Sunday, May 05, 2013

Experiment in paying villagers in India an unconditional basic income

Exploring guaranteed minimum income in India (mondediplo via HN):

The idea of giving money to the poor without asking for anything in return startled some. “They told us the men would use the money to get drunk, and the women to buy jewellery and saris,” said Dewala. “But it’s a middle-class prejudice that the poor don’t know how to use money sensibly. The study showed that a regular income allows people to act responsibly. They know their priorities. When something is rare, people measure its value. (Anyway, in tribal villages, people distil their own liquor.) The main advantage is regularity. It makes it possible to organise, save and borrow. The principle is that a small amount of money generates a great deal of energy in a village.”

In the village of Malibadodiya, a few tens of kilometres from Panthbadodyia, Sewa has been helping women for a decade. At a meeting of the women’s savings group, the members mixed freely, though they were from different castes and backgrounds. In a cheerful atmosphere, they discussed collective projects such as the building of a roof for the temple, and public toilets. Dewala joked: “Own up, how many of you have used the money to buy jewellery?” In response, one showed the sewing machine she had saved for over a year to buy, another proudly announced she had nearly finished paying for her family’s television set, and another held up a 300-rupee blanket for the winter, of far better quality than the one it replaced. Everyone laughed as Mangu, related the adventures of a group of women who had gone to a nearby town on a tractor, to demonstrate against the high cost of living, defying warnings from their menfolk and threats from the police.

“Women are no longer afraid. They are becoming independent, managing money, making plans. In several villages, they have forced the landlord to raise their wages,” said Rashmani. She worked in a bidi cigarette factory for 20 years before becoming a Sewa activist, and now works with more 300 villages. Some union representatives lead district communities with as many as 75,000 members. “We want to show that, if a union manages the money, it will be better shared out, and that if you take care of people, you can succeed.” Dewala added: “The key point we want to make is that the presence of a civil society body makes all the difference.”

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