Indian slum woman on diwali

Poverty – Biggest debate of India in a touching picture

This picture was taken by a man right before boarding a bus (Mumbai-Pune) at a stoppage known as Bisleri stop in Andheri, Mumbai, perhaps, a day before Diwali. It’s not a masterpiece clicked by some professional photographer with a pro-DSLR camera. The image is noisy and somewhat blur, but despite that it’s really one of those powerful images that touches our heart and leaves deep impressions. The image has put things in perspective.

The picture was posted on a social media platform and it stirred a debate in which many Indians and a few foreigners took part.

A woman is creating a ‘Rangoli’ outside her shed to celebrate India’s most popular festival Diwali – the festival of lights, the day when triumph of ‘good’ over ‘evil’ was marked.

It’s difficult to figure out whether the lady in the picture deserves appreciation for her spirit of celebration while living on a roadside shed or to mourn for this deprived soul and millions like others.

But after looking at this image, India must realize that the battle against poverty is still on. Corruption within us is the modern Ravana, who has abducted humanity, looted them of all ethical and moral values. Corruption has diluted sense of kindness, empathy, compassion, justice, and equality.

In this country, life is hell without wealth. Poor are getting poorer, rich are getting richer. Poverty is the ugliest creation of corruption in India’s political and social sphere. The governments, irrespective of which party is in power, have eaten the nation like termites. The structure looks intact, but inside, it’s being turned into powder.

Number of poor is so high in India that even world’s average poverty ratio depends on it.

The policymakers have been deceiving people by deliberately keeping poverty line low, according to Angus Deaton of Princeton University, a noble laureate in economics. The statistical exercise has become political due to policymakers who want to show that Indian economy is lifting.

Indian government’s official poverty line is a vital economic statistic, but its validity and methodology have always been debated. The poverty line in India is based on consumer expenditure surveys of the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO). That implies a poor household is defined as one with an expenditure level below a specific poverty line.

While it helps deceiving people to gain votes, keeping the poverty line at such a low means millions of people, who are officially considered lifted above poverty line but are poor in true terms, are deprived of the government assistance they deserve to come out of their misery.

India’s poverty line, as defined by Suresh Tendulkar Committee in 2011, is based on monthly spending on food, education, health, electricity and transport. According to Indian government, a person who spends a penny above Rs.27.2 in rural areas and Rs.33 in urban areas a day are living above the poverty line. A family of five that spends anything over Rs.4, 080 per month in rural area and Rs, 5,000 in urban areas is above poverty line. Isn’t it too low?

Presently, one cup of tea with an ‘aloo parantha’ at cheapest roadside food stalls cost Rs. 30 in urban area. So, how Rs. 33.3 a day are sufficient to survive?

According to a committee headed by former Reserve Bank Governor C Rangarajan, 20.9% (363 million) of India’s 1.2 billion people were living below poverty line in 2011-12. His panel had set poverty line at Rs. 32 and Rs 47 a day in rural and urban area respectively. The government claims that between 2009-10 and 2011-12, India has lifted 91.6 million people out of poverty and poverty ratio fell from 38.2% to 29.5%. But that is according to definition of poverty line set by government. Quality of life as an aspect of poverty eradication is still missing.

According to an estimate mentioned in Rangarajan’s report, 57% of a rural family’s budget and 47% of an urban family’s budget is spent to procure food alone.

According to economists and critics, a low poverty line has benefited government to project that millions have been lifted above poverty line when actual state of affairs is lot worse.

Let’s take a look at developed nations and their criteria for defining poverty. In United Kingdom, any citizen living with a current net income of less than Rs. 22,500 a week (over 3,000 a day), is poor.

In US, an individual with annual income less than $11,770 is below the Federal Poverty Level. A family of two and a family of four earning less than $15,930 and $24,520 per year respectively are poor.

Even South Africa’s poverty line was higher than that of India.

India’s latest Socioeconomic and Caste Census (SECC) projects a picture of widespread rural poverty and deprivation. According to the survey, in which 300 million households were surveyed, 73% lived in rural areas and less than 5% earn enough to pay taxes. Only 2.5% of the total owned a 4-wheeler vehicle and less than 10% claimed salaried jobs. The literacy rate in rural India is also saddening. About 37.7% of residents can’t read or write.

India socio economic and caste census 2011

However, discussion rarely talked about these facts. While a few criticized extravagancies of rich over marriages and birthday parties when poor are starving to death, some others admitted how badly this image has hurt them. A foreigner put the misery of poor in the following words,

It’s really sad, but their cultural behavior is detrimental to progress. The whole country is covered with trash, they have no appreciation for hygiene, and they have no respect for one another. My dad worked there for a couple months and said it was the most miserable experience of his life. He said it seemed like people would kill people over for next to nothing. Like no one makes way for ambulances. They don’t care that someone is dying, they don’t want to be inconvenienced for a moment. It’s just one of those situations that money won’t fix.

Some others didn’t see any valid reason why they should restrict their spending just because others don’t have the same means. There were people who were so much moved by this image that they wanted to do something for that poor lady and the poor kid standing right behind her. May be, a box of sweets or money would help. As matter of fact, it does sound inefficient and insufficient to do a charity for one day for one person when the problem is gigantic. Crores of other continues to live their whole life below poverty line, hand-to-mouth. Misery haunts them their entire life.

Unfortunately, poverty is a catalyst for many other ill effects such as illiteracy, poor mental health, lack of awareness regarding their constitutional rights, anti-social behavior, maximum domestic violence and ill environment for children growing in these slums.

Slums or mohalla’s where these people are forced to spend their entire life are eyesores for government, businessmen, and property dealers. These people are hated for their unhygienic lifestyle and stinking locality consisting of ugly sheds. Try to remember scenes from the movie “Slumdog Millionair”. The reality is way far horrible for poor souls fighting for survival. Quality of life is the least thing that’ll come to their mind.

The government sanctions billions of rupees for development of slums and housing projects but very little have changed even after nearly 70 years of Independence. The poverty isn’t a natural phenomenon. It is manmade. Also, the corruption in government can’t be attributed to only politicians. Individual acts of corruption and silence of people also accounts for our nation’s misery. Our elected leaders are also a projection of our society.

India’s politicians have learnt well from British trick of ‘divide and rule’. India is divided by bars of caste, religion, region, class or status. Indian people have still not learned to respect common interests and community participation.

Biggest cause, as it seems, is that the people are deceived by those whom they consider their leaders. The creed of politicians has become vicious. It needs to be replaced and, eventually, it will be. But that’ll be possible only after individual reforms. All that people need to do is to be honest with themselves.

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