World Bank Rhetoric vs. World Bank Realities


November 11, 2000


Dear Mr. James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank:


A little more than four years ago, an activist forum, Citizens Against the World Bank, released an open letter to you: “World Bank Quit India.”  Apparently, their recommendation has gone unheeded, thus explaining your presence in Udaipur today.  With the spirit of their conviction, we are writing you another letter to urge you to stop regurgitating the empty rhetoric of your policies and programs and instead openly acknowledge and act on what could not have escaped your attention: the real-world effects of the World Bank in India.


We realize that in recent years the World Bank has tried to give itself a new image, a ‘face-lift’ complete with new language (“empowerment”, “learning”, “diversity”, “quality”); new areas of operation (“self-help groups”, “gender issues”, “education”); and new modes of implementation (“capacity-building,” “participation”, “decentralization”).  Yet despite the new image, it is clear that the goals, attitudes, and processes of the World Bank have fundamentally not changed. 


Indeed, far from forsaking the ‘party line’ of its Bretton Woods ancestry, the Bank continues to gravitate towards and reproduce the same old power structures, the same old economic-political-and-social stratification, and the same old dehumanizing System.  It has not stopped reinforcing the oppressive, exploitative tactics of its loyal followers (banks, corporations, government elites, other international donors), and therefore it has not stopped condemning the world’s social majorities to lives of poverty, inequity, discrimination, and marginalization.  By selling loans to the developing world (or by ‘graciously’ offering us grants), the Bank ensures the growth of the Status Quo and the proliferation of its destructive model of Development/Globalization and its own Hegemony.


Mr. Wolfensohn, we are sure that you are aware of how your paper-based rhetoric has played itself out in concrete realities.  However, in case it has slipped your memory, here are a few examples:


·          Although it is has been well-documented by countless researchers, we must mention the impact of the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programs on India.  Far from alleviating poverty and achieving the motto enshrined on the Bank’s headquarters’ wall (“Our Dream Is a World Free of Poverty”), SAPs and the Government of India’s subsequent New Economic Policies have brutally enhanced the condition and rate of poverty in India.  A three-year study conducted here in Rajasthan by Astha (one of Udaipur’s NGOs), from December 1996 to December 1998, found that poverty (defined as families who have an income less than Rs. 15,000 per year) increased from 60% to 72% in their survey population of 600 families.  Similarly, in 1992 and in 1997, the Government of Rajasthan conducted two “BPL (Below Poverty Line) Census” studies that showed that the number of poor families increased by 8% in these five years.  While in both cases the definition of poverty is limited, as poverty cannot simply be reduced to asset levels, these studies still offer us insight into how conditions are worsening for the very people the Bank has supposedly been working to ‘help’ for so many years.


·          The World Bank has infiltrated nearly every sector of human activity (infrastructure, sanitation, environment, health, education, and ‘self-help’ associations) and thus has spread like a virus in India.  In usurping all the spaces of collective human living, the Bank has effectively negated any possibilities for real empowerment and learning, i.e. seriously challenging the micro- and macro- paradigm of Progress, revaluing individual and societal potentials, and regenerating diverse ways of living, being, and relating to each other. This usurpation is most evident in its so-called ‘participatory’ programs, where the entire agenda — conceptually and practically — is pre-defined, packaged, marketed, and distributed without any thought to human beings, their local cultures, contexts, meaning-making systems, dreams, etc.  For example, the District Primary Education Program is a World Bank-developed, Government of India-run education ‘package’ that arrogantly assumes one-size-fits-all when it comes to learning processes, environments, relationships, and goals.  As with your other programs, the people who ‘participated’ in creating DPEP were well-paid consultants or NGO contractors — hardly mirrors of the masses they supposedly represent.


·          Via its policies and programs, the Bank has bred and entrenched a dependency on the State and Market — two institutions so intertwined that it is hard to say where one stops and the other begins.  ‘Capacity-building’ has meant eliminating the capacity of people to live interdependently (accomplished by generating inferiority-superiority complexes, breaking down localities and communities, destroying collective-oriented knowledge systems, etc.) and concentrating power, control, and wealth in these two ubiquitous Big Brothers.  For example, the focus of the much-touted Women’s Self-Help Groups (on saving money) has fostered competition within communities and increased women’s dependence on the banks and the Market to solve the problems before them.  By thus commodifying their relationships, turning them individually into ‘human capital’ and ‘human resources’ and collectively into ‘social capital’, they neither question the roots of these problems, nor do they try to involve their whole communities in nurturing more transformative, meaningful, and self-reliant kinds of approaches to them.


·          The World Bank has also succeeded in eliminating local knowledges and wisdoms, by calling upon ‘experts’ to steer the project of Development with their Scientific and Technical know-how.  Its apparent ‘about-face’ in the last few years — from demeaning traditional practices to valuing indigenous knowledge — is an even more insidious means to continue this pattern.  This time knowledge is being stripped from and thereafter denied to communities, via intellectual property patenting (read: theft) and wide-scale export and marketing (read: selling stolen goods).


Of course, this is not entirely the World Bank’s fault.  Our own elite officials within the Government of India have ‘begged’ you for money to finance the India of their dreams.  Indeed, for the last 150 years, various “leaders” have been trying to live out their dreams of modern India: first the British, then Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Manmohan Singh, today Yashwant Sinha and the World Bank.  For the social majorities of India these dreams have been relentless nightmares. They have had to shoulder the bulk of the burden, paying the debts and interest, forsaking their land and livelihoods.  Amazingly, however, they have still managed to keep their self-respect, dignity, and humanity, despite how strongly these leaders have tried to (and continue to try to) destroy these qualities within them. 


We wonder how many letters like this you must receive on a regular basis.  Perhaps they number in the thousands.  Like our predecessors four years ago, we too must conclude that the World Bank can play no positive role in India.  We therefore ask you to stop the re-colonization of India by the World Bank and its Bretton Woods brother, the IMF.  As we demanded from the British years ago, and from you four years ago, so we restate again: Quit India.




Concerned Citizens of Udaipur