Dodgy Development: Films and Interviews challenging British aid in India

Front Cover

£5.00 / Free Download / 100 pages / December 2010

Between 2003 and 2008, India received £1 billion of British aid. At the beginning of 2009, the DFID released its new country strategy for India, which committed to giving another £850 million until 2011, making it DFID's largest bilateral programme. India is the world's fourth largest economy, based on purchasing power, and has qualified as a middle-income country since 2007. India is now also an aid donor in its own right.

In a ground-breaking book and DVD of short films and transcribed interviews by Richard Whittell and Eshwarappa M, published by Corporate Watch this month, people affected by British aid argue that behind the pictures of smiling children and the rhetoric of development lies a different reality that seldom makes the news headlines. They say that, through DFID projects and programmes, their government, land, schools and public services are being taken away from them. As one of the interviewees puts it, "In India, the DFID ... [is] behind the push to completely dismantle public systems of health, education, food security, water, electricity, and throw our people completely to the mercy of markets controlled by big capital." According to another interviewee, it is "another agenda to colonise us."

In 10 lengthy transcribed interviews and five short films, people who have suffered from and fought against the DFID's aid programmes in India - including teachers, farmers, academics, activists, engineers and journalists – explain why they have resisted or rejected this 'dodgy development' and why it is important that people in Britain do the same.

"They tie you up and burgle your house through the back door," says one of the interviewees, Madhuri Krishnaswammy. "And then arrive at the front door with much fanfare to provide a few sops as 'relief'!"

"Assistance doesn’t mean purchasing my culture," says another interviewee, Abani Baral. "Assistance doesn’t mean encroaching upon my rights or the administration. This is what the DFID is doing and this is what we are opposed to."

Professor Anil Sadgopal makes an appeal to the British public and asks, "Would you allow this to be done in your country by the Indian government? If your answer is no, then please use all your resources ... to stop DFID."

As well as the UK, the book and DVD will be distributed in India and other countries that receive British aid, such as Ghana and Iraq, to people similarly affected by it. Neither the films makers nor the publishers have received any funding for the project, and will make no profit from it.

"We travelled across India, independently and without funding," says Richard Whittell and Eshwarappa M, who conducted the interviews and made the films. "We wanted to speak to people affected by British aid. It soon became clear that there was a substantial number of people whose experiences of this aid contrasted sharply with the DFID's publicity, and it is these critical views that are presented in these short films and interviews."

Kofi Mawuli Klu, from Ghana, who wrote the foreword, adds that this series "will go a long way in raising awareness, forewarning people [about the DFID and British aid] and sharing the examples of community resistance among like-minded people all over the world. It will become dynamite."

The UK International Development parliamentary committee has recently announced an inquiry into the future of DFID’s programme in India. A memorandum based on this work has been submitted to the committee. The coalition government has said the DFID’s work will continue in a similar direction as it did under New Labour, though 'more efficient' and even more pro-business.

The British government gives £7 billion a year to poorer countries to "fight poverty worldwide." This money is given through the DFID, established in 1997 by the newly elected Labour government to focus exclusively on eliminating world poverty, which the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair described as "the greatest moral challenge facing our generation." As of July 2010, the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has committed to maintaining the DFID as a separate department, with David Cameron promising that "even in these difficult times we will meet our commitment to increase spending on aid to 0.7% of gross national income from 2013."