Common Man

Full Title: *Common Man’s Approach to Self-Development*

_Paper read at the Society for International Development, National Conference on ‘Development Strategies for Sri Lanka’. 1978 August -Colombo_

‘All development efforts brought from above either through Government effort or through other agencies have failed miserably because the Common Man did not need them and did not understand them. These plans and programmes were never intended by the Common Man or initiated by him. They seep down from above, from one bureaucratic layer to another, from one elite group to another, hardly reaching the Common Man at the village level’


I am thankful to the Society for International Development for inviting me to present a paper to its national conference on ‘Development Strategies for Sri Lanka’. I also appreciate it very much that I am permitted to deal with with an unusual subject ‘The Common Man’s Approach to Self-development’.

This subject has a special significance for me personally after an experience I had recently at a similar conference. I tried to put across a common man’s point of view on the subject to Transfer of Technology and the immediate reaction to my speech from a Sri Lankan ‘intellectual’ was that my presentation lacked intellectual excellence. This he said in spite of a prior warning I gave to my listeners that I was only a rustic villager who was thinking aloud on the subject on which I was asked to speak and whose words would reflect actual experiences and not intellectual theories.

My comments today will also reflect such experiences. First of all, I will describe who the common man is. Then I will discuss the nature of inter-actions between elite and commoners. Ten basic human needs identified by the village people themselves will be listed followed by a discussion of institutional versus people’s planning. The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement will be described, Sarvodaya principles will be outlined, and a brief historical context of the Movement will be presented. Finally, a description of various phases of the Sarvodaya action process will be given.

*Who is the common man?*

Common people are those who are at the receiving end of grand plans from bureaucrats and policy makers, sermons from moralizers, and goods and services from a market economy. They have no control at all over the ideas, technologies, strategies, and structures that are imposed upon them from outside. To make things worse they are also made morally and legally accountable to themselves for whatever is imposed upon them through a representative democracy which in itself has become a mechanical process mostly devoid of human values.

Common people prefer personal relationships, intimate shared experiences, direct cultural and spiritual life, household and small economic arrangements and participatory democracy and community politics. They are guided more by intuitive understanding than by organized and systematized knowledge.

Development as practised in post-independent Sri Lankan society appears to be an elitist exercise which pushed common people to an increasing state of dependency and non-participation in decision- making processes which affect their lives.

*Interactions between Elites and Commoners*

An increasing disparity between the intuitive understanding of common people as to what development was about and the organized knowledge and pre-determined expectations of the privileged in society pertaining to development was evident. The social cost that the Sri Lankan Society had to pay in terms of political and communal violence, moral degeneration, economic stagnation and increased poverty was very heavy. A serious attempt to discover an intelligible language common to both was never made. Further delay will only result in disastrous consequences for the whole society.

It is the privileged, the so-called intellectuals or the elite, who should take the initiative to reach the common man, not to control him but to liberate him , not to manipulate him but to make him participate as an equal, in defining goals, setting targets and implementing plans, But this initiative cannot be taken without a realization that the Western model of development will not take us anywhere. Common people do not see this happening.

The super-structures that have grown to control and regulate people’s lives have become so complex that even those who temporarily believe that they control them are powerless to control or change them. It is a self-perpetrating vicious system in which they are caught. The most sensible thing they can do is not to hold on to them and be crushed by their weight in the course of time but to release their hold on them and encourage people’s movements to grow from the grass-roots up.

Development as understood by the common man is an integrated process of total change that is taking place within individuals, families, groups, rural and urban communities, nations and the world bringing about socio-economic and spiritual-cultural progress in one and all. For common people development has not only a quantitative meaning but a qualitative meaning as well. Our ancients called it the Dhanyagara-Dharmadweepa ideal-the ideal of a land of economic prosperity and social righteousness.

Based on this concept common people have built around their lives certain symbols, customs, beliefs and superstitions, human feelings, simple household economies, informal social and economic formations and a whole range of religious practices.

In spite of powerful hierarchical establishments that control their political, economic and religious lives common people have retained the above mentioned characteristics in their cultures. These should not be looked down upon as impediments to progress. Instead, they could be used as supportive factors for development work if understood in their proper context.

*Basic Human Needs*

In case of the common man development as related to him is directly concerned with the satisfaction of his basic human needs. Some time ago, with the participation of 660 village people, the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement identified ten basic human needs. These were:

# A clean and beautiful environment
# A clean and an adequate supply of water
# Minimum requirements of clothing
# A balanced diet
# A simple house to live in
# Basic health care
# Simple communication facilities
# Minimum energy requirements
# Total education, and
# Cultural and spiritual needs.

These village people went on to sub-divide each of these into sub-needs thus making a list of 167 items. They went on to devise a group approach to fulfil these basic human needs with suggestions to build up the organizational strength of the village and the basic social and physical infrastructure.

This is an example of the common man’s approach to self development.

*Institutional Vs. People’s Planning*

The general tendency in institutional planning is to make people more and more dependent on impersonal and distant institutions. They feel more and more alienated from centres of decision making and meaningful action. Their creative nature is never manifested in worthwhile activities. People feel compelled to seek redress through petitions to administrators, tamashas to please political leaders, letters of introduction from influential persons and such other wasteful actions. Finally they overthrow governments by using the only power they have, the free vote. Usually the vicious circle starts again. Institutionalized economy is pressurised still more by increasing unemployment and inflation.

On the other hand a people’s plan of the nature described above sets in motion a series of activities in households and local small communities which will not depend so much on money economy, jobs or impersonal behaviour of distant institutions. It can develop itself into a mass movement aimed at the satisfaction of basic human needs principally depending on people’s creativity and efforts in their own social milieu.

*The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement*

A good example of such a people’s effort for self-development is the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement of Sri Lanka. Sarvodaya means awakening or well-being of all; and Shramadana means the sharing or the gift of one’s time, thought and energy. Twenty years ago this Movement started with one village and today it has been caught up by over 2000 village communities in Sri Lanka. The numbers of people from villages and urban groups, outside the areas in which the Movement is functioning presently, wanting to join the Sarvodaya village development programmes anew are considerable and cannot be coped with by the organisational facilities available at this moment. Why is it that these people are getting attracted to this Movement knowing very well that it is a non-governmental voluntary effort?

Many reasons can be attributed to this phenomenon, but only one important factor I shall mention here.

People have lost confidence in highly advertised big governmental plans coming down from bureaucrats. Take the Rural Development Movement as an example. Every time a new plan is made known and publicized, people come forward enthusiastically to participate in it expecting some sort of benefit for their villages. In no time they lose interest and withdraw in frustration. Instead of people’s participation in self-development they feel themselves caught in a manipulative game serving the interests of a politician or a bureaucrat or some other already privileged person in the village community. Take the co-operative movement; it is the same sort of thing that happens.

In the case of Sarvodaya it is different. They feel that the fullest opportunities are provided for them to participate in planning development activities and working toward their realization. Nobody is left out. All members of the community are able to participate. The spiritual and cultural life of the people is respected and integrated with action to promote social and economic development. More of those who are committed ideologically and selflessly and less of those who are identified with politics and the privileged take up the leadership in the village.

*Sarvodaya Principles*

Some of the Sarvodaya principles which are considered to be important for a national development effort and which encourage such a common man’s approach to development are as follows:

# All development efforts should be aimed at the achievement of the fullest awakening of the human personality. Development should be measured by a yardstick which includes the growth of spiritual, cultural and ideological qualities. Development should never be measured primarily by the wealth of consumer goods in the market and services available for him or her.
# While the fundamental human rights of every individual should be ensured without exception in the eyes the law, the principal aim of any development effort should be to fulfil without delay the social, economic, cultural and spiritual aspirations of that segment of the Society which stands lowest in it. We call this ‘antyodaya,’ (an as in until) the awakening of the lowliest, lowest and the lost in the society.
# National Development should have its beginning within the village itself. All development plans should be made with the village taken as the Unit. Development in respect of constituencies and the districts should be undertaken by the co-ordination of those village Units. We call this ‘development from the village upwards.’
# Development plans in the village should be drawn up implemented and evaluated with the fullest participation of the people of the village.
# The primary goal of local production activities, should be to utilize the human and material resources available in the village, to meet the needs of the village people themselves. There is also an urgent need to provide a methodical training, especially to the youth, to enable them to assume village leadership.
# Use should be made of appropriate village technologies and organizational structures which the villagers themselves can control.
# When development plans are assessed in their entirety, they should merge into each other, not causing contradictions or disruptions, when viewed from the philosophical, methodological, and organisational angles.
# Development should essentially be an effort of the people. In this context, the Public should be made clearly aware that Political Institutions and State Organisations are important only as institutions providing:

* Relevant specialized advice and consultation.
* Capital.
* Legal relief for achieving economic justice.
* Equitable distribution of national wealth and resources.

In other words, political, or governmental institutions should in no way be barriers for the promotion of self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and self-management of the communities.

*Historical Context: The Colonial Legacy*

Four and a half centuries of colonial rule left our villages in a state of decadence in every respect. 85% of our people that lived in our villages were caught in a vicious circle of poverty-disease-ignorance-oppression-disunity and stagnation. To replace it with a constructive cycle of a rediscovered central thought to unite them, spiritual and cultural values to revitalize them and appropriate structures to organise them for self-determination and development, was no easy task for a Movement which had no substantial political or financial power to back its efforts. The acceptance of strong ethical principles such as truth, non-violence and self-denial made this task still harder.

The worst outcome of a colonial experience is the dependency subjugated people cultivate in fostering those values, technologies and structures that have been imposed upon them by the colonial rulers. People begin to identify these as their own and try to defend the state of dependence little realizing that the key to their liberation and progress lies in the total rejection of those values, practices and structures. The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement offered an alternative to the people in which they could re-discover themselves – making them challenge the validity of superimposed values, ideas and systems.

*The Sarvodaya Process*

This process had to be carefully and patiently allowed to evolve. Building a psychological infrastructure by Shramadana Camps and related techniques, a physical infrastructure by harnessing labour and available knowledge to accomplish tasks that satisfied one or more of their basic human needs, a community leadership which would inspire the community for self-sustaining development efforts irrespective of caste, religion, race or party-political considerations, an appropriate technological leadership which would identify and develop human and material resources in the village, and a social infrastructure where on the one hand people of all ages got involved in the development tasks that affect their needs and on the other hand provide a forum for integrated action as a total community, and building a co-ordinated network of personnel and organisation to give a broader integrity and solidarity were tasks that had to be carried out right from the inception of the Movement.
Understanding the problem and building up the basic organisational structures are tasks that have to be carried out by the trained leaders of the Movement in every village. How this is done is briefly outlined below:

*Understanding the Problem*

# To demarcate the village or a group of villages as units, containing between 100 to 150 families for self-development.
# To prepare a statistical table of the numerical strength of the families in each of the units and to revise the table at the beginning of each year.
# To carry out a house to house survey with particular reference to basic human needs as enunciated earlier and by analysing the information collected to prepare a summarised statement giving the total picture of the village.
# To prepare a list of the human, animal and natural resources available in the village, to wit, village-level technical know-how, skilled and unskilled human resources, soil, water, roadways, vegetation, mineral resources etc., that may be made use of in solving the basic human needs of the people of the village concerned.
# To objectively assess and understand the problems peculiar to the village or group of villages and to determine remedial measures with particular reference to the needs of the village units concerned and how to satisfy them in relation to the resources locally found.

*Building the Village Organisation*

# To organize a Mothers’ Group, open to all mothers in the village.
# To set up a Children’s Welfare Centre (for children under 3 years of age) under the sponsorship of the Mothers’ Group.
# To set up a Pre-school (for children between the ages of 3 and 6) under the sponsorship of the Mothers’ Group.
# To set up a Community Kitchen (for infants, for school children, for expectant and lactating mothers, for invalids and the aged) under the sponsorship of the Mothers’ Group.
# To conduct a Health Care Centre under the sponsorship of the Mothers’ Group.
# To organise a Children’s Group open to children between the ages of 6 to 15 years.
# To conduct Shramadana Camps open for school children from Standard 8 upwards.
# To organise Youth Groups for youths between the ages of 16 and 28 years.
# To organise a Farmers’ Group for all engaged in agriculture as life’s occupation.
# To organise a General Group to include persons not coming within the above named groups, but who belong to various trades and professions such as Teachers, Doctors, Technicians, Engineers, Administrators etc.
# To establish a Gramodaya* Council composed of three members of each of the groups such as the Mothers’ Group, the Children’s Group, the Youth Group, the Farmers’ Group and the General Group, three members each from Rural Development Society, Community Centre, Co-operative Society etc. Three from societies like Death Aid Societies, Dayaka Sabhas, and the Local Government Representative, Grama Sevaka, Principals of Schools, Public Health Inspector, Midwives etc., members of Local Government and Government bodies and the Chief Incumbent of the village temple, church, kovil or mosque.
# To set up special committees required by the Gramodaya Council to meet specific needs such as, Shramadana Committees, Education, Health Care Committee, Library Committees etc.
# To establish a Gramodaya Fund Committee.
# To establish a Village Technology unit.

*Establishing Village Services*

The next step is the establishment of Service Centres that each village should have. These can be summarized as follows:

# Pre-school Service Centre: In the Pre-school Service Centre a Children’s Clinic, a Children’s Group, a Community Kitchen, a Child Health Care Service, and Children’s Games are conducted.
# Sarvodaya Community Centre: This is a public building. At this centre a map of the village and other relevant statistics, records and illustrations could be displayed. This centre can be made use of for conducting Gramodaya Meetings, as the office for the Sarvodaya activities in the village, as the meeting place of various Sarvodaya Groups in the village, and a repository for tools of the village Sarvodaya Centre. If a separate building cannot be found, the activities referred to, may be conducted at the temple, or school or the Village Community Centre, or the Rural Development Society Centre, or any other public building, with permission.
# Junior School.
# Secondary School (if the village is a large one).
# A place of worship/Aramaya/Temple.
# Co-operative Stores/Public Market Place.
# Play ground/Open Air Theatres.
# Cemetery.
# Nursery and Seed Bank.
# Rural Bank/ Savings/Insurance/Services.
# Rural Technical Services Centre.
# Village Library.

These are some of the institutions and facilities that should be encouraged in the village.

*Initiating Development Activities*

An on-going programme of collective development activities such as the following are initiated in village communities:

# To initiate the services enumerated above step by step.
# To carry on an uninterrupted programme of Development Education by all organizations.
# To organise on a self-help basis, the public services needed by the village, and with the support of various Local and Central Government Units, build up such services step by step.
# To construct roadways to the village or group of villages suitable for vehicular traffic and at least foot paths of about three feet wide, leading to all the houses and to maintain them regularly.
# To provide each and every family with a constant supply of water, thus meeting the essential need for drinking, cooking, bathing, and washing purposes.
# To construct ponds, tanks, channels, and pipe lines to provide water for home gardens and other agricultural work.
# To evolve an integrated soil conservation programme that will cover the entire village.
# To re-claim marshes, wasteland and lands containing brackish water, so as to make them suitable for agriculture.
# To plant trees of utility value for purposes of shade by side of foot paths, village paths, and main roads and also on the boundaries of personal property.
# To conduct collective nurseries to keep the entire village easily supplied with seeds, seedlings and plants of cereals, medicinal plants, fruit trees and other trees of economic value.
# To have a manure pit or a compost pit in every household to methodically dispose of refuse and thus ensuring a supply of fertilizer.
# To devise systematic drainage facilities to prevent water from stagnating, thereby preventing stench and potential breeding places for flies, mosquitoes and other harmful insects.
# To construct latrines for each and every house and provide such adequate facilities at public places.
# To construct temporary, semi-permanent and permanent centres for community work, utilizing available and potential resources.
# To implement a scheme of providing low-cost houses, from the poorest upwards to all inhabitants of the village.
# To set up economic units capable of producing furniture, earthenware and other utensils for the households, building materials such as bricks, sand, doors and windows and implements, axes, crow-bars, katties, etc.


As far as the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement is concerned, its most apparent characteristic is its mass nature. This eliminates a weakness that most government programmes have. People cultivate a belonging to what happens around them with their participation. An intelligent and democratic governmental programme can easily incorporate itself into this mass approach to self-development without trying to dominate it. Similarly even international establishments – I would not rule out even the World Bank or even UNDP – can integrate themselves into a people’s programme of this nature if they truly believe in what they have publicly pronounced as development precepts.
One of the biggest myths and fallacies that dominate the thinking of most development planners in poor world societies is that the world population as a whole could be given their basic minimum human needs, provided with full employment, and even made to enjoy a high standard of living similar to average citizens in the rich countries, by following the footpaths of the production strategies of successful national and multi-national commercial enterprises though this is not accepted by them openly. I dare say that the value systems, strategies and structures have been adopted keeping those profit making establishments as an example. It is foolish to assume that a system based on exploitation of people and resources can provide guidelines to liberate the exploited millions and preserve an ecological balance.

The Sarvodaya Shramadana example, therefore, should not be viewed from those fallacious standards but should be considered for whatever it is worth from the point of view of common sense and confidence in people’s intelligence and inherent capacity to meet successfully their basic human needs. Personally, I believe the best the establishment can do is to remove the obstacles that have been placed upon the people voluntarily or involuntarily over a period of four centuries, thus preventing them from awakening to their own potential.