The importance of grassroot People’s Action was sparked by a crisis way back in 1977-79 when there was an ideological difference of opinion which later resolved itself. From the very beginning it was not the College’s intention to only solve problems. Much more important was the belief in starting processes of action that went in the right direction of empowering people to ask questions and seek answers. Basically, the Barefoot College saw the following problems being faced in the rural areas:
- Poor dissemination of information: Many of the schemes of the government were misinterpreted by people with vested interests in the village, including village-level government functionaries, with the result that the rural poor were entirely dependent on what the literate people in the village told them. The College’s role was to see that through campaigns, struggles, rallies and meetings, correct information reached the poor through channels they understood and then let them decide for themselves what to do with the information knowledge in the hands of a select few was power. The Barefoot College wanted to spread this power.
- By far the most serious crisis we face is our lack of self-respect. We should take pride in the way our indigenous institutions and ideas have survived. We should value innovations and make every effort to see that it is replicated because it is low cost, community based and has grown from below. This country has all the answers. The solutions to every problem are well within reach in the boundaries of our own country.
From its 1977-79 crisis, the College learnt several important lessons:
- It is only when an organisation is challenged that it knows how strong or weak it is. The Barefoot College survived the challenge: a member of the State Legislative Assembly had publicly stated that he would finish off the Centre, but he could not succeed.
- Changes of any kind come from conflict. In retrospect, this conflict helped the College immensely in changing attitudes about their work. The target groups for the first time started coming spontaneously; the very people whom the College wanted to work with and reach to, became its strongest supporters.
- It strengthened the Barefoot College members as a group. As a result, the management style became more democratic; decisions that were taken by the director before the crisis were now taken by a group.
- Barefoot College’s objectives were redefined. The College decided to work only with the poor in order to increase their level of awareness and make them self-reliant; development services and training were to be used only to accelerate awareness and bring about social changes.
- Organising farmers and mobilising women’s groups to fight for their rights in courts and other groups forums were stepped up.