Poverty in India, a literary view

povertyBy Kritika Sharma

An emerging superpower, a land of diverse cultures and languages,  a splendor of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, an integration of literature and astronomy together with the glory of the Guptas, the Mauryas and the Mughals is what defines “Incredible India “. However, the changing dynamics these days can only highlight India as a land of breeding corruption, increasing poverty, spurting inflation and deteriorating values.

At present, India is counted as one among the many Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDC) of the world which definitely is a source of national disgrace for all the Indians. The reasons are simple. An unending circle of social injustice, mushrooming population & corrupt administrative practices have led to the sluggish growth of the economy because of which a significantly large portion of the total population is unable to earn an income which is sufficient to meet its minimum means of subsistence.

Poverty, as a term, has different connotations in different contexts. Poverty, when comprehended from the point of view of an individual, describes the plight of that individual in struggling to meet minimum needs in the normal routine of life. Another, more relevant, perception of poverty as a national or global problem affecting not only the individual fate of a person but having an effect of higher magnitude, covers the issue of social disparities in levels of living, arising primarily because of the historically rooted disadvantages to some sections of the society in the form of social exclusion and physical exclusion (the caste system for example), at a large scale. As a result, the latter understanding of poverty leads to conceptions of social justice which, despite their theoretical differences, are generally cosmopolitan in nature and encompass all human beings. In the present scenario, the concept makes clear that poverty is intimately associated with social inequality, that is, an unequal distribution of opportunities in terms of access to education, health, housing, transportation and other goods and services.

Adam Smith has very aptly put it “no society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable”, and the same is true for India. Looking at the miserable situation of poverty in our country, it is sometimes very hard to believe that there was a time when it was referred to as the “Golden Bird”.

In India, paradoxically, social justice with economic growth has been the basic objective of public policy since independence and is a broad strategy of development with special emphasis being laid on reduction of poverty. Providing minimum basic needs to each and every citizen of the country and reduction of poverty have been the major aims of independent India. The pattern of development which the successive five year plans envisaged laid emphasis on uplifting the poor, integrating the poor into the main stream and achieving a minimum standard of living for all. While addressing the constituent assembly in 1947 Jawaharlal Nehru had said, “This achievement (referring to independence) is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the great triumphs and achievements that await us….. the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity”.

During the course of the last 60 years, we have achieved much, although not completely as per our aspiration. There is a lot to be done. The country’s challenges and major issues concerned with poverty and social injustice plague our people all over the nation with worry. Our country is nowhere even close to what was planned and promised long time back. In 2010 the World Bank stated that 32.7% of the total population in India was below the international poverty line of USD 1.25 per person per day while 68.7% lived on less than USD 2 per day. According to the data available for 2010 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), an estimated 37.2% of the Indians were below the country’s national poverty line. A report by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), published in 2010, claimed that 8 Indian states have more poor people than 26 poorest African nations combined which totals to more than 410 million poor in the poorest of all African countries. Furthermore, the findings of empirical observations suggest that higher income in no way guarantees ending poverty. Instead, the trends of growth of the domestic product may even be accompanied by an increase in inequality of income and thereby reduce human development. This actually contributes to increasing poverty. For instance, despite an impressive economic growth rate of 8% – 9%, a large part of Indian population remains poor. Poverty in India is often linked to exclusion and marginalization. Statistics of social variables such as malnutrition, poverty, access to education and health, access to social capitals and networks and unemployment clearly show that marginalized and discriminated groups are among the poorest in India. People from scheduled caste, scheduled tribes, Muslim communities as well as women are not only the most affected  by poverty but often have difficulty in accessing their basic rights be it socio-economic, cultural, civil or political. These statistics are indeed excellent indicators of the level of complexity of the problems and challenges that India faces.

What has caused the once known “Golden Bird” to end up in such a situation? Why are so many people unable to meet their basic needs? The answers to these questions, that is, the causes of poverty lie in the institutional and social factors that mark the life of the poor. There are a plethora of reasons as to why most of the Indians are poor and cannot earn sufficiently to afford a reasonable standard of living. The rapidly growing population undermines the production capacity of the nation and overburdens the already scarce resources so much so that it affects the distribution on an average basis, thereby affecting its growth and reflecting its backwardness. This rapid growth in the population has been observed particularly among the poor. Population growth among the poor is primarily because of their illiteracy, traditional attitudes and lack of family planning practices. Clearly, with large sized families and low incomes, they are unable to meet even the basic minimum needs if their families. A continuous expansion in the army of unemployed is another cause of poverty. The rate of increase of the number of people looking for employment is much higher than the rate at which job opportunities are expanding. As a result, many people are left unemployed and hence are unable to earn a decent standard of living. Rising prices of essential commodities has also contributed to the woes and miseries of the poor primarily because of the fact that it has caused their purchasing power to decline sharply which in turn has led to a lower standard of living. Another area crying out for immediate reforms is the extravagant and luxurious expenditure made by our corrupt administration- CWG Scam, Coalgate Scam, the Adarsh Scam and many more being the classic examples. These administrative expenses, that continue to be on a rise over the years, are the root cause of poverty as they do not add anything to the production and prosperity of the country and are accompanied by employees clamoring for more pay, more facilities and more privileges. In addition; strikes, slogans, demonstrations, processions, and red tapism are other big hiccups in the growth of the Indian economy which affect production and thus, are a big blow to the country’s progress as well as a catalyst to this ever increasing poverty. In the Indian setup, the apathetic attitude of the government towards domestic, handloom, cottage and small scale industries has marred their progress and this in turn has increased poverty by leaps and bounds. Our policy makers and ruling elite class encourage multinational companies which, instead of providing employment, curtail it by rationalization and use of mechanical and technical power.

In conclusion, the need of the hour is to increase agricultural and industrial production, curtail wasteful expenses, review the government policy towards poverty and once reviewed, ensure its effective implementation to achieve targets. A free and democratic India can mobilize the pace of universal justice for millions of impoverished citizens inhabited across the nation. This needs pursuits of fresh initiatives and a vision for social justice not as a tool to enhance economic growth only, but to empower people and enable them to enjoy their human rights. It has been said that India is a rich country inhabited by poor people, so poverty in India can be eradicated if her resources are properly utilized and investment is properly made in profit-giving enterprises.

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