the church-run commissions, the government-sponsored investigations, the arrests of tense and unyielding men in uniform, and finally the optimistic reports—Brazil, Argentina (later, perhaps even El Salvador) nunca mais. Quoth the raven, ‘Nunca mais.’ After the fall, after the aberration, we expect a return to the normative, to peacetime sobriety, to notions of civil society, human rights, the sanctity of the person (Mauss’ personne morale), habeas corpus, and the unalienable rights to the ownership of one’s body.

“But here I intrude with a shadowy question. What if the disappearances, the piling up of civilians in common graves, the anonymity, and the routinization of violence and indifference were not, in fact, an aberration? What if the social spaces before and after such seemingly chaotic and inexplicable acts were filled with rumors and whisperings, with hints and allegations of what could happen, especially to those thought of by agents of the social consensus as neither persons nor individuals? What if a climate of anxious, ontological insecurity about the rights to ownership of one’s body was fostered by a studied, bureaucratic indifference to the lives and deaths of ‘marginals,’ criminals and other no-account people? What if the public routinization of daily mortifications and little abominations, piling up like so many corpses on the social landscape, provided the text and blueprint for what only appeared later to be aberrant, inexplicable, and extraordinary outbreaks of state violence against citizens?

“In fact, the ‘extraordinary’ outbreaks of state violence against citizens . . . entail the generalizing to recalcitrant members of the middle classes what is, in fact, normatively practiced in threats or open violence against the poor, marginal and ‘disorderly’ popular classes. For the popular classes every day is, as Taussig . . . succinctly put it, ‘terror as usual.’ A state of emergency occurs when the violence that is normally contained to that social space suddenly explodes into open violence against the ‘less dangerous’ social classes. What makes the outbreaks ‘extraordinary,’ then, is only that the violent tactics are turned against ‘respectable’ citizens, those usually shielded from state, especially police, terrorism. . .

“What makes the political tactic of disappearance so nauseating—a tactic used strategically throughout Brazil during the military years (1964-1985) against suspected subversives and ‘agitators’ and now applied to a different and perhaps an even more terrifying context (i.e., against the shantytown poor and the economic marginals now thought of as a species of public enemy)—is that it does not occur in a vacuum. Rather, the disappearances occur as part of a larger context of wholly expectable, indeed even anticipated behavior.

“Among the people of the Alto, disappearances form part of the backdrop of everyday life and confirm their worst fears and anxieties—that of losing themselves and their loved ones to the random forces and institutionalized violence of the state.

“The practices of ‘everyday violence’ constitute another sort of state ‘terror,’ one that operates in the ordinary, mundane world of the moradores both in the form of rumors and wild imaginings and in the daily enactments of various public rituals that bring the people of the Alto into contact with the state: in public clinics and hospitals, in the civil registry office, in the public morgue, and in the municipal cemetery. These scenes provide the larger context that makes the more exceptional and strategic, politically motivated disappearances not only allowable but also predictable and expected.

"‘You gringos,’ a Salvadoran peasant told an American visitor, ‘are always worried about violence done with machine guns and machetes. But there is another kind of violence that you should be aware of, too. I used to work on a hacienda. My job was to take care of the dueño’s dogs. I gave them meat and bowls of milk, food that I couldn’t give my own family. When the dogs were sick, I took them to the veterinarian. When my children were sick, the dueño gave me his sympathy, but no medicine as they died.’. . .

“Similarly, the moradores of the Alto speak of bodies that are routinely violated and abused, mutilated and lost, disappeared into anonymous public spaces—hospitals and prisons but also morgues and the public cemetery. And they speak of themselves as the ‘anonymous,’ the ‘nobodies’ of Bom Jesus da Mata. For if one is a ‘somebody,’ a fildalgo (a son of a person of influence), and a ‘person’ in the aristocratic world of the plantation casa grande, and if one is an ‘individual’ in the more open, competitive, and bourgeois world of the new market economy (the rua), then one is surely a nobody, a mere fulano-de-tal (a so-and-so) and Joao Pequeno (little guy) in the anonymous world of the sugarcane cutter (the mata).

“Moradores refer, for example, to their collective invisibility, to the ways they are lost to the public census and to other state and municipal statistics. The otherwise carefully drafted municipal street map of Bom Jesus includes the Alto do Cruzerio, but more than two-thirds of its tangle of congested, unpaved roads and paths are not included, leaving it a semiotic zero of more than five thousand people in the midst of the bustling market town . . .

“The people of the Alto are invisible and discounted in many other ways. Of no account in life, the people of the Alto are equally of no account in death. On average, more than half of all deaths in the município are of shantytown children under the age of five, the majority of them the victims of acute and chronic malnutrition. But one would have to read between the lines because the death of Alto children are so routine and so inconsequential that for more than three-fourths of recorded deaths, the cause of death is left blank on the death certificates and in the ledger books of the municipal civil registry office. In a highly bureaucratic society in which triplicates of every form are required for the most banal of events . . . the registration of child death is informal, and anyone may serve as a witness. Their deaths, like their lives, are quite invisible, and we may as well speak of their bodies, too, as having been disappeared.

“The various mundane and everyday tactics of disappearances are practiced perversely and strategically against people who view their world and express their own political goals in terms of bodily idioms and metaphors . . . At their base community meetings the people of the Alto say to each other with conviction and with feeling, ‘Every man should be the dono [owner] of his own body.’. . .

“Against these compelling images of bodily autonomy and certitude is the reality of bodies that are simultaneously discounted and preyed on and sometimes mutilated and dismembered. And so the people of hte Alto come to imagine that there is nothing so bad, so terrible that it cannot happen to them, to their bodies, because of sickness (por culpa do doenca), becuase of doctors (por culpa dos medicos), because of politics and power (por culpa da politica) or because of the state and its unwieldy, hostile bureaucracy (por culpa da burocracia) ...

" . . . The intolerableness of the situation is increased by is ambiguity. Consciousness moves in and out of an accpetance of the state of things as normal and expectable-violence as taken for granted and sudden ruptures whereby one is suddenly thrown into a state of shock (susto, pasmo, nervious)-that is endimic, a graphic body metaphor secretly expressing and publicizing the reality of the untenable situation. There are nervous, anxious whisperings, suggestions, hints. Strange rumors surface."

Author:  The author of this module is D.J. Ravindran


[7].    Arturo Escobar, "Development Planning,” in Development Studies: A Reader, ed. Stuart Corbridge (London: John Wiley and Sons, 1995), 64-77.

[8].    Bert F. Hoselitz, "Non-Economic Barriers to Economic Development,” in Development Studies: A Reader, op. cit., 17-27.

[9].    Cited in Escobar, op cit., 68.

[10].  Escobar, op. cit., 73.

[11] . Dreze and Sen, op. cit., 16-18.         

[12] . Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, Hunger and Public Action (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).

[13]. From "The Right to Know, The Right to Live: People’s Struggle in Rajasthan and the Right to Information,” July 1996, Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Rajasthan, India.  

[14]. V.K. Ramachandran, "On Kerala’s Development Achievements,” in Indian Development: Selected Regional Perspectives, eds. Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen. (Delhi: Oxford India, 1998).

[15].  N. Scheper-Hughes, Death without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 219-20, 229-33

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