Founder - Chairman


News & Events

AGRI-CLINIC & AGRI-BUSINESS CENTER: AWARE has been approved as Nodal Training Institute (NTI) by MANAGE (Government of India, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare) to conduct Training in Agri-Clinic and Agri-Business for Unemployed Agricultural Graduates /Diploma Holders/similar qualification. The training is for 60 days at Pujyashri Madhavanji Agricultural Polytechnic, at Aswaraopet Campus, Khammam District.... Read more...
Integrated Rural Development Program
It is hard to imagine a group more intensely engaged in community organization than India’s AWARE. To call AWARE a “cause-lawyering” group may indeed be a misnomer, since most of its... Work appears to go beyond lawyering and is done by people who are not lawyers. Law is a part of its effort, however, and the “alternative law” embrace of interdisciplinary professional engagement with disadvantaged communities counsels against excluding AWARE from our consideration simply because it is far from purely a law group. In principle, in any event, lawyers can be organizers, as Lucie White affirms in her study of a South African struggle in which two people, a lawyer and a community organizers, jointly occupied the ‘lawyer’ role. Indeed, in some very conventional settings lawyers routinely are organizers of human lives. In any event, as we will see, AWARE vividly combines responsiveness to clients with almost paternalistic guidance to them.

AWARE – Action for Welfare and Awakening in Rural Environment - has a remarkable history. It was founded in 1975, and is still led, by P. K. S. Madhavan, an anthropologist and the grandson of an Indian king. Working with India’s tribal minorities and its untouchables, perhaps the most disadvantaged of all India’s citizens, AWARE has reportedly produced remarkable results. It began work in three villages, by 1991 had worked in four thousand villages, and hoped to reach ten thousand by the end of the century.

Its legal education programs reach a hundred thousand people each year. Struggling against a legacy of submissiveness bred by a thousand years of colonialism, as well as against the many powerful “vested interests” of modern India, AWARE has been able to affect the lives of 1.5 million of India’s least fortunate people.

Moreover, AWARE has remarkably combined an ability to mobilize people with a determination to listen to them. AWARE “choose to stand behind and with the people, and never ahead of them.” Despite having a large staff, at the top levels including many former civil servants, it has worked to structure itself in decentralized, rather than top-heavy, fashion.

It aims to render itself redundant in any given village in approximately ten years by enabling the villagers themselves to take over the work and has actually left some villages because its work was done and it also responds to villagers’ ideas. Its founder says that “AWARE aims to awaken the people, to make them identify their own problems and to prepare them to devise their own solutions and plan of action. The oppressed must not only recognize that they are oppressed but must also be aware of what they can do legally, peacefully and constructively to overcome their oppression.” It evidently aims at community development that “amounts to a community developing itself in accordance with its own perceptions of its needs and the resources at its command to fulfill those needs.” In practice, moreover, AWARE has modified not only its internal organization but also its entire approach to women in response to criticism from the people it sought to serve.

The transformation of the organization’s approach to women seems to have been especially dramatic. According to a profile in the Indian news magazine The Week, at an early stage of AWARE’s work, when the organization was making progress but not such rapid progress as it now achieves, P. K. S. Madhavan (AWARE’s founder and leader) went to a village meeting. There one Lambada woman got up and said in her rustic rude manner that AWARE was of no relevance to the women. “Then women after woman got up and started a tirade against us for being male chauvinistic,’ recalled Madhavan who was spellbound for some time. After this revelation, AWARE systematically began empowering and involving women. In 1987, twenty thousand women participated in an AWARE women’s meeting and now 60 percent of the workers at the project level (though only 30 percent at the top level) are women.

Yet it seems fair to say that AWARE’s work is not just liberating but also, again, transformative, and that the methods AWARE uses to promote transformation entail not just encouragement but also certain forms of pressure. The Week describes Madhavan’s initial inability to win the confidence of the communities he wished to help and comments that “finally he went in for the good old missionary tactic- giving sweetmeats to the children and a few strips of aspirin and such common cures for common indispositions. Gradually he learned the local tongue and added a dash of mythological stories to his sermons.” Madhavan himself has become a charismatic figure in the eyes of the people with whom AWARE works, according to a book published under AWARE’s auspices, he “is the messiah who has given their life a new direction.”

AWARE seeks to make the oppressed aware of their own oppression and of the steps they can take to challenge it, but these ideals of empowerment also contain a substantial measure of paternalistic guidance, inducement, and direction. Madhavan told The Week, with respect to the problem of alcohol abuse in the villages, that “we told [the villagers] that they came to be debtors to the landlords and moneylenders through drinking and gambling. We made them aware of the need to break away from such habits. After a continuous dialogue for a year or two, we could mould them into society productive villagers.” One element of this process was a policy under which AWARE gives loans to assist villagers in economic development, “made it known that it would give loans only to non-alcoholics.” The Week describes AWARE’s anti-alcohol policy as including “persuasive tactics, backed by friendly coercion”; the result has been “a kind of voluntary prohibition” in as many as 2,500 villages. Another of AWARE’s policies, meant to encourage bonded labors to give up the thin security they enjoyed in that status of semi enslavement, was to offer each laborer freeing himself from bondage, a grant of five hundred rupees.

In short, AWARE is a liberating force in the lives of a million people and more, who through AWARE are learning to press for their rights and to reshape their lives. AWARE fights for the rights of the oppressed through lawsuits and demonstrations, and it assists oppressed people to undertake their own economic transformations. Yet in some respects the organization seems to be led from above, and in its liberating work with oppressed people it also tempts them, pressures them, and perhaps proselytizes them. All of these steps may be truly essential to the liberation of people as stunningly and stultifying oppressed as India’s untouchables and tribals, and it is not my purpose to criticize them. Certainly, these techniques are quite similar to methods that are familiar in other areas of human activity, from religious faiths to government conditional-spending programs. But we should recognize nonetheless that this process of community organization entails profound influence by the organizer on the aspiration and achievements of the organized.

“La Tierra es Nuestra” : One response to the intense organizing pressure generated by AWARE, however, is to search for ways of engaging with disadvantaged people that (while perhaps infeasible in the context in which AWARE works) would enable organizers in other contexts to catalyze popular organization with less intrusive methods.