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AHK Memorial Lectures

Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan: True Gandhian of the poor yesterday, today and tomorrow.

By: Kappula Raju



I am deeply honoured by the invitation from Dr. Akhter Hammed Khan Resource Centre, Rural Support Program Network and Council of Social Science Pakistan to deliver Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan's Memorial lecture. Dr. Akhter Hameed khan lived his life for others. Those who live only for others, live for ever. Dr. Hameed khan who believed that caring and sharing is critical for the growth of any society is indeed immortal and he lives for ever. I accepted the invitation with abundance of delight and some trepidation. I am always delighted with any opportunity to visit Pakistan and meet friends. Trepidation, I suppose is natural, especially when one attempts to speak about a legendry person like Dr.Hameed Khan, who was guru to my guru Mr. Shoib Sultan Khan. What I attempt to share this morning is a very humble tribute to a great soul.

Dr. Hameed Khan's life and legacy have been of abiding interest to me and it makes me regret more and more that I could not see him in flesh and blood. During the last one decade, each time I realise the wisdom in recognizing the resourcefulness, intelligence and creativity of the poor, with whom I have been working closely, I repeatedly felt connected with Dr. Hameed Khan. From Shoaib Saab, I learnt about Dr. Hameed Khan's life and lessons in Rural Development. I am overwhelmed at the range of his intellectual interests, his social commitments, his scholarly pursuits, and his passion for true development of the poor. Dr. Hameed Khan's principled ways of living, his generosity and humbleness, his work and words always inspired me. My desire to meet him never materialized. However, over the years I remained a staunch admirer of his ideas and work, as some one practicing them on a daily basis for more than a decade. Dr. Hameed Khan deeply influenced the development discourse not only in this country but in several others, including my own country, India. His work of finding long term solutions to complex socio-economic problems afflicting the poor and the underprivileged is truly inspiring. Dr. Hameed Khan has been called by different names on different occasions. Some call him a 'Scholar'. Sometimes he is referred to as a 'Social scientist'; a 'Social Activist'; a 'development scholar'. Some refer to him as a 'Community Development expert'. He is called a 'Sufi scholar'; a 'Sage' and so on. He called himself severally including a “Buddhist Muslim”. To me he comes forth as a 'development guru'. I would even call him the Bhismah pitamah of development in the Region. In one of the enduring Epics of India, the 'Mahabharata', Bhismah is the central figure known for his wisdom, political sagacity, ethical behaviour and righteousness. Like Bishmah Pitamah, Dr. Hameed Khan too was truly an extraordinary son of the subcontinent.

The more I read about Dr. Hameed Khan and his amazing achievements, the more inspired Iam. He was called “Hero of the Poor” by the Magasasy award citation. I quote further from the citation “The biggest contribution that Dr. Hameed Khan made to society was to correct our distorted perception of the poor. He taught us, through his lifelong work, that poverty arises not out of lack of money but out of constant disempowerment. What the poor need is empowerment in the form of some technical knowledge, maybe some catalytic financial support, but most of all, institutions that give them the right to decide on all issues that affect their lives.” It is remarkable that these insights on poverty came to a man, who once walked the corridors of power as a member of the prestigious ICS. By hindsight it is not at all surprising that Dr. Khan resigned from ICS, disgusted with the lack of sensitivity in general and particularly the inadequate handling of the Bengal famine of 1943 by the colonial rulers. He wrote, "I realised that if I did not escape while I was young and vigorous, I will forever remain in the trap, and terminate as a bureaucratic big wig." The saga of Dr. Khan's discovery of truth began with his apprenticeship as a labourer and locksmith in Aligarh to learn firsthand the way of life of the working classes. The rest as they say is history. The remarkable achievements of his work are centered in his passionate belief, conceptual clarity and his methodology of empowering people to help themselves and achieve true development. The principles that guided the Comilla Project in the rural areas or the Orangi Project in urban settings, were the same – enabling environment, empowering systems, self-help initiative as the most sustainable processes. We are aware how the Orangi Project and its processes influenced and continue to influence the next generation urban development and management programs enormously. The Orangi Pilot Project was a pioneering and unique initiative that facilitated an institutionalized mechanism for effective interaction between qualified professionals and research institutions on the one hand, and the informal sector and low income communities on the other. When Down To Earth Magazine from India interviewed him in 1992 about his achievements in Orangi, he just quoted Michelangelo. When the great sculptor was asked how he made such beautiful statues, he remarked, “The statue is right there in the stone — it is my job to remove the extra stone.” Dr. Hameed Khan said, “This is true in the case of Orangi as well. The solution is there. I merely removed the obstacles to it”. The Orangi Pilot Project in particular, has clearly shown that participatory institutions are required in our cities as well. Mahatma Gandhi had argued that India, after independence, should become a federation of 5,60,000 village republics. Dr Khan's work has taught us that our towns and cities too have to be managed as tens of thousands of mohalla (locality) and galli (lane) republics. For that reason, we believe that Khansaheb was the greatest Gandhian of the entire sub-continent in the post-independence period. Gandhian philosophy for yesterday – fine. Does it stand the rigours of today's world? Ladies and Gentlemen I would like to dwell now on the relevance of Dr. Khan's approach to people's empowerment in today's context. Dr. Hameed Khans' life and work is both a professional inspiration and has a personal meaning to me. The central themes of his development approach - 'community participation' and 'institution building', appeal to me as a civil servant and a development professional deeply committed to poverty alleviation and rural development. I found Dr. Hameed Khan's “Note on Welfare Work, dated 25th February 1980, to be equally relevant today. Succinct, simple, candid and precise, these 11 guiding principles or guidelines provide a perspective and insight into development program, for managers as well as field level professionals. I agree with Shoaib Saab that the 12 Reports of visits to Orangi Pilot Project serve as the best text book in poverty reduction programmes that he has read or seen anywhere in the world.

The approach from top down and target oriented program implementation to one that is open ended, exploratory, and evolutionary, with emphasis on processes and community leadership was a complete paradigm shift in development programs in South Asia. This approach that he championed several decades ago is increasingly becoming a reality now. As a citizen of the sub continent, and a civil servant across the border, I feel proud and inspired by Dr. Hameed Khan's unshaken faith and confidence in ordinary people's capacity to shape their lives. In this belief, he comes forth to me as a true Gandhian. The Gandhian roots of his thoughts can be seen in his emphasis on 'self reliance' of the communities, of building capacities of the community to help themselves, of simple living and high thinking, of collective action in addressing the most intransigent social and economic ills that afflict our societies. I am extremely fortunate that I had the benefit of advice and guidance of Shaoib Sultan Khan for over 12 years, in facilitating social mobilization and community empowerment for poverty reduction for nearly 8 million poor in the state of AP. The project locally called Indira Kranthi Patham, is perhaps the largest poverty reduction initiative in the world, which is wedded to the principles and strategies that Dr Hameed Khan advocated. The project which was put on ground in 1996, soon after our ten day immersion with AKRSP in Gilgit, internalized every principle advocated by Dr Hameed Khan from day one. Thanks to Shoib Saab's innumerable visits to interact with hundreds and thousands of the poor in AP, we learnt to walk the path, he learnt from Dr Hameed Khan. The results are seen to be believed. A number of development professionals, senior Govt officials from Pakistan who have come to see the project in AP in the recent times, have returned back to Pakistan with renewed conviction on the teachings of Dr Hameed Khan. I deem it as my privilege to share with you, Ladies and Gentlemen, what has been achieved during the last 12 years, just to show that Dr Hameed khan's principles are as precise as Newton's laws of gravity. What is unique to AP in India is the presence of self managed, self reliant and vibrant organizations of the poor in the shape of 0.8 million SHGs, covering 8.8 million poor women. The SHGs are federated as 34,000 village organizations at village level. The village organsiations are federated into 1085 Mandal Samakyas, at Mandal level and 22 Zilla Samakyas at District level. The poor are actively participating in their organizations fully and directly and taking all the decisions concerning their endeavor to come out of poverty. The SHG members own a capital of Rs 3,109 crores accumulated through their savings and interest earned on their internal lending. During the last financial year the SHGs have accessed Rs 6,500 crores credit from the commercial banks. The Village organizations are managing Food security activity covering 2.1 million households across the state. Each household receives a basket of food grains including cereals, pulses, edible oils etc on credit basis at the beginning of every month. The Zilla Samakyas are providing life insurance cover to more than 5 million families. The Village organisations and Mandal Samkyas are handling marketing of 63 commodities with an annual turnover of Rs 400 crores. 5760 Village organisations are managing milk collection centres to procure 164,000 liters of milk per day and managing 85 milk cooling centres. The Zilla Samakyas in two districts are managing community managed health insurance covering 82,000 families. The SHGs and their federations through their Social Action Committees have established family counseling centres to address issues such as domestic violence, childmarriages, HIV/AIDS etc. The Zilla Samakyas have engaged the services of lawyers and land surveyors to assist the poor secure access to nearly 0.1 million acres of land and legal titles in accordance with various land legislations of the State. The project over the last one decade has witnessed the emergence of nearly 1.5 million activists and about 12,000 community resource persons. This transformation has happened because we believed there is tremendous potential with in the poor. The potential is harnessed by organising the poor . The poor are willing to be organized. There is presence of committed leaders within the poor. All that we have done is to facilitate the poor to participate in their organsiations and take all the decisions concerning their lives. Government have put in place a sensitive support organisation to provide social guidance to the poor. The poor of AP have achieved success because they helped themselves rather than wait for outsiders to come and do it for them. As Lord Buddha said it and Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan believed it, “no one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may”. The poor of AP owe it to Dr.Khan for showing the world the intrinsic potential of the poor that lay buried deep under the prejudices and insensitivities of the governing elite.

Now that would bring us to the future. In a rapidly “flattening world” and “shrinking boundaries”, what would be the development paradigm for poverty reduction and the critical question as to the relevance of Dr.Akhter's principles in the globalized world? It would seem to me that three critical factors that would determine and influence poverty reduction and world development. First of them is globalization. Second is political stability and third is social conflict.

Developing nations like ours consciously need to make and implement appropriate social policies to address the inequities that inevitably get sharpened in the inexorable march of globalisation. Pro poor policies include those that enhance skills and capacities of the poor, enhance access to market opportunities (credit, jobs, financial resources) to them, and social security measures that mitigate the worse effects of globalization. Some of the key approaches and ideas of Dr.Khan like, collective action, institution building, empowering the poor to access opportunities, micro credit, participative methodologies have universal relevance and are central to these pro poor policies.

The second one relates to political stability and democratizing governments to make them more capable, responsive and accountable to its citizens. Dr.Hameed Khan's abiding belief in the secularist and democratic principles and institutions are well expressed in his writings and speeches. The one that comes to my mind is what he wrote in his article titled “Unity in diversity” where in he said, “Social, economic and regional conflicts within a sovereign state, in our twentieth century world, cannot be resolved by the unifying bond of ritual religion. These conflicts can be resolved only through the sincere and uninhibited use of those institutions specially designed to resolve them in our era such as political parties and interest group associations, elections, legislative assemblies, law courts, free expression of views in public debate, etc.”

The third determining factor in reducing poverty is social conflict. It emerges as both a cause and result of poverty. Across the Globe the countries that suffer some form or the other of social conflict are also poorer nations. Continuing social strife reflects the development hopes gone awry. Dr. Hameed Khan championed the cause of the poor and sought to correct our distorted perception of the poor. His emphasis that poverty arises not out of lack of money but out of constant disempowerment reflects an understanding of the root cause behind most social conflicts. Empowerment and the right to decide on issues that affect their lives is the way to unravel many social conflicts. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the architect of Constitution of India always stressed on the imperative need to make our political democracy a social democracy as well. For him the formal framework of democracy was of little value unless there was social democracy. He forcefully advocated that democracy was incompatible with any thing that promotes or protects discrimination and exclusion and divides people into privileged and underprivileged. It should be our endeavour to bring about economic and social democracy to the centre-stage of all our developmental programmes so that the fruits of development are enjoyed by one and all and human dignity remains inviolable under all circumstances. Economic growth has to be accompanied by social and economic justice. We on the subcontinent do have a long way to go in making development a reality to many a poor household.

Our shared fate with its huge task of poverty reduction, large majority of it's under privileged citizens looking with hope and despair as events often over take them, should keep us busy for years to taking the torch forward. We all need to continue to work on developing our part of the world and for enhancing opportunities for the disempowered and the under privileged. The words of Prof.Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze in their insightful book “Hunger and Public Action” come to my mind, “There is no instant remedy…... The impulse to rush ahead and do something practical to relieve suffering is laudable and necessary. But good motives do not by themselves guarantee effective action. While the task of eradicating hunger (poverty) in the world is too serious to be left entirely to politicians and too immediate to be left entirely to academicians, it is also too complex to be left entirely to the compassionate instincts of human kind. Action has to be based on clear thinking as well as firm dedication”.

has to be based on clear thinking as well as firm dedication”. To my mind Dr.Akhter Hameed Khan symbolizes a rare combination of an activist, with clarity of mind and an unflinching dedication. Perhaps that is why he was able to, during his life time as well as after, impact development discourse in a very fundamental way both on the subcontinent as well as developing nations across the globe. The fact that the AP model of empowering the institutions of the poor is increasingly being replicated in not only other states of India but also attracting the attention of development administrators of African and South Asian nations is a tribute to the great legacy of Dr.Hameed Khan. From all accounts, Dr.Hameed Khan's lived a life of intense intellectual and moral fervour. At the same time he passionately soiled his hands in the mud and toil of grassroots development. His ideology and leadership skills continue to be a source of inspiration for development professionals, academicians, social activists, and students. His ideas continue to influence and serve as guiding principles of community centered programs across developing countries. He was a rare human being indeed. His scientific spirit, analytical rigour, intellectual honesty will continue to inspire and guide many like me for years to come. He was truly an extraordinary son of the subcontinent. His ability to speak 7 languages reflects truly the unique socio-cultural dimension of the subcontinent and its amazing diversity.
It is my personal belief that the shared cultures, history, familial concerns will soon help our two countries to forge strong bonds of friendship and peace.

During the recent visit of a large delegation from RSPN to AP one member very succinctly summed up his impressions on the SHG movement as “ what can be better than SERP (Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty, the sensitive support organization set up the government) as a Confidence Building Measure between Pakistan and India”. The profound insight in the simple utterance in a way is a tribute to the legendry “Hero of the poor “as SERP was founded on the basic tenets of Dr.Akhter Hameed Khan's development paradigm. That makes him my true Gandhian of the poor for the past, present and the future. With an abiding faith in this regard and deep commitment to Dr.Hameed Khan's values and approaches to development, I thank you all for giving me this opportunity. Thank you.