Having worked with NGOs for some years, I have developed a healthy dislike for them – mostly for the city based, brahmin led ones. District NGOs and the people based ones still do garner respect.
I recently worked with an organization that calls itself a research institute but wouldn’t qualify on any front. The organization grew from modest means over a short period of time. The organization could be called a BINGO – i.e. a business interest NGO. The decision-making is simple and dictatorial but now cleverly camouflaged under the guise of democracy.
I learnt an important lesson about democracy in this organization. According to the esteemed decision makers in this group, majority wins. So a combination of the organisation’s director, his wife, his best friend and two of his PhD students, whose lives depended on the PhD, was an effective decision-making tool from his point of view. Voices of dissent were classified as ‘low quality’, ‘self oriented rather than organization oriented’, ‘ill-informed’ etc.
The organization also had some interesting approaches to work. Salaries were ‘need based’, so if someone needed to visit her parents in Australia every year, she’d walk away with Rs. 45,000 a month irrespective of her experience, background or education. If someone else (never mind that she had swindled money from her earlier job) had a sob story about her husband’s business going kaput, a story further saddened by him abusing the given lady, then she got a cool Rs. 70,000 salary. However another woman who was separated and ‘issueless’ was chided for her greed when she asked for more than 30,000 because she had no mouths to feed and no husbands to keep. The maid, however, got the standard Rs. 1500 after the standard squabbling and bargaining. Logic, of course, was kept aside for most parts of these transactions.
The organization also believes in modest austerity or austere modesty – whichever worked. This concept basically meant that anything that was expensive, owned and spent by the decision makers and their families, were a necessity, and anything owned by the ordinary worker was an extravagance. Employees were expected to practice this in real life too while those born with rich parents and family income were just expected to feel guilty at regular intervals.
The organization was pro-poor. One employee after working there for several months, wanted to know what the meaning of pro poor was. Of course no one knew and neither did it seem to particularly bother anyone. Its website enhancing value was not to be disputed, though.
It’s interesting that after years of apartheid, history repeats itself in India. In this particular organization that I worked, gender and caste biases were dealt with in a rather unique way.
Whether pro-poor or not, the organization was pro-vegetarian, but rather than imposing vegetarianism on the organization, the director cleverly laid the blame on the owner of the house. The owner being brahmin had strictly forbidden meat-eating on the office premises, and the organization, in spite of its pro- poor, equitable, secular blah had agreed rather readily, considering as I suppose, it met their own pro-vegetarian needs.
The director’s wife was, incidentally a doctor pretending to be a teacher (neither of which she could do too well) She could however roll her eyeballs heavenwards in a trance (read nirvana) like state, could balance in several complex and unesthetic yogic poses while insisting others do so as well.
The director insisted that he and his two male brahmin consorts were the only ones ‘up above’ who could and did have access to all the knowledge, science and wisdom of the universe while the rest – either female or of a lower caste/religion belonged ‘down below’. This of course, he expressed with a great deal of stammering and stuttering. When asked to have an objective assessment of quality that could be uniformly applied to all, his response was – well unavailable.
Now this organization has an obscene amount of funds and is studying accountability and such. What can one say about such organisations? They leave me speechless – that’s why I write about them, I suppose………………..