The Heavy Hand of Government

I returned to India in 1995 to start and run a charitable foundation (The George Foundation) without any financial assistance from governments at state and central levels. Since then, many people have asked me why I do not seek government support for our work in helping the poor. I tell them that the status of a government-funded or -assisted institution carries with it many undesirable obligations and interferences from the State. My personal belief is that private citizens must make their own contributions to social causes, and they should not be tempted by the potential for “easy” money that comes with corrupt practices.

Despite our independent status, the past 12 years have not been free of attempts by government officials to extract money from us. We have faced difficulties as a result of the political ideology of a past government that targeted any organization that was deemed to be “Christian.” Arrogance of power on the part of officials had once forced us to seek court protection to prevent damage being inflicted by the government on physical infrastructure (the sub-collector ordered digging up an access road we had improved at our own expense with local panchyat permission but without state permit). I have written extensively about this and other instances in my book, India Untouched: The Forgotten Face of Rural Poverty.

Political and bureaucratic machineries in India may not find anything unusual or wrong about the way government officials have been conducting themselves for decades. They would argue that it is their duty to safeguard the interests of the general public. In dealing with governments, citizens have very little rights or recourse to what they consider as unfair and unjust acts.

Just last month our Shanti Bhavan School received a State order from the education department requiring us to complete an extensive survey form within a short period of seven days. Principals of all schools – government funded as well as independent schools -- were required to personally attend a session at the Taluk Education Office to receive instructions on how to fill the forms, and then return within another week with completed forms. A month later, the principals were called again to enter the submitted data into computers provided at the Taluk office. The argument justifying this procedure was that the State wants to hold the Heads of all local schools personally responsible for the accuracy of the information provided. No exception to this rule would be permitted; no one else could substitute for the principal.

On the surface it sounds a justifiable demand on the part of the State. Past surveys have not been accurate and it is essential that the government is now able to collect correct data (though one has to wonder about the validity or relevance of the data being asked for). But if this goal is all that matters, I suppose that principals of schools will be spending time only filling forms submitted by the numerous agencies of the government. Failure to appear in person could result in summons, fines and even harassment. I wonder whether CEOs of private companies are also expected to appear in person at the offices of labor, environment, water, electricity and other departments of governments.

When a government department exercises its powers arrogantly, one can be certain that its top management does not value or respect others. Such officials have no place in leadership positions. The strength of a democracy lies in fair and just laws and regulations applied equally and correctly for everyone. Private individuals and institutions must be able to seek protection from unjust acts of governments, and obtain redress. Until such time this balance between the responsibilities of the State and the rights of individuals is brought about, the country will not be able to create a just society and accomplish its full potential.

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Saravanan said…
Sir,It is really unfair on the government that it is ruining the developments and selfless works done by people like u and the media focusses on trivial issues and life goes on...
Vikas Kamat said…
I fully agree with you that people in India expect everything to be done by the Government, forgetting that they have a role and a responsibility to strengthen the non-governmental institutions. In my experience, the only NGOs that perform well in India are those based on the castes and communities.

Another thing I have experienced is that people in India expect the social work to be "selfless". Indians cannot comprehend the role of social worker as a paid professional, so we see lesser and lesser people get into the field of managed social change.

-Vikas Kamat
Neeraj said…
Dear Sir,

After a long time I am writing to you. I have been in touch with Ms Law and Jude all these yrs.Recently spoke with Mr Jude. Infact I am looking forward to meeting you. It will be great if you could plan to visit my location when you are in India next. My passion for working for the society has not diminished. With the passage of time my resolve has only strengthened.
Presently I am commanding a bn in the North East.Before this I was with the UN for about 2 yrs. My E mail id is
Hoping to hear from you soon.
The first thing that I am doing tomorrow is to pick up teh book authored by you.

warm regards
Thommy said…
Dear Dr. Abraham:
This is Thommy, whom you have met at one of the Kerala Center Award function. Thank you for presenting your book which inspired me to be a socially responsible scientist and cartoonist. I am writing this to inform you that I have decided to nominate you as CNN-Hero...hope this is OK with you. regards, Thommy
srishti mittal said…
Hello Sir, I am Srishti Mittal, currently an undergrad student of journalism from City University, London. I opted for London because of the dearth of good journalism colleges in Bangalore and India, as a whole. However, since i am to finish my degree this year, i am obviously interested in my Postgrad. To make a long story short, London universities cannot hold a torch to iijnms. I am very excited to be applying next year and hopefully be seeing you in July 2009. I have read your blog and it so so informative. There is so much that i can learnm from you. since i am in Bangalore for vacations, I would love to meet you. Will call up the iijnms soon and take an appointment. Best Regards,
Joseph said…
keep working harder and don't feel let down with irrational bureaucracy in the country. It's only with informed and committed NGO's like yours permanent change will come to this country. The folks being served will speak up soon just that it will take a bit longer..
workhard said…
Great work.... The government has a history of damaging social organizations...

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