It was a usual Saturday before we got a call from the MLA from Nagrota. We had no plans to work in Jammu and Kashmir in the near future, but here we were, the same Saturday evening, sitting with an MLA who wants us to support him in developing his constituency. Interestingly, the MLA wouldn’t have known about Swaniti’s work, but for a page in a magazine he read on a flight to Delhi. It was fortuitous and a calling from Mata Vaishno Devi. Two weeks later, we were in Nagrota – the gateway to Mata Vaishno Devi – to create and improve livelihood opportunities in the constituency and develop two villages into ‘islands of excellence’.

We started our trip by interacting with Sarpanches and visiting different panchayats in order to get a better understanding of their problems and concerns. To our pleasant surprise, we found even the remotest villages having access to piped drinking water and electricity, and in general, people in villages being better off than those in states like Bihar, UP and MP – states that I have been more familiar with. This however, is not to say that development challenges do not exist in Nagrota. These challenges include poor road and telecom connectivity, poor education and health services. A major reason for these problems is the tough terrain in the region.

Though the challenges and interactions seemed very exciting, there was something on that visit that I found to be quite disheartening. While people were aware of the challenges they faced, we discovered in our interactions that not many were willing to talk about these issues. Everybody had the same question – “What scheme have you guys brought with you?”. We tried to engage people by talking about a lot of new government schemes. Lets take Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana for example. Everybody had the same complaint – we have a bank account but when are we going to get money in that account? In the case of recently launched social security schemes like Pradhan Mantri Jeema Bima Yojana , Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana and Atal Pension Yojana, people asked questions like “What is the use of these schemes? When we will get the money – when we are 60 years old, or when we are dead?”. This issue is unfortunately not limited to just Nagrota or Jammu. Similar questions have been thrown at us by people in different states. This is what makes the solution to the existing problems difficult.

The problem is two-fold. Firstly, people lack awareness about modern banking, insurance and pension products, and the government – at all levels – has perhaps not been successful in getting the messaging right. There has been little effort to explain to the rural people about why they need a bank account or an insurance policy. Information is the missing piece of the puzzle. Secondly, the people in rural India have been made to erase the word ‘long-term’ from their dictionaries. A long era of socialist schemes and doles have made people accustomed to looking for immediate gains in everything. This attitude can be changed only when people taste the fruits of alternative models of development, which will be a slow process. Civil society organizations have a big role to play in order to prepare people to benefit from government interventions more meaningfully.

But on a more optimistic note, things will hopefully change for the better. As for our trip, after an exhausting week of travel through the hilly but enjoyable terrain of Nagrota, the trip was near its end. However, the visit was after all an invitation by Her and could have ended only after Her ‘Darshan’. On the final day, I got a chance to visit the Mata Vaishno Devi Temple and with the blessings of the Mighty Goddess, the trip ended.

We now look forward to playing an active, constructive and meaningful role in catalyzing development interventions in Nagrota, and to work for the welfare of the Hon’ble MLA’s constituents.

Baidhurya is the Engagement Lead at Swaniti. He is a graduate of IIT Kharagpur with a B.Tech degree in Industrial Engineering. and previously worked as a Consultant with General Mills. He can be reached at mani.b@swaniti.in