Janaagraha and Brown University joined hands to identify challenges related to citizenship rights in Bangalore and to call on the government to take steps to improve civic participation.

Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy, Bangalore, and the Brown-India Initiative at Brown University, USA during a conference at the Azim Premji Foundation in Bangalore released a report on Dec 16, 2014 on Citizenship Index. As per this report, Citizens of Bangalore do not engage much with civic or political activities aside from elections and it’s a problem for the quality of democracy in Bangalore.

In spite of low levels of civic participation, the report also highlights that when the poor and illiterate do participate in civic life, their quality of life improves because they get better access to basic infrastructure and services.

“We’ve collected this data to push policymakers to take a hard look at the serious challenges that Bangalore is facing and recognize the importance of informed and engaged citizenship,” said Ramesh Ramanathan, Co-Founder of Janaagraha. “Ultimately, participation is like a velcro strip. It needs supply- side hooks in order to get active demand-side engagement. BBMP and various civic agencies, like BWSSB, BESCOM and others, need to take steps to get Bangaloreans to exercise our rights and access basic services.”

The Janaagraha-Brown Citizenship Index (JB-CI) report, which is based on a survey of more than 4,000 Bangaloreans in 2013, found that, while about three-quarters of Bangaloreans above 18 voted in the most recent national, state and municipal elections, only about one-tenth participate in political activities outside of elections.

“When citizens don’t participate in political or civic activities outside of elections, it’s a problem for the quality of democracy,” said Ashutosh Varshney, Director of the Brown-India Initiative at Brown University. “It indicates that people may not be able to exercise all of their rights and participate fully in public life.”

There are significant class divisions in Bangalore that shape the quality of citizenship. Generally speaking, the richer and more educated a Bangalorean is, the higher their score on the Citizenship Index (CI), a measure of citizenship based on an individual’s knowledge about and participation in civic and political issues and activities.

Not all Bangaloreans have the full ability to use their rights, or effective citizenship, with education and class being the biggest predictors of whether an individual’s effective citizenship will be low or high, the report explained.

The average CI score for Bangalore is 0.32 out of 1, but those living in informal settlements and designated slums have far lower levels of citizenship — with average CI scores of 0.16 and 0.26 respectively — than members of the middle and upper class. The graph below shows average CI scores by housing type, which the researchers used as a proxy for class.

These differences have to do with differences in knowledge: the wealthier someone is, the more they tend to know about civic and political issues. But the report noted that participation partly compensates for knowledge differences across class. Residents of notified slums and lower and middle class housing participate in civic and political activities more than the upper class, which helps to lift their citizenship scores.

Significantly, the quality of citizenship of poor residents shapes their access to resources. When residents of notified and informal slums had a higher level of citizenship than the average score for Bangalore – meaning that they were relatively knowledgeable about and participated in civic and political activities at high rates – they usually had better access to water, sanitation, electricity and roads than other people in their class.

“To put it simply, if they did not participate in political and civic life, they would receive less from the state,” the report said. “Citizenship, in this sense, is an ally of the poor.”

“This data confirms what we see all over the developing world,” said Patrick Heller, Professor of Sociology at Brown University. “When the poor come together and become involved with civic and political activities, such as social movements, they often succeed in getting the government to give them better access to basic infrastructure and protect their social, civil and political rights.”

The survey also found that, even though many Bangaloreans face poor basic service delivery and public infrastructure, they rarely ask government agencies to fix such problems. For example, over 50 percent of those surveyed reported having frequent water shortages, yet only seven percent went to the water department to report a problem in the two years prior to the survey. Difficulties citizens face in interacting with the government include knowing the correct agency to approach, finding a local office, receiving fair treatment and ensuring the get what they need in a timely fashion.

While many choose not to interact with the government, the upper classes tend to opt out of the system by accessing services through other means. When they do interact with the government, they are also far more likely than the other classes to get what they want by paying a bribe or working through an intermediary.

A supplementary report for policymakers, with recommendations based on the JB-CI survey, notes that when it comes to exercising rights and freedoms, citizenship can be enhanced tremendously by opportunities for citizens to engage with issues that affect their daily lives, such as zoning issues, the construction of a school or a playground in their neighbourhood, and opportunities to hold local institutions accountable for their actions – input that cannot be gained through elections alone.

But Bangalore and India’s cities more generally aren’t doing enough to facilitate citizen participation, the supplementary report added. While the Community Participation Law calls for the creation of Area Sabhas to increase citizen participation in cities, Janaagraha’s 2014 Annual Survey of India’s City-Systems (ASICS), which surveyed 21 major Indian cities, found that only Hyderabad has operational Area Sabhas in place.

“We hear of Gram Sabhas in rural areas which are central to decentralized democracy in our Panchayats. We need urban equivalents of Gram Sabhas – Area Sabhas under the Nagar Raj Act – where citizens can discuss civic issues and government policies,” Ramanathan said.  

You can view The Practitioner's View to the Citizenship Index here.

For the detailed Citizenship Index Study click here.

Media Coverage JB-CI release 16th December 2014 – Bangalore

Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy
4th Floor, UNI Building, Thimmaiah Road, Bangalore 560 052 INDIA
Tel: +91 80 4079 0400 | Fax: +91 80 4127 7104 | web: www.janaagraha.org