South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Cooperative Grassroots Experiments in Contemporary India: Civil Society—State Partnership, c. 1947-62

Friday, July 6
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: Maple, Lower Ground Floor

Innovative social experiments, relating to the promotion of handicrafts and development of skills, often played a critical role in the survival and rehabilitation of refugee groups displaced by the 1947 Partition of India. Two case-studies illustrate this: (1) the Indian Cooperative Union, led by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya, which worked closely with refugee women in Delhi to promote handicrafts by setting up a sales outlet, which became the incubator for the Central Cottage Industries Emporium. Kamaladevi’s efforts acted as a catalyst in the hugely-successful revival of indigenous handicrafts. (2) the pioneering skills-development scheme at Nilokheri, a refugee township in East Punjab. Nilokheri grew from the efforts of S. K. Dey, a Michigan-trained engineer working for GE, who voluntarily helped refugees. Appalled by the narrow ‘official’ approach of providing doles and shelter to refugees, instead of promoting their long-term rehabilitation, Dey advocated skills development. He successfully set up a vocational-training centre to instruct refugees in such crafts and skills as brick-making, baking, knitting and embroidery, pottery, iron-smithy and tool-making. Nilokheri evolved into an integrated cooperative township, housing over 7000 displaced persons. Enlisting the support of Douglas Ensminger of the Ford Foundation, Dey so impressed Nehru that Dey was recruited to upscale and implement these lessons across India, through a new Ministry for Community Development. These innovative, early examples of civil society-state partnership contributed to the spirit of hope and optimism which imparted to the Nehru era its iconicity, suggesting the importance of studying such lesser-known histories of grassroots experiments.

Gyanesh Kudaisya, MD, FACOEM

National University of Singapore, Singapore

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3 - Cooperative Grassroots Experiments in Contemporary India: Civil Society—State Partnership, c. 1947-62



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