Director: Values Key in India

Director of India’s Deendayal Research Institute Nandita Pathak told a crowd in Lowell Library yesterday that integral humanism—which emphasizes the holistic development of communities—was integral to the development of Indian villages. According to Pathak, the problems of development stem from plans that lack great involvement from the people they are designed to help. Pathak said that development should instead flow from the bottom up. This type of grass-roots development can be achieved with integral humanism, she added. To stress the importance of the project to India’s well-being, Pathak quoted Mahatma Ghandi’s phrase, “India is a nation of villages.” By returning to forgotten values, like those espoused by Ghandi himself, she said, the next generation of Indians may lead the country in a new direction. During her talk, Pathak compared an ideal village to the human body, where disparate parts engage together to fulfill the needs of society. The transformation of a village into a collaborative entity is accomplished with the help of young married couples who are dedicated to social change. Pathak said that these volunteers teach villages to become self-sustaining by teaching them agricultural techniques and entrepreneurship. Volunteers also teach villagers dispute management and “moral values,” while reducing the influence of religious and caste divisions in the village. According to Pathak, the work of the volunteers helps the communities progress into cohesive units. By 2005, 80 villages were self-reliant, she said. Pathak said she hopes to increase the number to 500 by 2010. “Everybody likes our model,” she said. The project’s success even prompted a visit from former Indian president A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. “Wherever he goes he always tells about the Chitrakoot project,” Pathak said. Last spring break, about 15 undergraduate members of the Harvard College in Asia Program visited self-sustaining villages in the region. “We are finally able to continue a conversation that we started almost a year ago,” said Yi Wei ’10, HCAP’s alumni chair. Wei also said that Pathak’s talk challenged traditional notions of development. “For me, the most amazing thing about this project is that it takes sustainable development on its head,” she said. It’s “not just about ‘going green’’s making sure that every member of the community has a role to play.”