The Association for India’s Development (AID) raises funds in the US and India and supports NGO activity across India. This map shows the NGOs and projects supported across the Indian states. Ideally we would expect the number of NGOs to be roughly proportional to the population of a state, but this is far from the case. We also expect NGO activity to be proportional to the literacy and economic development, but this correlation does not hold always either.
The case of Punjab and Tamil Nadu
I like Punjab (ਪੰਜਾਬ) -Tamil Nadu (தமிழ்நாடு) comparisons because I cant think of two states more culturally far apart than them, but both have done reasonably well in terms of development. Both have literacy rates of 74%, low fertility (2, 1.8 ) and high per capita incomes (43000, 36000). This shows to extent that human and economic development dont have much relation to cultures, but more to do with society and politics.
But on observing the NGO stats for the two states we see that Tamil Nadu has a lot more NGO activity than Punjab. Granted, that there might be some biases, but the there is a 1 to 38 difference! And indeed, just from personal experience I can say that Tamil people are very civic minded, Punjabis not so much. This lack of civic activism translates into low social development (sex ratio: 876 to 987) and significantly higher levels of corruption in Punjab than TN.
So why ? I think among the important reasons for Punjab’s development were natural resources that the state had, substantial remittances from the diaspora and the massive investment it got from the Union Government. In Tamil Nadu’s case, economic growth has come on the back of a social reform movement, which politically and civically activated the population, and is mainly driven by improvements in agricultural productivity and the skills of the population. This civic minded population is now making better use of democracy and freedom of speech to demand a cleaner, more efficient government. This is the best I can come up with, perhaps there are other reasons involved as well.
What do other states tell us ?
One can clearly see the social activism in Gujarat (ગુજરાત), inspite of modest social and economic development. Indeed in the aftermath of the Gujarat riots, due to the refusal of Modi’s government to rehabilitate displaced riot victims, NGOs like Utthan and Anhad are taking care of their disadvantaged fellow citizens. In general, NGO activity in Gujarat seems very strong and I attribute this to the strong sense of Gujarati pride and identity. I think similar reasons plus past social movements are responsible for the high NGO activity in Maharashtra (महाराष्ट्र).
Some reasons for worry
The heartland states, which need civic-activism the most, do not have enough of it today. There are some very good NGOs based in Bihar and UP, doing some excellent work but not enough of them. The reasons are clear, lack of education, awareness and exposure to media.
North East states like Nagaland, Manipur along with Jammu and Kashmir dont do well inspite of decent human development, mainly due to separatist movements and security concerns.
Economic and basic human development cannot guarantee a clean, corruption free government. In fact, many countries at a higher level of development than India, for eg. Russia, face bigger corruption problems. To ensure good governance a vibrant civic movement independent of the government is needed. Particular development paths and cultures can influence civic-activism. Once present though, civic activism is self-sustaining, improving a society’s standards that leads to more activism and so on.
The Utthan image is from the Utthan website, TN image from allposters.com and Punjab from The Independent newspaper