POVERTY IN INDIA
By CLINCY CLAMENT
Is India Poverty-stricken?
Poverty is a frequently heard word that doesn’t need any more explanation than what our eyes detect and ears perceive in our nation. India is the second-most populous country after China with about 1.2 billion people and is the seventh-largest country in the world with an area of 3,287,000 km². The highly contrasted country has enjoyed growth rates of up to 10% over many years and is one of the largest economies in the world, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of 1,644 billion US dollars. But only a small percentage of the Indian population has benefited from this impressive economic boom so far, as the majority of people in India are still living in abject poverty.
How is poverty defined in India?
More than nine hundred million people are considered to be poor in India. Most of them live in the countryside and keep afloat with odd jobs. The lack of employment which provides a livable wage in rural areas is driving many Indians into rapidly growing metropolitan areas such as Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore, etc. There, most of them expect a life of poverty and despair in the mega-slums, made up of millions of corrugated ironworks, without sufficient drinking water supply, without garbage disposal, and in many cases without electricity. The poor hygiene conditions are the cause of diseases such as cholera, typhus, and dysentery, in which especially children suffer and die. In addition to a lack of money, poverty is about not being able to participate in recreational activities; not being able to send children on a day trip with their schoolmates or to a birthday party; not being able to pay for medications for an illness. These are all costs of being poor. Those people who are barely able to pay for food and shelter simply can’t consider these other expenses. When people are excluded within a society, when they are not well educated and when they have a higher incidence of illness, there are negative consequences for society. We all pay the price for poverty. The increased cost of the health system, the justice system, and other systems that provide supports to those living in poverty has an impact on our economy.
Has poverty become ‘hereditary’?
There is much progress in assessing the reason for this elevated poverty rate. According to the World Bank organization, the search to identify indicators for the other dimensions of poverty is still in progress. This work includes identifying social indicators to track education, health, access to services, vulnerability, and social exclusion. Millions of Indian households transfer poverty to the next generation, making poverty eradication nearly impossible. This is kind of hereditary. According to recent surveys, it mostly reported that the country’s 200 poorest districts, now called “aspirational districts”. These have been the beneficiary of expansive poverty eradication programs since 1951 when the first Five-Year Plan came into being.
These districts have since become the focus of all development plans in India. In each of them, on average, 195 development programs have been introduced and everyone with an anti-poverty component has been implemented. The image of a chronic poor household became starker when I started revisiting them, though not planned but as part of various assignments. A curiosity to know why they remain poor turned into a serious enumeration effort. In India, there are states which are noted to be the poorest among the poor. Those states are traditionally marked as the geography of poverty in India. Ironically, they also host India’s richest mineral resources and forests and have plenty of the country’s water resources.
Has the poverty changed over years?
This raises the pertinent question: Why are we not able to raise people above the poverty line despite raising huge funds into anti-poverty programs? There are three probable scenarios. First, our poverty reduction rate is not adequate, given the level of poverty: India has about 300 million poverty-stricken people according to the last poverty count. Second, we may be adding poorer to the existing list. Third, we may be temporarily raising people above poverty levels, but not being able to keep them there. While the above scenarios play out together, a significant number of poor have turned chronic poor.
Are nongovernmental organizations making a difference?
Non Governmental Organizations, or NGOs, as they are called in common parlance, are organizations which are involved in carrying out a wide range of activities for the benefit of underprivileged people and the society at large. As the name suggests, NGOs work independently, without any financial aid of the government although they may work in close coordination with the government agencies for executing their projects.
NGOs take up and execute projects to promote welfare of the community they work with. They engage in fundraising activities to raise money for carrying out the work they do. Ever since independence, NGOs have played a crucial role in helping the needy in India, providing aid to the distressed and elevating the socio-economic status of millions in the country. Some prominent and successful NGOs which are helping in transforming the Indian society include:
Barefoot College, a participatory organization with a campus in Rajasthan, is dedicated to addressing poverty in India in such a way that the rural poor take ownership over their own success by leveraging the skills and knowledge already present in the community. Their programs place great emphasis on the decentralization and demystification of the use of technology, while training the often-illiterate men and women in specialty professions, giving them independence as they plan, implement and maintain all of Barefoot College’s initiatives themselves.
Plan India is an independent subsidiary of Plan International, a global NGO dedicated to furthering the cause of children’s rights. Plan India has been working in the country for over 35 years to address the issue of widespread violence, neglect, exploitation and abuse of children in India by creating safe spaces in which they are not just beneficiaries, but active participants.
Apne AAP Women Worldwide: Apne Aap is an NGO based in Mumbai, a grassroots movement founded by the subjects of the Emmy-award-winning documentary, “The Selling of Innocents.” The organization came into existence to further their campaign to dismantle the Indian-Nepali sex trafficking system on both the supply and demand side of the industry. On the supply side, they see an absence of choice as the root of the problem.
Pratham: Pratham was founded in 1995 to combat this, and today, it’s the largest NGO in the country. They have a wide range of programs from early educational care and vocational training to digital learning and literacy—the goal being to combat adult illiteracy (India has the largest number of illiterate adults globally) in the early stages of life.
Asha for Education: Asha for Education is another transformative Indian NGO that focuses on addressing gaps in the education system, with 50+ chapters globally that support its efforts. They, too, believe that education is an essential tool for catalyzing socio-economic change in India. Asha for Education executes 19 different types of educational programs for children of all ages and with all different needs.
Acumen: India is home to 40% of the world’s poor, and existing solutions are failing to meet the immense needs of this low-income population in all of the key sector areas—agriculture, energy, health, education, WASH services and housing. Acumen is a non-profit global venture fund that invests in enterprises, leaders and ideas that seek to change the way the world addresses poverty. The fund first raises charitable donations, which it then invests in early stage companies that focus on social impact and on reaching low-income consumers, as well as providing them with management support services. Acumen then recycles the returns they receive from successful ventures into scaling those effective programs, as well as putting them into new investments. Acumen has helped 23 million Indians through their investments of $31.9 million to date, creating almost 10,000 jobs in the process.
Grameen Foundation India: Grameen Foundation India (GFI) lays out the problem clearly and poignantly: Only 63% of all households in India have access to phones. Only 40% of the population has bank accounts. Only 13% of the poor households have access to bank credit. 73% of the 89 million farmer households have no access to formal source of credit. 111.5 million Households in India have no access to formal credit. An independent subsidiary of Grameen Foundation International, Grameen Foundation India provides financial and technical services to the world’s impoverished peoples by supporting Indian social enterprises and microfinance institutions.
Along with civic bodies and different government agencies, independent, grass root-level Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can play (and are playing) a major role in curbing the extent of poverty in India. NGOs engage with the communities and work in the areas of sanitation, disease control, healthcare, education, emotional support, anchoring those in need etc. to help people move past the debilitating hurdles in life which keep them poor. NGOs like YEF are working amongst the most impoverished communities of India with an aim to empower them, especially children, to stand up on their feet. Education is a great enabler and empowers people to make it big in life and break free from the shackles of poverty. Save the Children has taken up the cause of educating the most disadvantaged children of India to give them opportunities to learn and make it big in life. Support an NGO today and help fight the menace of poverty.
Poverty is a complex societal issue. No matter how poverty is defined, it can be agreed that it is an issue that requires everyone’s attention. All members of our society must work together to provide opportunities for all our members to reach their full potential. It helps all of us to help one another.