Realising 'community ownership' in practice: Some reflections

A couple of days ago, we had an internal discussion at IT for Change to reflect on our vision for the village level information centres (Namma Mahiti Kendras) we plan to set up, as part of the 'Women-gov' project. From our earlier work in this area, under which we have set up two such centres, many of us felt that 'community ownership' is at the heart of our imagination of these centres. But then, as Rajesh, one of our colleagues pointed out, “How do we understand community ownership?” That set all of us thinking. If we interpret 'community ownership' as the complete control of all management and operational decisions pertaining to the centres by the members of the community, then, as facilitators, how do we deal with instances when those whom we work with, do not share our perspective on the inviolability of some of the operational principles guiding the functioning of these centres? For example, in our work, we have always tried to be conscious about challenging casteist and patriarchal norms at every step in the working of the centres. We have insisted that the centres be located in the dalit neighbourhood within the village, and that only an adolescent girl can be selected to be the centre operator, as otherwise, we feel that the centre will not be able to effectively challenge caste segregation practices and community controls on women's mobility, through its work. Our insistence on such practices has sometimes slowed down the work of the centres, on the ground. Many a time, this has led to criticism from members of the Managing Committee of these centres, mostly dalit women from the Mahila Samakhya collectives, who feel that our insistence on these operational principles is a hindrance to the smooth functioning of the centres. Though they agree with opposing casteism and patriarchy in principle, Managing Committee members do not often make the same connections between the norms, core principles and these operational principles that we have done.

When the women we work with feel that our insistence on always following the operational principles while making decisions pertaining to the centres is unhelpful, as facilitators, we are faced with a difficult choice. Does our vision of 'community ownership' then require us not to interfere and compromise on the inviolability of these principles? No, we do not think such non-interference is a good strategy.

On the other hand, we believe the vision of community ownership can be realised, only when the practice of critical pedagogy is a core intervention strategy. For this, as facilitators, healthy questioning and critique of the decisions made by those we work with, and sometimes even challenging some of their decisions – or in other words, the conscious moderation of autonomous decision making practices by communities, is unavoidable, while working towards the vision of 'community ownership'.


Note: I owe the ideas expressed in this blog to my colleagues at IT for Change, and would especially like to thank Rajesh Hanbal for aiding the articulation of these ideas.