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A Narrative on Development


Bharat Ramaswami

INDIA UNTOUCHED: THE FORGOTTEN FACE OF RURAL POVERTY
By Abraham M. George
East West Books, Chennai, 2004, pp. 400, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 3 March 2005

Abraham George was born and brought up in Kerala. As a young man he migrated to the United States in the late 1960s. After encountering predictable heartaches, George made money in the computer business. In the mid 1990s, George returned to India to start a foundation that would work for the poor. George’s experiences with socio-economic reforms also led him to reflect on wider issues concerning the Indian economy and society. In this book, George offers several essays on the plight of the poor in India. These essays also include discussion of his personal attempts through The George Foundation, of reforms in education, environment and health.   The book starts off with a personal voyage into the darkness of India. In an early chapter, George describes his conscious efforts to understand rural India. Not only are living conditions pitiable, he finds the poor mired in alcoholism, disease and superstition. Government officials and landlords rule the villages. Out of this knowledge sprang George’s investment in a school for underprivileged children: Shanti Bhavan. The school is a boarding institution for children from poor homes. The intentions for the school are ambitious: that it would be one of the best in India that could normally be afforded by only the very rich.   Behind this intent is George’s conviction that the social deprivation of lower castes could be broken only by the success of children from poor families in the global marketplace. But could the success of a few make such a difference? While George will not probably claim that, it is clear that what he wishes to achieve is a model of rural education—that its success will spur similar efforts. So what is the model? While equality of opportunity is close to George’s heart, his model of education showers resources on a select few. The children must be poor. They must also show potential for academic achievement. The children are also monitored and non-performing children risk being reverted back to their parents. In an absorbing essay, George deals with the experience in setting up the school—the lengthy tangles with the bureaucracy, the suspicions of the rural community (especially from the well-off) and the problems with the hiring, managing and retaining school staff in a remote location. Much of this could be read with profit by anyone considering similar ventures.   George’s discussion is also abundant testimony to how ...


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