Editorial: Need NGOs

Not just to solve problems, but also to acquire confident pride

There are many problems that only non-governmental volunteers can solve. Discomforting situations, especially the ones that are social in nature, require agencies from outside to find deliverance. The State can at best play the role of a facilitator by putting in place the right laws and making available the required funds to aid the process. In contrast, when the government takes on the role of the NGOs, there is too much tokenism and too little engagement which does not help anyone. This is not for want of intent, but more a fallout of the lack of commitment caused by haphazard prioritisation. Government officials are after all in transferable jobs and have other considerations weighing on their minds like career progression to get too involved with the social cause they might at a given time be only ex-officio or otherwise involved in. Without complete involvement and felt understanding, social problems cannot be solved and this commitment can only be guaranteed by committed volunteers of an NGO. Government functionaries will be satisfied with an elaborately staged “World Day” observance of their present responsibility or the odd workshop and seminar talking down to corralled audience, but that does nothing for the issue or problem at hand beyond feeding a press release. Real work involves getting the hands dirty and that is too much to expect from a individuals with temporary responsibility of the problem. The government is also handicapped by the red tape they wrap themselves in and the procedures and hierarchies they are habituated to. Work on the field demands instant decisions and improvisations which government officials are either not trained for or unwilling to risk. In Sikkim, unfortunately, the NGO culture is still nascent. There is something definitely wrong with the picture when governments and project developers float their own organizations to do “social work” which should ideally be undertaken by well networked “local” NGOs. Without taking anything away from the efficacy of the present kind of NGOs, a fact which cannot be ignored is that under the present structures, the NGOs become an extension of the bureaucratic system of chakari in which political masters [or funding company] gain primacy over the people among whom the organisations should be working. This subverts the whole role of a social engagement from being one of linking aspirations and concerns from the grassroots up, to becoming handling agents of dole trickling down from above. What this awkward arrangement also delivers is government-NGO relationship which is not one of mutual respect. Since most NGOs here are completely dependent on the State for funds and directions, their independence is restricted. It is time the NGO culture developed into a viable deliverer of services and information to the Sikkimese, especially those in the rural areas. Many changes are afoot at present and NGO involvement in cushioning their impact is an urgent need. Absent of committed and informed social workers, a fatalistic streak is created among the people who start losing faith in their ability to solve problems on their own. If this notion is allowed to take roots, very soon, a society mistakenly convinced of its incompetence will even stop trying very hard to improve its situation. A responsible network of NGOs will go a long way in combating this defeatist trait and help in reacquiring the confidence which slips away fast in a welfare state.