Friday, November 14, 2008

Incredible India!

I am usually a hesitant recruit to the ranks of the "Oh India is a such a miserable country"-"Things never change here" brigade. Partly because I do not believe in the selective use of information for the airing of what are often hollow/self-righteous arguments. However there are some occasions when information completely overwhelms you and sends you into a sea of despair. A classic example is reading the newspaper(today's TOI for instance) and getting buried in an avalanche of bad news.

The first article is on the death of 5 children in Ranchi because of the "adulteration"(technically poisioning) of the milk they got as a part of the mid-day meal scheme. The report is very matter-of-fact yet tugs you somewhere when you read it, especially the part on the warden thinking it was a prank. But it also points fingers at a larger reality. The Mid-Day meal scheme is one of the government initiatives that has been a roaring success. However it also reveals that the state is incapable of ensuring that children have the ability to come to school irrespective of such offers. It is an admission of a double failure-in the departments of food and education(connected as they are). When a scheme to remedy these failures is botched up and that too with a "phenyl-like substance", it really shakes one's faith in the belief that the state is capable of at least minimal steps for the welfare of the population.

On similar lines, is this article. The Indian government, rather the Mnistry of Health and Family Welfare(Anbumani Ramadoss again!!!), has concluded that an Indian can qualify to be below the poverty line only if he/she earns less than Rs 455.11/388.56(urban areas/rural areas) a month(some quailification eh?). That would imply an average of Rs 14.96/12.77 a day. It's not clear if this statistic is applicable to an individual or a family. What is clear is that our standards remain abysmal. It points to the hollowness of our entire paradigm of growth, stands as a mute witness as our Finance Misister releases statements twice a day to reassure stock markets and stares us right in the face when we argue in panels and school halls that after 61 years, India has finally arrived. 15 rupees a day!!! The poverty line for any country serves many practical purposes(eg distribution of welfare) but like the mid-day meal scheme, it exposes another reality. The poverty line is India's definition of what we consider poor and not-so-poor. It tells us that we can consider someone earning 16 rupees a day to be above the poverty line and it tells us that there are enough poor people in India to actually justify such a demarcation.

And people write books like "Superstar India:From Incredible to Unstoppable"

As I hinted at before, this is not an attempt at vague moralizing or a summons to righteous indignation. It is only a perspective, one that is rapidly vanishing in our world of superstars and incredibles!

9 comments:

Ridwan said...

I hear you on this post Prasanth. There was a report on diabetes in India that was/is carried by BBC television today.

It said that as many as 100 million Indians have diabetes and most are not receiving care.

The report showed poor folks in villages sitting around blind and others starving.

There were also pictures of afluent folks in Mumbai eating out and concerns about healthcare, etc.

I thought about the report and except for the numbers the same is true for South Africa or any poor pocket in the so called developed world.

A few months ago I was on a reservation (Navajo) in Arizona and I read that most Indians suffer from diabetes made worse by poverty and the lack of primary healthcare.

Made me think that being poor and below the bread/poverty line is a universal condition made worse by the state to describe poor folks by attaching flimsy descriptions.

Still, I am floored that someone earning 14 rupees is considered above the poverty line!

If memory serves, 14 rupees can just about buy one bottled water in New Delhi.

I am thinking as I write here brother.

Thanks for writing this post.

Peace to you,
Ridwan

Prasanth said...

@ridwan
The statistic about diabetes is yet another chilling reminder of reality. Interestingly(re:in the context of the BBC report) the Union Minister for health is in the news more often for his steps to get smoking, colas and junk food banned.

This of course implies two possibilities. Either the Minister's effort is mainly focused on such issues. Or the media only considers the focus on such issues as worthy of coverage. Either way, it's a not-very pleasant picture of ourselves.

I still find it a bit hard to get over the figure and the confidence of a government that manages to announce this in a court.

ps.Thanks for the blogroll ;)
cheers
Prasanth

asmokescreen said...

May I remind you: this "perspective" is not vanishing. It's just won a Booker prize!

Despite your disclaimer at the beginning, I must ask what your perspective really is. I do agree with all that you've said, with the despair that the articles you pointed to provoke. But.

There is clearly a section of the population in this country that has access to the best - health services, education, lifestyle, etc. And there are vast sections that don't. There's rich irony in the fact that it's usually the former who get to write/speak about the latter. I wonder if we can look deeper at who promotes either as the "truth" about India and why?

anwesha said...

interesting comments all of them

firstly, mr ridwan laher...for pointing out a meagre bottled water (mineral, that is) can be bought with rs. 14
while the poverty line surely is an exceedingly disappointing attempt on the part of the gods of our state to make the very poors get distinguished from the emaciated; it was interesting to find an example of the use of fourteen rupees from the other side of the spectrum...a lot of indians including I, belonging to the upwardly mobile middle class, do not pay to drink water...
ditto, with the diabetes connection; again an important issue indeed, but small when compared to the other glaring problems which come parcelled with poverty

secondly, to prasanth
your indignation is rightful and justified...however, i think, you are being too harsh on the government if you say that you can't comprehend their gall...would you rather that you weren't aware of this piece of news...also, what if even fifteen is an incorrect figure...i actually think the figure could even be lower, because there are many places in india (suburban to semiurban areas) where you can still survive for about thirty-forty a day...going by that logic, there should be places in rural india where you can survive for much less...i am also inclined to bring in the WHO poverty line estimate which estimates ( :) ) about a dollar expenditure per day as a yardstick for measuring poverty...in that case...all of us are poor indeed!!!!!

to asmokescreen,
the debate about anything in india is problematic probably because it is about everything... :)
so, i think we should once and for all give up hope in finding any kind of hope to find the 'truth', especially in 'statistics'

Prasanth said...

@asmokescreen
Profuse apologies for the delay.
You raise vital points. I'll try to answer them.
From the point of view of the post(or for that matter, this blog) the perspective is pretty straight forward. I belong to the first category you mentioned, the one which a access to everything good.
The distance between the two categories is all set to increase as our economy booms further.

This is not because the government will ignore the poor.They cannot. Rather it is because the section which has access to the best will increasingly be able to exist without the poorer sections 'intruding' on their imagination.

Of course there will be counter- trends as well, but they are more likely to be fringe tendencies.

In such a context, a post like this serves as a reminder(mainly to me) of a reality that is receding. Again it does not recede because it's not there but we are able to live without seeing it.

It's a valid question as to what this reminder is worth for it does not achieve much. It is also worth considering it in the large context of representations of poverty in India as well. Perhaps representations like these are the way we reconcile two conflicting impulses on the way to burying one and indulging in another. I would like to hope it's not so..But then..you never know!

I have a feeling the response is more muddled than the post.. :(
Prasanth

Prasanth said...

@anwesha
The indignation at the government has less to do with the information itself and more to bureaucratic precision(or insensitivity) with which such a topic is addressed, a kind of "stainless steel" approach the issue. It would seem that government is more of a poll-agency than an agent for social change!

I looked up the WHO standards. The adoption of them would truly spark off an upheaval in terms of the change the government will have to make in its structure and policies. Perhaps that's one reason why it will not happen until growth "trickles down" further.

Prasanth

asmokescreen said...

Ah! Not muddled at all! The response should have been part of the post. :) Agree with you about the conflicting impulses. There are things that move you to writing about them. Yet, the act of writing seems at times a hollow gesture.

Abraham Menacherry said...

depressing indeed!

my only good feeling about all this is that.. we may be moving slow but unlike some other third world countries our direction of movement is definitely positive. So lets hope that our great grand children will be citizens of a "rich India"

Prasanth said...

@asmokescreen
aah!! the evergreen dilemma of all bloggers.

@abraham
Amen to that! Although (with) how(much capital) our great grandchildren start out is the moot point