07 September 2005

Urban bias

Reality is made up of many different perspectives. Yet, we often fail to accept this.

The needs and problems of those residing in rural areas are different from those of us living in urban cities. When we step out to address rural issues, our lack of awareness, understanding and appreciation of the problems faced by India’s rural population become serious barriers in servicing them. To that, add our urban attitudes, and you have a clear gap between the two geo-cultures… the urban-rural divide.

While speaking to rural folks sometime ago, an interesting fact emerged. They indicated “a lack of sensitivity” in urban people when the urban people – be it government or private agencies – approached them with development programmes, or goods and services for sale. According to them, urban people overtly displayed a lack of recognition and appreciation of their cultural, ethnic and racial differences. They felt this was the biggest obstacle in accepting urban concepts, goods and services.

They said, urban goods and service providers – even education and healthcare providers – need to address not only their economic and physical conditions (they being poor), but also the historical values and beliefs of the group to which they belong (who they are). In fact, they even suggested that, before the urban people stepped into their towns and villages with a mission to convert and sell, the urban people should be provided with (what I would classify as) “cultural sensitivity training”. What a wonderful thought, really!

What does “a lack of sensitivity” and a need for “cultural sensitivity training” really mean? Perhaps that, it’s not just a matter of economics or money that separates the urban from the rural in India. What really separates us is our failure to acknowledge non-urban world views. To see “their point of view”. In turn, this results in our failure to provide culturally, ethnically and racially appropriate care, goods and services… Slowing down rural economic growth, prosperity and empowerment of the poor.

Or perhaps that, even today, our Indian society is far from being an inclusive one for all.

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