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Untitled Document
Consciousness, Poverty And Power
Dr. Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: The Daily Times
Dated: Thursday, December 11, 2003

The elite and the poor inhabit quite different worlds. Their forms of social life, relationship with the process of production, and the state are poles apart. So too are their forms of power. In this article I will attempt to show how associated with their economic conditions of existence, the form in which the elite constitutes power in Pakistan is counterposed to the empowerment of the poor, as they shift out of poverty.

The power of the elite is constituted within the structure of patron-client relationships. At an economic level it involves tying the poor individually into a chronic dependence on the patronage of the elite, operating within their individualized domains of power. At a psychological and social level, elite power involves creating a sense of powerlessness in their subjects: internal relationships of fraternal loyalty and support within the community are ruptured, and the individual isolated and made dependent on the economic and social support emanating out of elite power. The basis of seeking patronage by the dependents is the fear that comes from being isolated and powerless. The exercise of this form of power, involves constriction of the space for autonomous initiative by the dependents. Therefore, the power of the elite is predicated on the loss of freedom of the poor. This dialectic is fuelled by the assertion of the ego by the dominant over the dominated, drained of any sense of relatedness at a human level.

By contrast the poor communities in Pakistan, are imbued with a folk tradition where the process of actualizing the self is experienced as a transcendence of the ego and progressive integration with the community. (See for example, Najam Hussain Syed’s classic: Recurrent Patterns in Punjabi Poetry). Empowerment of the poor involves a reintegration with their community as much as with their inner self. It is therefore an awakening of the nascent counter consciousness of love, relatedness and creative action.

In contrast to the power nexus of the elite, when the poor are empowered the isolation of the individual is replaced by integration with the community. This relatedness with the other and with the inner self creates a sense of freedom and opens the space for autonomous initiatives by the poor. This is in contrast to their earlier condition of fear bred in isolation. Empowerment for the poor signifies relatedness, freedom and autonomous action. The following matrix presents in stylized form, the social and psychological elements of the two counterposed forms of power:

Creating a sense of powerlessness in the poor, and the incapacity to take initiatives. A sense of community and the confidence to take initiatives.
Rupturing the internal relationships of fraternal loyalty and support amongst the poor: Isolation of the individual. Progressive re-integration with and reconstruction of the community.
A nexus of power within which the poor are made dependent individually on the economic and social patronage of the elite. Breaking out of the nexus of elite power by developing the capacity for autonomous initiatives for control of the economic and social forces, which fashion their immediate existence.
The ontology of elite power is based on inducing in the poor the mindset of fear, isolation and helplessness. The ontology of empowerment is based on an awakening amongst the poor, of the nascent counter consciousness of love, relatedness and creative action.
Power of the elite is predicated on loss of freedom of the poor. A sense of freedom and self-confidence.

In the context of this dialectic, empowerment of the poor means breaking out of the nexus of elite power through a transformation of the economic, social and psychological condition of the poor.

Such a transformation at the national level would involve a change in the structure of elite power. At the local level as I have argued (see for example my book titled: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan), empowerment of the poor can be achieved through what we have called Participatory Development. This is a process, which involves the participation of the poor at the village level to build their human, natural and economic resource base for breaking out of the poverty nexus. It specifically aims at achieving a localized capital accumulation process based on the progressive development of group identity, skill development and local resource generation. The essential feature of Participatory Development is social mobilization or the formation of group identity. This is done by initiating a series of dialogues with rural communities, which can result in the formation of community organizations. The beginning of the process is therefore the emergence of a nascent form of community consciousness. This is then deepened as the community identifies and implements projects for increasing income, acquires new skills and begins to engage in collective savings.

The process of Participatory Development proceeds through a dynamic interaction between the achievement of specific objectives for improving the resource position of the local community and the inculcation of a sense of community identity. Collective actions for specific objectives such as a small irrigation project, building a school, clean drinking water provision, or agricultural production activities can be an entry point for a localized capital accumulation process. This is associated with group savings schemes, reinvestment and asset creation. The dynamics of Participatory Development are based on the possibility that with the achievement of such specific objectives for an improved resource position, the community would acquire greater self-confidence and strengthen its group identity.

My experience with helping to build nine hundred community organizations in rural Punjab during the 1990s suggests that such a process of Participatory Development can be initiated. Almost two decades of work at the local level, shows that a change in consciousness is integral to the process of overcoming poverty. Once the counter consciousness of love and relatedness, of integrity and creative action is brought to the surface through the social struggle, a new awareness and set of values comes into play. During our work in rural Punjab, the awakening of this consciousness in however nascent a form, was demonstrated to be a material force for social change.

Essential to sustaining Participatory Development at the local level, however is a change in the patron-client model of governance at the national level. This must be accompanied by a restructuring of national economic growth so that poverty alleviation is not merely a marginal, local level effort, but becomes integral to the main stream of Pakistan’s polity and economy.

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