Abstract The call for a paradigm shift 7from a top-down planning approach to the bottom-up planning approach,
marked by participation and collaboration among different stake holders necessitated the introduction of 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act, providing opportunities to the historically marginalized sections of society in the rural governance process. Earlier studies on people’s participation in rural governance have concentrated on individual factor such as interest and motivation; social factor such as class, gender and economic factors such as income, and occupation as influencing people’s participation. Of late social capital has become paramount in empowering intervention with the marginalized communities. This study attempts to examine the role of social capital in eliciting dalit communities’ participation in rural governance. Introduction 1“While the range of institutions that play important roles in poor people’s lives is vast, poor people are excluded from active participation in governance. State institutions are often neither responsive nor accountable to the poor and they see little recourse to injustice, criminality, abuse and corruptions by institutions even though they still express their willingness to partner with them under fairer rules” Deepa Narayan
This above quote reveals the horrifying dichotomy that exists between 6the poor and the institutions of local governance, which affect their lives.
This dichotomy is the result of government’s continual failure “to deliver on its mandate and act in the interest of the society” (Esau 2008: 357); conflict between “people’s demand and government’s supply” (Saito 2008:3); “lack of citizen-government interface from one election to another” (Goel 2007:167); and above all viewing individuals and institutions of local governance in isolation from one another rather than as interacting and dialoguing with one another. This ever growing ‘institutional void’ (cited in Fischer 2006:20) has not only added distrust between themarginalized people and institutions of local governance but also vastly reduced their ability to participate actively in the governance process. Attempts to reduce these gaps and to build synergies between local institutions of governance and the poor, led to a series of experiments all over the world. This wind of change had its impact in India too, with the 8Government of India having decided to give a
visible expression to 2Article 40 of the Indian Constitution, which says, “the state shall take steps to organize village panchayats and endow them with such powers and authority as may be necessary to enable them to function as units of self- governance.” This was
made possible through the 9enactment of 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act,
promulgated by the Parliament in September 1992, received the President’s assent on 20th April 1993 and came into effect on 24th April 1993. It was introduced with the assumption that it would enlarge citizens’ space in the political system; reduce the existing socio-economic inequalities, to address the issue of exclusion of marginalized communities in rural governance structures and to fulfill their quest for active participation in rural-governance. Rural governance basically refers to a process by which institutions of rural governance are made responsive to people’s felt needs, accountable to people, transparent in their functioning and efficient in delivering their services to people. According to Dahl (1971), ‘representativeness’ and ‘popular access’ are core to rural governance. Representativeness assumes that the elected representatives exercise power on the basis of people’s support. Popular access refers to the people’s ability to get their grievances addressed. Therefore, sustained people’s participation is considered a compulsory element of rural governance. Mathew (2005) views people’s participation in rural governance as consisting of four machanisms, namely (1) exercising voice, i.e., ability to express opinion, ideas, grievances and problems, and seeking information; (2) exercising choice in the election of their representatives and services; (3) acting as pressure groups to ensure accountability, transparency, and responsiveness; and (4) access to information regarding services, and the ways and means of obtaining those services. Therefore, participation in rural governance is not an invitation, or a special concession given to the poor, but it is an inalienable right of every citizen. That is why Gaventa (2003:5) claims that 5the “right to participate is a prior right, necessary for making other rights real.” The
values ingrained in the participatory approach are primacy of people, inclusivity, equity, justice and equitable power relations. Despite having multi-layered institutions of rural governance, attempts to involve the poor and the marginalised sections of society in the rural-governance process has met with little success. Though a number of reasons have been cited for the non- participation of dalits in rural governance, now it is accepted that lack of social capital among dalit communities is the main reason for their non-participation. Marginalised communities in rural areas of India lack connections and networks that provide them with information and other benefits, which are essential for reclaiming spaces in the rural-governance process. “The potential of participation will be realized, when we learn to harness social capital” (Human Development Report 1993:193) Conceptual Framework A review of the voluminous literature that has been produced on social capital in the last two decades reveals that there is no single and explicit definition of social capital. But there seems to be a general consensus among scholars to use the term to refer to connectedness and the positive benefits that spring from social relationship. So “social capital is a capital that is captured through social relations” (Lin 2001:19). It is social because it involves relationship between individuals, groups, and communities and it is capital because certain economic resources spring from these relationships. According to Dash (2004: 3) “social capital refers to societal capacity in working together through networking in communities, in associations with each other based on norms, procedures, traditions, memories, culture and similar features that makes possible the subordination of individual interests to those of the larger groups of the society.” Though the term ‘social capital’ is of recent origin, its application in society is very old. Even in most primitive societies, individuals came together and formed associations to fulfill their basic needs, to cope with problems that could not be handled individually, to learn new skills or to achieve higher purpose in lives. John Dewey argued, 3“society means association; coming together in joint intercourse and action for the better realization of any form of experience which is augmented and confirmed by being shared” (cited in
Farr 2004: 14). Alexis de Tocqueville stressed that civic associations had an important role in eliciting co-operation and civic skills among people, bringing the public together for common purposes (cited in Welzel et al. 2005). Emile Durkheim considered community life “as an antidote to anomie and self-destruction” (cited in Portes 2001: 44). Max Weber emphasised on social networks influencing economic activities (Trigilia 2001). 4Karl Marx’s distinction of ——automized class in itself’ and — —mobilized and effective class for itself’ (cited in Portes
2001: 44) is an attempt to emphasize on the communitarian aspect of human life.