India's Forgotten Citizens - Forgotten By We Middle Class+ : An Ugly Reality

Shining India... The rising regional power... one of the fastest growing economies in the world... one of the largest economies in the world... home to several Indian MNCs... the destination of some of the biggest companies in the world... the land of IITs and IIM, and the successful front-page NRIs... the land with the demographic dividend... the land with some of the best technologies the world has to offer, and some of the best facilities in its top cities... the land with the magical Mumbai Film Industry... the land of Tendulkar, Vishwanathan Anand, Saina Nehwal, Geet Sethi... I could go on and on literally indefinitely on these lines

India, the land of the morrow, a nation which is set to a regional power of some note; and a nation that is the cynosure of all eyes for various reasons. India, a nation that is on the move, with its nascent open economy, and vast promise, combined with its pool of highly trained manpower and well-developed institutions and markets; a nation that is counted as among the top nations of the world, possessing ingenuously developed technologies and skills the cover practically the entire gamut of human activity - a nation that, quite justifiably, has much to be proud of. 

But this euphoria, and these achievements hide an ugly reality that is hidden from everyone, and is yet in open sight. All anyone has to be is observe and record what one can see in daily life. I am referring to :

  • The half-naked beggar on the streets of any town or city, within yards of the most swanky and posh hotels, offices and homes
  • The half-naked children frolicking in front of the slums
  • The footpath dwellers- often ill-clad, emaciated
  • The hungry child who looks at you with desire as you relish your food
  • The hopeless casual labourer, toiling in the sun for a few rupees to help him survive
  • The homeless wanderers with nowhere to go
  • The man or woman with torn clothes, or iold clothes - going from place to place doing odd jobs, just to survive
  • The terrifying scepter of the slums, with their hatchment homes that cannot keepm out rain water, and surrounded with the stink of the trash around them

And I havent even started looking at the sights in the villages yet! All this, and much, much more can be readily seen in one short glance on nearly every street in India; a sight that chills you to the bone, and makes you thank the Lord for whatever you have. A sight that jars you, or should jar you, since the large majority of these poor people are those whom life never gave even a single chance, or even a ghost of an opportunity. These are what I call our Forgotten Citizens - forgotten and abandoned not by the state - but by us, the creamy layer of India. For the state does do some activities at least {errors and corruption notwithstanding}; we the people, blissful in our ignorance, do almost nothing.

Read these links which appeared recently in the news, which are the only ones that I recall reading about in the Media:
  1. 33% of World's Poor are in India 
  2. 3 in 10 are poor

 To paraphrase, "One third of the extreme poor global population reside in India which has also recorded the highest number of under-five deaths in the world, the latest UN Millennium Development Goals report has said." The other reports reports that 30% of our population are  poor - 363 Million as per the article. Think about that - 363 Million. And we are silent, as is usual for us; silent and undemanding of our political leaders to explain this shocking status. 

The elections also focused on economic development, GDP Growth, Bullet Trains and 100 new cities, Improving investment climate and so on and so forth. Somewhere in this din, the reality of the poor in India was lost; the assumption being that economic growth will take care of the destitute - without even one article anywhere in any Media that tried to analyse the veracity of this unstated assumption. No one in my memory at least has tried to get to the bottom of this

As per some research and surveys, economic inequality in India has actually deepened; "There is evidence of growing concentration of wealth among the elite. The consumption of the top 20% of households grew at almost 3% per year in the 2000s as compared to 2% in the 1990s, while the growth in consumption of the bottom 20% of households remained unchanged at 1% per year; " In comparison, the income of the bottom 20% of households in China grew at double the rate in the 2000s as compared to the 1990s, while the increase for the top 20% of households was much slower. In Brazil, household incomes have been growing faster among the poorest households than among the richest for the last two decades. :  Times Of India - Income Inequality

The Hindustan Times also has some terrifying numbers : "Income inequality has increased in society ever since economic reforms were introduced in India. This was stated by Dr Sanjiv Gupta, deputy director, fiscal affairs department, International Monetary Fund (IMF), here on Thursday while delivering a talk on fiscal policy and income distribution at the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID). Dr Gupta said studies had shown that till 1990, only 1% of the people in India were custodians of 8% of the country’s total income. By 2005, the same 1% enhanced their income to nearly 16%. Till 1990, 65% of the people possessed 10% of the total income. By 2005, 50% of the people of India had only 5% of the total income" : Income Inequality - Hindustan Times

That last number is doubly damning - I reiterate : The consumption of the top 20% of households grew at almost 3% per year in the 2000s as compared to 2% in the 1990s, while the growth in consumption of the bottom 20% of households remained unchanged at 1% per year. Does this indicate the the benefits of the economic growth we are in the midst of have not reached the poorest of the poor? The numbers certainly provide the indication of that. 

And there is no discernible focus on this vital aspect of India; this ugly reality - which all of us can see, but are unaware of. The evidence is in front of our eyes; we do not even require the little detail of the fall in the Gini Coefficient from 0.032 - 0.38 for this. What kind of society are we building? What will happen if this trend continues, and inequality deepens even further? Where is the guarantee that this will not be repeated? And most critically, what can we do to ensure that this does not happen? Where are we going wrong, and how to stop this trend for the benefit of all?

But over and above all of these questions, is the single most damning question of all - why arent these questions being asked openly and regularly in top Media? Why this lack of focus, and the focus only on one side of the equation - GDP, Big Business, etc? We need both for true success - Big Business as well as income distribution. Why are we assuming that GDP growth and the trickle down effect will tackle these problems, when the numbers seem to indicate the exact reverse? Why are we still and silent on this most critical of parameters? Why? Because it doesnt affect us? 

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