Poverty's no blessing

Published: September 2, 2009 - 13:19 Updated: September 19, 2009 - 16:06

So how are 77 per cent Indians supposed to survive on less than Rs 20 a day?

The myth of poverty line has survived a good 62 years of independence, constantly fooling the ignorant populace. Nobody has dared to look into what constitutes a 'below poverty line citizen' in this largest democracy of the world. So, what is the definition of starvation and malnutrition in India?

Rs 368 a month in rural areas and Rs 540 per month in urban areas is what is described as the minimum amount a person needs to be above the mythical poverty line. This calculates to a little above Rs 12 and Rs 18 every day in rural and urban areas respectively. The Arjun Sengupta Commission Report says 77 per cent of Indians live on less than Rs 20 a day. Those classified as absolutely poor survive on Rs 9 a day.

So, how does this real majority survive on this precious treasure: how are they supposed to feed themselves and their children, send them to school, look after their healthcare, travel for work, buy and pay for essential commodities etc, with this money? And, in these times when vegetables, oil or milk cost a massive packet and a kilo of dal (pulse) is more than Rs 100, the 'dal-roti' metaphor itself becomes a grotesque misnomer. So, what are millions of Indians eating, or imagining about eating?

There are reportedly 320 million people in the country working in the unorganised sector (over 93 per cent of working class population) and another 300 million are unemployed. Even schemes like NREGS have failed to break this deadlock. These are Indian people who have no social security umbrella, no gratuity or provident fund, no maternity doles, no shelter, health/education benefits, not even 100 days of assured work in a year. A large chunk of them are women, dalits, adivasis and landless agricultural labourers and urban workers.

India - the great new/potential economic superpower and nuclear power - stands at 132 in the Human Development Index, a measure of its standard of health, education and quality of life. Even countries like Equatorial Guinea, Namibia, Bhutan and Morocco are above us in the index.

In the past neo-liberal decade, approximately two lakh farmers have committed suicide, many of them engaged in the farming of 'white gold'- what cotton was called during good times. Farmer suicides were widely prevalent in the backyard of Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, top honcho in BCCI, Indian cricket's infinite cash cow. Even in the current drought and price rise crisis across the parched national landscape, he seemed to have botched up systematically, with not a hint of dismay or shock in his demeanor. Is he constantly thinking of how to make more money - for BCCI?

India accounts for 40 per cent of the poor population of the world, even Africa has better graphs on poverty. India ranks 96 among 119 countries included in the Global Hunger Index. Malnourishment is like a religious ritual. UNICEF found that nearly 46 per cent children under the age of three are seriously undernourished making them susceptible to disease and disabilities. Almost 60 million children are underweight in India. This condition is worse than many sub-saharan African countries.

So how are 77 per cent Indians supposed to survive on less than Rs 20 a day?

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This story is from print issue of HardNews