NEW DELHI, Jan 29 (IPS) – That the first, second and third worlds coexist within India has long been known. A new academic report corroborates this but also speaks of a ‘fourth world’ left behind in this country of a billion people, that aspires to be a global leader.
Even as the gross domestic product (GDP) picks up an impressive clip, the authors of the country’s first ever ‘Social Development Report’ warn that, since the economy was liberalised 15 years ago, disparities and inequalities have sharpened and regional imbalances widened to a point where social instability has become a serious threat.
The 225-page volume, released on the weekend by the autonomous Council for Social Development (CSD) and published by Oxford University Press, essentially discusses issues related to poverty and unemployment in a compilation of more than 170-odd ‘development reports’ on India.
But the authors’ focus is on challenges in the health sector, education, urban governance, the condition of women, communal relations, social integration, inequality, population mobility, decentralisation and social security — using startling facts based entirely on official statistics.
While the proportion of poor people in the total population came down from 55 per cent in 1973-74 to 26 per cent by the turn of the century, the progress was impressive in only three states — western Punjab (from 28 per cent to 6 per cent), northern Haryana (from 35 per cent to 9 percent) and Kerala (from 60 per cent to 13 per cent).
On the other hand, in three poor states in eastern India, the poverty ratio declined far more slowly — from 66 per cent to 47 per cent in Orissa, from 62 per cent to 42 percent in Bihar and from 51 percent to 36 percent in Assam.
Also, ironically, Punjab and Haryana were the worst performers when it came to their child sex ratios indicating a high incidence of female foeticide which is illegal in India. There were only 796 female children for every 1,000 male children in the under-six age group in Punjab, 808 in Haryana and 837 in another prosperous state, western Gujarat — a classic case of mismatch between economic and social indicators.
The report also highlights the distribution of poverty in India’s hierarchical society which remains skewed against traditionally disadvantaged sections of the population, including tribals and dalits (so-called untouchables) . These disadvantaged sections accounted for 75 percent of the total number of poor people in India in 1999-2000.
Whereas India accounts for 17 percent of the world’s population, 36 per cent of the world’s poor surviving on less than one US dollar a day live in the country, as do 68 percent of those afflicted with leprosy and 30 percent of people suffering from tuberculosis. India also accounts for 26 percent of the deaths that take place all over the world that could have been prevented with vaccinations during childhood.
”The social problems of contemporary India are the result of a complex nexus between the factors of exclusion and inclusion that are rooted in the history, values and cultural ethos of the country," says social scientist Amitabh Kundu, chief editor of the volume.
”Many of these problems are based on policies of segregation that have not been addressed by the development strategies followed by successive governments," he adds. ”The incidence of poverty has certainly come down but not uniformly and the same is true for the spread of primary education and healthcare."
”The policies of globalisation and economic liberalisation have undermined the role of larger societal norms as well as the state apparatus that could have countered exclusionary forcesàkeeping social tensions simmering," argues Muchkund Dubey, former career diplomat and current president of the CSD.
”As a matter of deliberate policy, the government has started scaling down, if not retreating from, its constitutional responsibility of providing public goods in such crucial areas as education, health, sanitation and housing," he adds, pointing out that this has resulted in ”a sharp deterioration in the conditions of the poorest and marginalised,” Dubey said.
The different chapters in the volume point towards an Indian society that is becoming increasingly polarised not just along class lines but also across regions and states. ”If the gap between the richest and poorest states were roughly around 1:3 during the 1990s, this gap has now widened to around 1:5,” says N J Kurian, who is on the editorial board of the report.
Pointing towards the yawning gap between policy prescriptions and implementation of programmes, Neera Chandhoke, professor of political science at Delhi University, said government policies ”meant for the poor have been indiscriminately generalised" and the situation has been compounded by ”rampant corruption and mismanagement of scarce resources”.
She said the cases of Punjab and Haryana clearly indicated that ”economic growth does not necessarily lead to social development" and that ‘’the relationship that is often sought to be drawn between democracy and social development is rather tenuous”.
Commented well-known social scientist Amit Bhaduri: ”India is a political success and an economic failure despite its eight percent GDP growth rate, simply because there are between 280 million and 300 million people in the country who live in sub-human poverty."
India continues to confound many with its crazy contrasts. Its cities glitter and its elite talk of the country becoming a knowledge superpower. It is a nation with 17 languages on its currency notes.
A report prepared in April 2004 by the United States-based financial services leader Goldman Sachs observed: ”India is often characterised as a country of contradictions. This idea is exemplified by the popular phrase that India accounts for close to a third of the world’s software engineers and a quarter of the world’s undernourished".
Coexisting in the country is a range of political and economic systems, including different forms of feudalism, capitalism and socialism.
But the good news is that India has defied the contention of doomsayers that say such a deeply-divided country can never survive as a single nation-state. After independence in 1947, India not only stayed in one piece but has emerged as one of the fastest growing countries of the world.Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, IPSNEWS.