Tag Archive for 'Poverty'

Reporting poverty

Emily Brennan interviews Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo, in Guernica:

Guernica: After reporting on issues of poverty in the United States for so long, what drew you to write about India?

Katherine Boo: I met my husband, who is from India, in 2001. When I first started going to India, I’d be at these dinner tables where people, claiming a posture of great authority, talked about what was going on in these historically poor communities. They always seemed to fall into two schools of thought: everything had changed with the country’s increasing prosperity, or nothing had changed in the lives of low-income people. I wasn’t a subscriber to either. In fact, I was familiar with these arguments from my experience of writing about the poor in the United States. Most of the people who do the talking about what it’s like for the very poor don’t spend much time with them. That circumstance transcends borders.

It was my husband, who had watched my reporting and fact-checking process, the way I use official documents and taped interviews to be quite precise, who first said to me, “Well, this might be something you can do in India.” And at first, I thought, “I can’t do it. I’m not Indian. If I did write anything, I would just be some stupid white woman writing a stupid thing.” But there were people around me who were saying, “If you do it well, then who you are becomes less important.” My husband and these others were interested in issues of social equality and fairness in India and thought it would be valuable to know what it was like for low-income people there, know it with a little more depth. There was plenty of reporting going on in India, but specifically what I do—follow people over long periods of time—there wasn’t much of that in India. (There are some people in the United States who do it, and do it very well, but there are not a lot of them here, either.) In my kind of work, you don’t parachute in after some big, terrible event, which is important and has to be covered, but offers only a glimpse. It’s the kind of work in which you ask, what is my understanding of how the world works, and where can I go to see these questions get worked out in individuals’ lives? That was really the question for me: whether I had anything to add to what had already been written. More:

Poor in India starve as politicians steal $14.5 billion of food

Mehul Srivastava and Andrew MacAskill in Bloomberg:

Ram Kishen, 52, half-blind and half- starved, holds in his gnarled hands the reason for his hunger: a tattered card entitling him to subsidized rations that now serves as a symbol of India’s biggest food heist.

Kishen has had nothing from the village shop for 15 months. Yet 20 minutes’ drive from Satnapur, past bone-dry fields and tiny hamlets where children with distended bellies play, a government storage facility five football fields long bulges with wheat and rice. By law, those 57,000 tons of food are meant for Kishen and the 105 other households in Satnapur with ration books. They’re meant for some of the 350 million families living below India’s poverty line of 50 cents a day.

Instead, as much as $14.5 billion in food was looted by corrupt politicians and their criminal syndicates over the past decade in Kishen’s home state of Uttar Pradesh alone, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The theft blunted the country’s only weapon against widespread starvation — a five-decade-old public distribution system that has failed to deliver record harvests to the plates of India’s hungriest.

“This is the most mean-spirited, ruthlessly executed corruption because it hits the poorest and most vulnerable in society,” said Naresh Saxena, who, as a commissioner to the nation’sSupreme Court, monitors hunger-based programs across the country. “What I find even more shocking is the lack of willingness in trying to stop it.” More:

Made in Bangladesh: Unrest

Jim Yardley in NYT:

Ishwardi, Bangladesh — The air thickened with tear gas as police and paramilitary officers jogged into the Ishwardi Export Processing Zone firing rubber bullets and swinging cane poles. Panicked factory workers tried to flee. A seamstress crumpled to the ground, knocked unconscious by a shot in the head.

Dozens of people were bloodied and hospitalized. The officers were cracking down on protests at two garment factories inside this industrial area in western Bangladesh. But they were also protecting two ingredients of a manufacturing formula that has quietly made Bangladesh a leading apparel exporter to the United States and Europe: cheap labor and foreign investment.

Both were at stake on that March morning. Workers earning as little as $50 a month, less than the cost of one of the knit sweaters they stitched for European stores, were furious over a cut in wages. Their anger was directed at the Hong Kong and Chinese bosses of the two factories, turning a labor dispute into something potentially much larger.

“If any foreigner got injured or killed, it would damage the country’s image around the globe,” said a police supervisor, Akbar Hossein, who participated in the crackdown. “We all know the importance of these factories and this industry for Bangladesh.” More:

Healthcare is an Unequal word

Dr Yogesh Jain, a public health physician at Jan Swasthya Sahyog, a group of health professionals in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, running a community-based model of primary healthcare, in Tehelka:

Even today, there is a clear attempt to downplay the total number of malaria patients. In a situation where over 75 percent of all care in rural central India is provided by informal practitioners, the entire estimation of the burden of malaria is done from the records of the government’s health systems, and thus only a fraction gets recorded. Further, for a death to be reported as due to malaria, a person’s blood smear test has to be done and reported positive for the parasite from a government lab; even death has to take place in a hospital. Even if this happens, the cause of death could easily be recorded as jaundice or liver or kidney or respiratory failure. All of these are common complications or pathways to a death due to malaria, and all these deaths should rightly be attributed to malaria. As a result, deaths attributed to malaria are ridiculously low.

Ask any expert and he will tell you that in actual field situations, at least 1 percent of all people with falciparum malaria will die. Official figures for 2010 show that the overall death rate among all cases of falciparum malaria was 0.1 percent in the country and 0.04 percent in Chhattisgarh. The respect for each death must include at least keeping a count of it, as well as correctly attributing its cause. Till we report each episode and each death, how can we plan for its control? When findings from an international research study in 2010 proclaimed that up to 2 lakh people die due to malaria every year, a rate 20 times higher than the official figures, a squabble resulted over the numbers.

In late 2010, central India suffered a major epidemic of falciparum malaria, with several districts in many states reporting a large number of deaths. Many professionals in the region’s government and private hospitals commented that they had not seen such a ferocious outbreak in the past 10 years. More:

Victoria’s (real) Secret

An innovative project empowers women in Tamil Nadu, writes Charukesi Ramadurai in NYTimes blog, India Ink

Courtesy of World Bank “Pudhu Vazhvu” Project, Tamil Nadu

S. Subhashini’s name means “she who speaks well.” However, the 25-year-old woman, who is from the Tiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu, has not been able to hear or speak from birth.

She overcame her disabilities to get a bachelor’s degree in commerce from St. Louis College for the Deaf in Chennai, a school for the speech and hearing impaired, but she could not find a job after graduating in 2007.

Then in 2009 a recruiting team from Intimate Fashions, a Tamil Nadu manufacturer that makes bras for the American lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret, came to her hometown. The Intimate Fashions team hired hundreds of young women from Tiruvannamalai, including Ms. Subhashini, to work in their factory as part of a project sponsored by the state government and the World Bank to empower women. more

The ghost’s in the details, Ma’am

Aakar Patel on Arundhati Roy in Outlook:

Nirad C. Chaudhary wrote in The Continent of Circe that India’s tribals were mainly found in hill forests. This was because, he reasoned, they had been chased there by the invading Aryans, who displaced them from their river plains. In an essay published in this magazine (Capitalism: A Ghost Story, March 26), Arundhati Roy expressed anguish over the tribal having no peace even in the hill forests he inhabits. From her piece, let’s isolate two broad points: first, that capitalism is generally bad, but particularly rapacious in India; second, that this has manifested itself in the exploitation of tribals and their sacred lands. She also alleges that India’s economic growth is underpinned by this pillage of minerals. She doesn’t spare anyone (including herself) who lives out life while the companies roar along and tribals suffer. She attacks the media, feminists, NGOs, philanthropists and their foundations. All are guilty—save the tribals, the exploited.

Let us look at her argument. First, that corporations make vast sums from the minerals they have stolen from tribal lands. In Roy’s words: “The era of the Privatisation of Everything has made the Indian economy one of the fastest growing in the world. However, like any good old-fashioned colony, one of its main exports is its minerals. India’s new mega-corporations—the Tatas and Jindals, Essar, Reliance and Sterlite—are those who have managed to muscle their way to the head of the spigot spewing money extracted from deep inside the earth. It’s a dream come true for businessmen—to be able to sell what they don’t have to buy.” Now look at the facts. Neither ore nor minerals are India’s main exports. They comprise only 3.4 per cent of all exports, according to Crisil’s February 2010 report, India’s Export Sector: Resilience Amid Global Crisis. Ore and minerals haven’t made India’s big companies wealthy, for they contribute less than one per cent to India’s GDP. The export of minerals did not commence with privatisation. They began in 2004. Till then, only old firms like Tisco and sail managed captive mines. More:

Capitalism: A ghost story — by Arundhati Roy

Rockefeller to Mandela, Vedanta to Anna Hazare…. How long can the cardinals of corporate gospel buy up our protests? Arundhati Roy in Outlook:

Is it a house or a home? A temple to the new India, or a warehouse for its ghosts? Ever since Antilla arrived on Altamont Road in Mumbai, exuding mystery and quiet menace, things have not been the same. “Here we are,” the friend who took me there said, “Pay your respects to our new Ruler.”

Antilla belongs to India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani. I had read about this most expensive dwelling ever built, the twenty-seven floors, three helipads, nine lifts, hanging gardens, ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums, six floors of parking, and the six hundred servants. Nothing had prepared me for the vertical lawn—a soaring, 27-storey-high wall of grass attached to a vast metal grid. The grass was dry in patches; bits had fallen off in neat rectangles. Clearly, Trickledown hadn’t worked.

But Gush-Up certainly has. That’s why in a nation of 1.2 billion, India’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to one-fourth of the GDP.

The word on the street (and in the New York Times) is, or at least was, that after all that effort and gardening, the Ambanis don’t live in Antilla. No one knows for sure. People still whisper about ghosts and bad luck, Vaastu and Feng Shui. Maybe it’s all Karl Marx’s fault. (All that cussing.) Capitalism, he said, “has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, that it is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells”.

In India, the 300 million of us who belong to the new, post-IMF “reforms” middle class—the market—live side by side with spirits of the nether world, the poltergeists of dead rivers, dry wells, bald mountains and denuded forests; the ghosts of 2,50,000 debt-ridden farmers who have killed themselves, and of the 800 million who have been impoverished and dispossessed to make way for us. And who survive on less than twenty rupees a day. More:

Has India’s growth and development been an “unprecedented success or extraordinary failure”?

Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen in Outlook:

Is India doing marvellously well, or is it failing terribly? Depending on whom you speak to, you could pick up either of those answers with some frequency. One story, very popular among a minority but a large enough group—of Indians who are doing very well (and among the media that cater largely to them)—runs something like this. “After decades of mediocrity and stagnation under ‘Nehruvian socialism’, the Indian economy achieved a spectacular take-off during the last two decades. This take-off, which led to unprecedented improvements in income per head, was driven largely by market initiatives. It involves a significant increase in inequality, but this is a common phenomenon in periods of rapid growth. With enough time, the benefits of fast economic growth will surely reach even the poorest people, and we are firmly on the way to that.” Despite the conceptual confusion involved in bestowing the term ‘socialism’ to a collectivity of grossly statist policies of ‘Licence raj’ and neglect of the state’s responsibilities for school education and healthcare, the story just told has much plausibility, within its confined domain.

But looking at contemporary India from another angle, one could equally tell the following—more critical and more censorious—story: “The progress of living standards for common people, as opposed to a favoured minority, has been dreadfully slow—so slow that India’s social indicators are still abysmal.” For instance, according to World Bank data, only five countries outside Africa (Afghanistan, Bhutan, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea and Yemen) have a lower “youth female literacy rate” than India (World Development Indicators 2011, online). To take some other examples, only four countries (Afghanistan, Cambodia, Haiti, Myanmar and Pakistan) do worse than India in child mortality rate; only three have lower levels of “access to improved sanitation” (Bolivia, Cambodia and Haiti); and none (anywhere—not even in Africa) have a higher proportion of underweight children. Almost any composite index of these and related indicators of health, education and nutrition would place India very close to the bottom in a ranking of all countries outside Africa. More:

Bunker Roy: Learning from a barefoot movement

In Rajasthan, India, an extraordinary school teaches rural women and men — many of them illiterate — to become solar engineers, artisans, dentists and doctors in their own villages. It’s called the Barefoot College, and its founder, Bunker Roy, explains how it works.

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Has globalisation helped India’s poor?

Income disparity in India has little to do with inter-state or rural-urban differences or, for that matter, trade or other international factors. In India the drivers of inequality are education, work experience, family background, and, crucially, caste and ethnic differences, writes Vivek Dehejia in NYT Blogs.

Has freer trade decreased or increased poverty and inequality in India? The debate has persisted, almost from the very beginning of India’s embrace of the global economy in 1991.

Curiously, also exactly 20 years ago, Americans were engaged in a similar battle of ideas. Mapping its intellectual contours helps give us a fix on the current Indian situation.

Recall that then, just as may be unfolding now, the United States was gearing up for a presidential election which ultimately unseated an incumbent who had been hugely popular just a few years before.

At that time, the heated national debate was over the merits of freer international trade, and specifically whether it could be blamed for thestagnating wages of American workers. Voters wondered whether the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), embraced by President George H.W. Bush, but initially shunned by then Gov. Bill Clinton, would hurt their job prospects. more

Class struggle: India’s experiment in schooling tests rich and poor

Geeta Anand in the Wall Street Journal:

New Delhi: Instead of playing cricket with the kids in the alleyway outside, 4-year-old Sumit Jha sweats in his family’s one-room apartment. A power cut has stilled the overhead fan. In the stifling heat, he traces and retraces the image of a goat.

In April, he enrolled in the nursery class of Shri Ram School, the most coveted private educational institution in India’s capital. Its students include the grandchildren of India’s most powerful figures—Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress party President Sonia Gandhi.

Sumit, on the other hand, lives in a slum.

His admission to Shri Ram is part of a grand Indian experiment to narrow the gulf between rich and poor that is widening as India’s economy expands. The Right to Education Act, passed in 2009, mandates that private schools set aside 25% of admissions for low-income, underprivileged and disabled students. In Delhi, families earning less than 100,000 rupees (about $2,500 a year) qualify.

Shri Ram, a nontraditional school founded in 1988, would seem well-suited to the experiment. Rather than drill on rote learning, as many Indian schools do, Shri Ram encourages creativity by teaching through stories, songs and art. In a typical class, two teachers supervise 29 students; at public schools nearby, one teacher has more than 50. Three times a day, a gong sounds and teachers and students pause for a moment of contemplation. Above the entrance, a banner reads, “Peace.”

Yet the most notable results so far are frustration and disappointment as the separations that define Indian society—between rich and poor, employer and servant, English-speaker and Hindi-speaker—are upended. This has led even some supporters of the experiment to conclude that the chasm between the top and bottom of Indian society is too great to overcome. More:

India is growing, but Indians are still starving

Siddhartha Deb in Boston Review:

In the summer of 2009, New Delhi’s Lalit hotel, a 1980s monstrosity that had recently been remodeled, hosted the “Second Food Technology Summit,” sponsored by the Ministry of Food Processing and the Confederation of Indian Industries, a powerful lobbying group. Experts and government officials sat on stage, taking questions from the audience, which included the chairman of the Indian Food Processor’s Association as well as representatives from Coca-Cola.

The questions were largely rhetorical, lamenting the obstacles to the modernization of India’s food markets. “No one cares about the sell-by dates of bread,” one man commented. “What happens when the bread gets old in the village stalls? They fry it in oil and sell it as bread pakora instead.” In the 600,000 villages and towns in non-metropolitan India, I learned, none of the teeming hundreds of millions of residents cared about the mechanized processes and international standards of hygiene that would allow India to join the industrialized nations in their eating habits.

Perhaps that is because those hundreds of millions have more fundamental concerns when it comes to food. The enthusiasm for expiration dates at the Summit must seem peculiar to the poor in a country where 43 percent of children under the age of five are malnourished. In sub-Saharan Africa, the figure is 28 percent; it’s 7 percent in China, to which India is so often compared. The Indian government’s own data show that 800 million Indians live on about twenty rupees (about $0.50) a day. Half of those are farmers who produce food that they, for the most part, cannot afford to eat thanks to the demands of speculators and affluent urban consumers. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), wheat prices reached a record high in February, and the cost of rice—which accounts for 30 percent of the typical Indian diet—hovers at around 22 rupees per kilogram even in Patna and Chennai, capitals of major rice-producing states. That’s about twice the average cost from 2000 until the middle of 2007, when prices began to rise sharply. The average Indian consumes 73 kilograms of rice per year, which means that farmers, assuming they eat at least as much rice as their non-farming countrymen, are now spending some 20 percent of their income on rice alone. More:

Why Britain should give aid to India

From The Guardian:

This week Andrew Mitchell, the secretary of state for international development (DfID), announced that UK aid to India is going to be maintained at about £280m per year for the next few years.

On this announcement all the arguments for not giving aid to India were promptly revisited:

  • India is rich (it is not, Bihar state, one of the three states on which DfID will focus, has a population the size of Germany and an annual per capita income of £200);
  • India has a space programme (it does, but this should improve its ability to monitor agricultural performance and climate change, strengthen telecoms, and generate many other development spinoffs);
  • unemployment in the UK is growing and our public services are being cut (true and painful, but annual income in the UK is £24,000, not £200 as in Bihar. Even taking into account all the billionaires in India, its overall income per person is still one-third of China’s);
  • the Indian government is corrupt (yes, Transparency International ranks India as 87 out of 178 on perceptions of corruption, with Britain at 20 and Denmark ranked best, but it is not far behind Brazil (69) and China (78) and way ahead of some other aid darlings. DfID’s efforts to strengthen transparency and accountability will help combat corruption concerns); More:

India’s hidden climate change catastrophe

Over the past decade, as crops have failed year after year, 200,000 farmers have killed themselves. Alex Renton in The Independent:

Naryamaswamy Naik went to the cupboard and took out a tin of pesticide. Then he stood before his wife and children and drank it. “I don’t know how much he had borrowed. I asked him, but he wouldn’t say,” Sugali Nagamma said, her tiny grandson playing at her feet. “I’d tell him: don’t worry, we can sell the salt from our table.”

Ms Nagamma, 41, showed us a picture of her husband – good-looking with an Elvis-style hairdo – on the day they married a quarter of a century ago. “He’d been unhappy for a month, but that day he was in a heavy depression. I tried to take the tin away from him but I couldn’t. He died in front of us. The head of the family died in front of his wife and children – can you imagine?”

The death of Mr Naik, a smallholder in the central Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, in July 2009, is just another mark on an astonishingly long roll. Nearly 200,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves in the past decade. Like Mr Naik, a third of them choose pesticide to do it: an agonising, drawn-out death with vomiting and convulsions.

The death toll is extrapolated from the Indian authorities’ figures. But the journalist Palagummi Sainath is certain the scale of the epidemic of rural suicides is underestimated and that it is getting worse. “Wave upon wave,” he says, from his investigative trips in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. “One farmer every 30 minutes in India now, and sometimes three in one family.” Because standards of record-keeping vary across the nation, many suicides go unnoticed. In some Indian states, the significant numbers of women who kill themselves are not listed as “farmers”, even if that is how they make their living. More:

The season of giving

Via Shunya’s Notes:

Understanding the puzzling nature of poverty

Akash Kapur in The New York Times:

Rahul Gandhi, the general secretary of India’s Congress party, often says that there exist “two Indias” — one of the rich, and one of the poor.

Those two Indias were in evidence a couple of weeks ago, when closely timed events on opposite sides of the planet brought into relief the deep divides that in many ways define this country.

In Mumbai on Nov. 7, President Barack Obama told a group of students that India was no longer a “rising power,” but rather an “already risen” power. He celebrated an economy that “has risen at a breathtaking rate.”

Three days earlier, in New York, the United Nations released the 20th edition of its Human Development Report, a publication that has in many ways become the authoritative measure of poverty and deprivation.

India ranked 119th of 169 countries. The nation’s eight poorest states contain as many poor as the 26 poorest African countries combined. In terms of life expectancy and even gender inequality, India rates below its neighbors of Bangladesh and Pakistan.

None of these figures deny the remarkable strides India has made in recent years. But if India is indeed a risen power, then it has risen despite its terrible poverty — despite lingering inequality and despite widespread deprivation that has left millions in conditions that are almost medieval. More:

Notes from a beautiful city

The ‘untouchable’ Indians with an unenviable job

On discovering that his parents cleaned latrines for a living, Bezwada Wilson began a campaign to end this degrading profession. Andrew Buncombe hears his story. In The Independent:

There is an infectious, impassioned enthusiasm about Bezwada Wilson that is hard to ignore. He laughs, he smiles. He frowns too, but soon he is smiling again. And yet things might have been very different. When he was aged 18, he came very close to taking his own life. The thing that led him to the very edge was the discovery of what his parents really did to scrape together a living.

Growing up in a gold mining area of southern India, they had told him as a child that they mined for ore. The evening they revealed to him that they were actually “dry latrine” cleaners who spent their days covered in the filth of others, he was so horrified, so disgusted, that he came close to committing suicide at a secluded water tower. After hours of weeping, wrestling with his thoughts, he decided he was better off alive, fighting to help people like his parents.

Two decades later, his efforts have been nothing short of remarkable. As head of a nationwide organisation that has confronted head-on some of his country’s most ingrained prejudice, he believes he is close to eradicating the dehumanising practice known as “manual scavenging”. More:

Sun co-founder uses capitalism to help poor

Vikas Bajaj from Mumbai in The New York Times:

Vinod Khosla, the billionaire venture capitalist and co-founder of Sun Microsystems, was already among the world’s richest men when he invested a few years ago in SKS Microfinance, a lender to poor women in India.

But the roaring success of SKS’s recent initial public stock offering in Mumbai has made him richer by about $117 million — money he says he plans to plow back into other ventures that aim to fight poverty while also trying to turn a profit.

And he says he wants to challenge other rich Indians to do more to help their country’s poor.

An Indian transplant to Silicon Valley, Mr. Khosla plans to start a venture capital fund to invest in companies that focus on the poor in India, Africa and elsewhere by providing services like health, energy and education.

By backing businesses that provide education loans or distribute solar panels in villages, he says, he wants to show that commercial entities can better help people in poverty than most nonprofit charitable organizations. More:

Changing poverty’s parameters

Akash Kapur in the New York Times:

The headlines were grim, and a blow to India’s self-conception as a rising economic power.

“New poverty index finds Indian states worse than Africa,” announced an Indian newspaper.

“Half of India’s population lives below the poverty line,” proclaimed another.

The anxiety was occasioned by a new study of global poverty released last month by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, a research center at Oxford University. The study includes an index that seeks to broaden conventional measurements of poverty, moving beyond purely economic indicators to include education, health and access to services like electricity and sanitation.

The study does indeed make for sobering reading. It finds, for instance, that the eight poorest states in India contain more poor people than 26 of the poorest African countries combined. It also estimates India’s poverty rate at about 55 percent, twice the official figure calculated by India’s Planning Commission.

Lost in the din over the nation’s dismal results, however, was a more subtle — and perhaps more important — conceptual point about the nature of poverty. More:

One bride for 2 brothers: A custom fades in India

The practice of polyandry was born of necessity in the Himalayas, but it has all but vanished in a generation. Lydia Polgreen in The new York Times:

Malang: Buddhi Devi was 14 when she was betrothed. In India, that is not unusual: many marry young. Her intended was a boy from her village who was two years younger — that, too, was not strange. But she was also supposed to marry her future husband’s younger brother, once he was old enough.

Now 70 and a widow who is still married— one of her husbands is dead — Ms. Devi is a ghost of another time, one of a shrinking handful of people who still live in families here that follow the ancient practice of polyandry. In the remote villages of this Himalayan valley, polyandry, the practice of multiple men marrying one wife, was for centuries a practical solution to a set of geographic, economic and meteorological problems.

People here survived off small farms hewed from the mountainsides at an altitude of 11,000 feet, and dividing property among several sons would leave each with too little land to feed a family. A harsh mountain winter ends the short planting season abruptly. The margin between starvation and survival is slender.

“We used to work and eat,” Ms. Devi said, her face etched by decades of blistering winters, her fingers thick from summers of tilling the soil. “There was no time for anything else. When three brothers share one lady, they all come back to one house. They share everything.” More:

The superpowers of Gandhian austerity

As India shakes off the last vestiges of Gandhian restraint, we are hitting limits at once human and natural. Struggles that animate India’s Maoists and Naxalites are battles over India’s basic resources—whose preservation Gandhi reiterated all his life. Sunil Khilnani in Mint Lounge:

In his book, Imagining India, Nandan Nilekani writes: “Wherever I go, I find that Indians know our growth numbers backward and forward, and there is a strong, common feeling among us that our country has finally come of age.” It’s something I’ve seen even in the slums of Mumbai: The statistics of India’s new growth economy grip the popular imagination. Children who scavenge trash for a living report confidently and accurately that India is the second-fastest growing economy in the world, and see in the numbers a happier future for themselves.

Strikingly, this Indian trust in economic improvement as a means of greater happiness coincides with something of a countermovement among economists in the West. Some of the best of them now argue that, beyond a certain point, economic growth doesn’t in fact result in national contentment. It’s an argument Mahatma Gandhi actually made one hundred years ago, though today’s economists have regression analysis to work with. The distinguished economist Richard Layard writes of the citizens of the Western countries he’s studied, “In the last 50 years…They have become much richer, they work much less, they have longer holidays, they travel more, they live longer, and they are healthier. But they are no happier.” Layard, along with Nobel laureates such as Amartya Sen and Joseph Stiglitz as well as Partha Dasgupta have been trying to work out new, non-economic statistical measures to gauge national well-being, including quality of life and ecological sustainability. More:

The billion people

India's population

Illustration: The Indian Express

From The Indian Express:

Every year, India adds the population of Australia to its already staggering ranks of 116.1 crore people. Every 10 years, we add the population of Brazil — the fifth most populous country in the world.

As yet another World Population Day comes around on July 11, and India stands poised to eclipse China as the most populous country of the world, the government is gingerly attempting to bring incentive-based family planning back into focus. While the first attempt three decades back had run into controversy, there is a growing realisation that if unchecked, India’s population trend would negate any attempt at sustainable development. More:

[One crore = 10 million]

The master card

A guitar-playing bureaucrat’s vision has delivered cashless, paperless healthcare to 60 million poor Indians for Rs 30. Samar Halarnkar in The Hindustan Times:

Her face gaunt and her voice a whisper, 24-year-old Rekha is exhausted after a month of living with an unrelenting fever, diagnosed two weeks ago as typhoid.

Today, there’s a new diagnosis: Tuberculosis.

Her husband, Rajkumar (both use one name), sits on her bed. Clean-shaven and whippet thin, he looks tired, lost and closer to teenage than 25. An odd-jobs man from a village 16 km south, Rajkumar is unemployed.

In normal Indian circumstances, Rajkumar and Rekha would be prime candidates to expend their savings, perhaps borrow money and become part of this probability: About 250 million who live just above the poverty line slip back into poverty if they face just one health crisis, says a report released in February by the Independent Commission on Development and Health in India. India’s hospitalisation costs have soared in urban areas by 126 per cent and in rural areas by 78 per cent between 1995 and 2004, according to the National Sample Survey Organsation.

But finding money for his wife’s treatment isn’t one of Rajkumar’s worries.

Earlier this year, Rajkumar showed his ration card; paid Rs 30; had his and Rekha’s thumbprints scanned; their photos taken and is now covered up to Rs 30,000 under the unsexy sounding Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (National Health Insurance Scheme), known by its acronymn, RSBY.

In 26 months, RSBY has enrolled more than 60 million people in 22 states; by next year that should double to 100 million. This is the first use, on this scale, of India’s technology prowess to run a national socal-security programme. If RSBY succeeds, it could be the precursor for reforms in other schemes.

Rajkumar and Rekha — the scheme accepts five people per family — can walk into 5,000 public and private hospitals across India, produce the RSBY card and get healthcare. No paperwork. No cash. No questions asked. More:

Only in India are the incorrectly born poor denied benefits

Ashok V. Desai in The Telegraph:

Ms Mayavatiji, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, is a unilingual extremist; she never speaks a word but in Hindi. She outdoes even Narendra Modi, who has a good turn of phrase in Gujarati, and who managed some broken English in the last Vibrant Gujarat celebrations. Her verbal parochialism has earned her the indifference of the anglophone media, and her singleminded love of statues a rebuke from the anglophone Supreme Court. As I drive into her kingdom from Delhi, on the right there is a graveyard of stone elephants, strutting dead politicians, and a Taj-like mausoleum. They have been standing half-built for years following the Supreme Court’s order to her to stop. Now she says that these ruins are amongst the many memorials, museums, statues and parks being constructed in honour of the saints, gurus and other great men — but only provided they were born untouchable or backward — and that she spent less than one per cent of the budget of her public welfare and development department on the monuments. I tried to find out how much that one per cent would come to. The National Informatics Centre runs a website for the budgets of each state. I went to the Uttar Pradesh website. It said that it could provide information for years between 2002-03 and 2006-07, but I could not access data for any of those years. The Reserve Bank is luckier; since it is the governments’ banker, the UP government cannot refuse to give it budget documents. According to it, UP’s social expenditure in the five years to 2009-10 was Rs 140,000 crore; one per cent of it would be Rs 1,400 crore. I guess that even her biggest statues would have cost lakhs rather than crores; so she may be right about the total cost of her army of statues. Now all those monuments need to be saved from vandals and squatters, so Mayavati has recruited an army of ex-servicemen to guard them. More:

A tribal belief that maims — and kills — hungry children

A section of the front page of The Hindustan Times: Children show their scars in the photo by Arvind Kumar Sharma.

B Vijay Murty in The Hindustan Times:

A barbaric method of maiming and inadvertently killing hungry children in tribal India shows how the nation is failing its poorest and furthering the Maoist rebellion.

Children with distended bellies, characteristic of malnutrition and disease, routinely have red-hot iron rods plunged into their sides by superstitious, poverty-stricken tribal parents in the belief it will cure all stomach ailments.

Fatally injured or infected during this primitive procedure, several children die — there are no official figures — in a state where 17 of 24 districts are simultaneously classified by its own government as “food insecure” and “highly affected” by Maoists, who bank on the collapse of governance to aid their growing influence.

This is the belief: A child with a protruding belly has worms, which can be killed by plunging a red-hot iron through the sides of the stomach. More:

Bihar — the turnaround story

Lydia Polgreen in the New York Times:

Patna: For decades the sprawling state of Bihar, flat and scorching as a griddle, was something between a punch line and a cautionary tale, the exact opposite of the high-tech, rapidly growing, rising global power India has sought to become.

Criminals could count on the police for protection, not prosecution. Highwaymen ruled the shredded roads and kidnapping was one of the state’s most profitable businesses. Violence raged between Muslims and Hindus, between upper castes and lower castes. Its economy, peopled by impoverished subsistence farmers struggling through alternating floods and droughts, shriveled. Its government, led by politicians who used divisive identity politics to entrench their rule, was so corrupt that it required a newly coined phrase: the Jungle Raj.

The name captured everything that was wrong with the old India — a combustible mix of crime, corruption and caste politics in a state crucible that stifled economic growth. More:

Not enough food, so children learn to eat mud

Kenneth John and Samar Halarnkar in Hindustan Times:

A child nibbling on a piece of silica-laced mud. HT photo

Frail, malnourished children eating moist lumps of mud laced with silica — a raw material for glass sheets and soap — because they are not officially classified as poor and so ineligible for official help: This is what an HT reporter saw in a village of eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Under an unusually hot April sun, skinny, hungry children silently poked around on the dusty edges of a stone quarry in Ganne village, 45 km east of Allahabad and a 12-km walk from the nearest road.

“It tastes like powdered gram, so we eat it,” said Soni (5), a listless girl with a protruding belly. With most families reduced to one or two daily meals of boiled rice and salt — with a watery vegetable on a lucky day — the mud is a free but deadly option at the 20 stone quarries sustaining the poorest villagers.

These families are not eligible for subsidised food and other state programmes, though each of a family of five earns about Rs 400 a month.

UP’s official poverty line is Rs 435 per person per month. It is people like these that Congress President and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi wants covered by a national Food Security Bill. That is why she pushed the UPA’s top ministers back to the drawing board after rejecting last week a draft about to be presented to the Cabinet. More:

Lunch with the shoeless boy in Class I

Aakar Patel in The News on India’s India’s education Right to Education law under which all children between the age of six and 14 will get free schooling:

Next June, a strange thing will happen in private schools across India. One in four children in Class I will be poor. It will be a new experience for the children from middle-class families, because they have always been insulated from contact with the poor.

This is a strange thing to say for a nation in which half the population hasn’t enough to eat. But for those of us who live in the city, poverty is what happens around us and we aren’t ever directly touched by it. Indians are trained to ignore it on the street, and none of the people one studies with or works with or knows well is poor, because in India social segregation is total. The rich girl marries the boy from the slums only in Bollywood, and not even there these days.

This change in schools comes from the Right to Education bill that has been legislated by Manmohan Singh’s government. It is a law making education compulsory for all children between six and 14, or up to the age of Class VIII.

Some of the law is addressed at government schools and within three years, meaning by 2013, the government guarantees to build additional schools so that there is one within specified distances in all villages and city neighbourhoods. More:

India’s disjointed prosperity

Tim Sebastian, television journalist and chairman of the Doha Debates, in the International Herald Tribune:

New Delhi: When Madan Lal began work here among the madness, color and chaos of the Janpath pavement, Richard Nixon was in the White House and there wasn’t a main street shop anywhere in the world selling computers.

At the age of 15 he sat down on the uneven concrete, in exactly the same place occupied by his father, and began shining the shoes of tourists and anyone else with the luxury of footwear to polish.

Behind him the rickshaws and hooting cars sped past, the world underwent cosmic change and 40 years on, with considerably fewer teeth, his hands engrained with shoe polish and a dirty yellow sweatband across his forehead, he’s still there.

But his is not a story of dire misfortune — at least in Indian terms. His daily income of around $4 puts him ahead of no less than several hundred million of his countrymen, he can buy medicine for his son with a heart condition. He has married off his daughters and can afford to feed himself and his wife. More: