Inderpal Grewal: Aftermath of the NGO Boom in India

Dr. Inderpal Grewal, Chair of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Yale, addressed several recent trends prevalent across India’s NGO community. Dr. Grewal discussed the ways in which female inclusion in NGO policy, State/NGO relations and privatization have helped to shape the explosive growth in NGO activity and the resulting impact on women throughout the country. She specifically used the case study of the city of Ludhiana in Punjab to illustrate some of the drastic changes in India in the aftermath of this recent “NGO Boom.”

Dr. Grewal observed that there is a new feminist liberalism emerging in the country, with a focus on human rights. The Indian NGO community and political leadership have recognized the pivotal role of women in development interventions, and since the 1980s many NGOs have turned their attention to serving women. Grameen Bank in Bangladesh provides a strong example of growing efforts towards inclusion of women: the bank provides loans almost entirely to women as a result of research showing greater rates of repayment among women borrowers.

Privatization – wherein NGOs are taking on roles and responsibilities formerly deemed to be the domain of government – is a polarizing issue and relevant to the conversation on the proliferation of NGOs across India. While some argue that it has enabled under-served populations, such as women, to find a greater voice in their community, others raise the concern that private companies, including NGOs, are more likely to be driven by self-interest rather than concern for the general welfare.

Dr. Grewal noted that with the explosive growth of the sector, NGOs lost their reputation as incorruptible. Particularly salient now are questions of how to monitor NGOs and determine to whom they are accountable, and how to foster new and effective methods of communication between NGOs and the government.

Drawing on these general themes, Dr. Grewal spoke briefly of the trends affecting the NGO sector in Ludhiana, Punjab. Ludhiana has a long history of partnerships between NGOs and government in the area of healthcare delivery. The case study concludes that Ludhiana’s civil society would benefit from greater public awareness of the work being carried out by NGOs. In addition, the sector suffers from other complications like the burden of cumbersome licensing requirements and a lack of coordination among NGOs, leading to issues of competition and duplication.

Dr. Grewal concluded that NGO leaders across the country face similar challenges and yet she remains positive regarding the state of the sector today. Increasing awareness of NGOs’ work and the focus on opportunities for greater inclusion of women offer reasons to believe their impact will continue to strengthen going forward.

Edited by Lindsay Siegel

Lindsey White