February 2014

Anirban Chattopadhyay

Byakti o Samaj: Sanglap O Nirman

 6th of February, 2014.

A noted journalist, he initiated the talk with the controversial comment made by Margaret Thatcher in 1987 “There is no such thing as society”. There was much protest following this comment in England which compelled her office, the 10 Downing Street to issue an explanation stating that her comment was misinterpreted and what she intended was that the ills of a country are very often passed upon as that of the society. There should not exist any abstract concept with regard to the term ‘society’. Personal belief together with practical responsibility and action-oriented approach is what she has emphasized. She confirmed that “People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There's no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.” She actually condemned the tendency of use of ‘society’ as a convenient shorthand excuse for individual deficiencies, disappointments and delinquency.

In India, thatcherite policies have been ingrained in the making of several policy decisions. “Individual” has taken a very big role in our policy thinking and the way it is being shaped and implemented. Today our policy designing clearly emphasize on creating connect between the nation and an individual – especially, targeting poor individuals but nevertheless an “individual”.

The post-independence period also saw the reflection of this approach in its policy making, however this approach was more often in connection with the community as a whole. However, the shift in today’s policy approach is reflected through its various schemes – the Aadhar Card and other social schemes in which individuals are being targeted.

With this shift in policy thinking, we can also observe a society which emphasizes more on “I” or “Me” rather on collective effort and societal responsibility. Market dynamics also changed itself in due course by joining the tide and making ‘individual’ the critical factor I all forms – be it an investor, buyer or seller. The surge of various commercialized retail chains such as the Big Bazaar or Spencer can be understood in this respect. The fact that market can also foster the development of human relationships and that this mutual exchange depends on basic factors of trust, security and confidence has become alienated from today’s corporate markets.

Francis Fukuyama in 1994 wrote “The End of History And the Last Man” in which he argued about the end of society’s capability of self-evolution and the triumph of market. In dire contrast to this book, this same man later in 1995 wrote the book “Trust” which emphasizes on the role of social capital and its importance on making of economic policies. The fact that “trust” is a single factor binding the society and impacting its development was highlighted in this second book. Thus what we increasingly decipher is the increasing importance and belief being placed on the role of community as an unit for shaping the development of each individual specifically and also the society, as a whole.

World Bank in its recent report in 2014 has made “Risk & Opportunity – Managing Risk for Development” (Link: http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTNWDR2013/Resources/8258024-1352909193861/8936935-1356011448215/8986901-1380046989056/WDR-2014_Complete_Report.pdf) as its theme. It emphasizes on how a community – collective community provides resilience for facing the various strong attacks of life. This indicates that even World Bank is placing a great deal of emphasis on the role of community. The report cites various instances of collective effort for meeting the threats and other instances wherein its lack resulted in harm being inflicted on the entire society. In one incident occurring in Chicago in 1995, a huge number of people were reported to have died due to heat wave at night. This occurred since all the families had kept their doors and windows closed at night which reflected an absence of mutual trust and confidence. Again in another instance, a village from Nigeria has been put up as model where the village women have developed a joint saving for meeting the problems of the community together. They have showed us how the resources existing within the community can be utilized for its development – only an initiative is required.