अनिष्ट(disagreeable, undesirable)

India is changing in a thousand ways. Not all of them are good, not all of them are bad. What we have seen in the past two or three years is a wave of saffron spreading over our country. The Bhartiya Janata Party, founded as the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, an organisation committed to turning India to a Hindu nation concluded a resounding victory in Uttar Pradesh, the evidence of the ascendance of its single-track politics aimed at benefiting orthodox Hindus and marginalising everyone else. For the first time in its electoral history, UP did not send a single Muslim MP to the Lok Sabha in 2014. Paradoxically, this was when the legislative assembly had the highest Muslim representation — 63 were elected in 2012.

 

“Those claiming to be secular and progressive do not have an identity of their parents and their blood. One will get self-respect through such identity, I will be happy if someone identifies as Muslim, Christian, Brahmin, Lingayat or Hindu. But trouble will arise if they say they are secular.”                                                                                                                   Anant Kumar Hegde, Union Minister of State for Employment and Skill Development

 

Not doing anything in the face of religious tension or intolerance is almost a trademark of our government. The whole government is probably not to be blamed, a leadership wherein the PM himself is responsible for the deaths of hundreds in communal riots in Gujarat is not a leadership at all. Our chief ministers are Hindu priests and brahmacharis, why do we expect the Muslims to not be marginalised anyway? Our habit of judging the character of all Muslims by keeping some random terrorist as an example of the otherwise peace-loving group of people does not help us much either.

 

“Crimes against women happening in urban India are shameful. It is a dangerous trend. But such crimes won’t happen in ‘Bharat’ or the rural areas of the country. You go to villages and forests of the country and there will be no such incidents of gang-rape or sex crimes.”                                                                                                                                          Mohan Bhagwat, Chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, mentor to the BJP

 

I’m really sorry to say this sir, but rapes, as big a bane they are on the beautiful populace of our country, do happen everywhere. Day in day out we read reports of young girls being raped mercilessly in some or the other dark corner of our country, and yet we do not see any concrete action being taken by the esteemed leadership of our glorious country. According to estimates by The Quint, India witnesses about a staggering 106 rapes a day, and that is when about six out of ten rapes go unreported. In the face of such a tragedy we face every day, the mentor to our PM decides to blame it on urban values and not on the ineffectiveness of the law and order situation in our country. How inane is that?

 

“Those opposing Narendra Modi are looking at Pakistan, and such people will have place in Pakistan and not in India.”                                                                                                          Giriraj Mishra, Minister of State (Independent Charge), Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises

 

My grandfather was born in Pakistan and he migrated to India during the partition. As one of the pioneers responsible for bringing electricity to the state of Madhya Pradesh, I can proudly say that my grandfather did his bit for the country. His political leanings are inconsequential to the fact that he did everything in his power to help the country in spite of the fact that he is Pakistani by birth. Our mentality has been modelled in such a way that we inadvertently vote for the party that appeals to us not from the perspective of the work they have done for the nation, but from the perspective of religion. If the leadership of the party respects your religious faiths and beliefs, that party automatically becomes your first choice. The whole task of deciding upon the government trickling down to the ambit of religious and geographical differences is wrong.

 

“As a memorial to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the statue will not only remind every individual of our great nation’s freedom struggle but will also inspire the people of our country to inculcate Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s visionary ideologies of unity, patriotism, inclusive growth and good governance… a fully functional, purpose-serving tribute that will spur all round socio-economic development.”                                                                           Official website of the Statue of Unity, Government of India

 

Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel stood for the downtrodden and poor. He always ensured that the poorest sections of the society had access to all the freedoms that the British enjoyed in the country. Spending almost 3000 crores on his statue is simply defiling every ideology he stood for. These funds have reduced his legacy to nothing a cheap stunt for political gains. What these funds could have done for the poor people of our country would have immortalised the legacy of the Iron Man of India. Consider the fact that the bronze panels used in the statue were not manufactured in India as no Indian firm had the capability to do it, and hence the foundation of the statue was inherently Made in China.

 

“The countries in the world are unsure about how to tackle terrorism. The UN is also not in a position to guide them. It is heartening that Prime Minister of Bangladesh despite the fact that she is a woman is openly saying that she has zero tolerance for terrorism.”                 Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India

 

I feel appalled at the fact that we always are puzzled when it comes to empowering the women in our country. When you sit down and realise that our honourable Prime Minister feels that ‘despite’ being a woman, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina having zero tolerance for terrorism is a unique thing to be noted is an instance that explains his true stance towards women. When the leader of the country believes that a female prime minister fighting terrorism in her country is a happening out of the ordinary, I sincerely see no serious women empowerment happening in our country. No matter how much we try to sugar-coat things, all of us know that Modi was responsible for thousands of deaths during the Godhra riots, and is unfit to rule a country as diverse as ours.

 

In the end, it all comes down us. What we think and what we do determines where our country heads . Leaving the decisions to leaders like the ones we have as of now is the worst mistake we could make.

 

आलोचना और स्वतंत्र विचार ये क्रांतिकारी सोच के अहम बिंदु है I (Bhagat Singh, 1930)

 

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Cutting a Sorry Figure

Poverty is one of the most monumental yet overlooked issues of our country. Money is the end and the means of our existence. It is not bad to have an urge to earn more money, the lesson of acquiring more and more resources is embedded in the most primal parts of our brain. We want more money than the person next to us, and the urge to earn is what drives any economy forward. There is no surprise that our economy is growing by leaps and bounds. The question that rises is why are the poor so poor in our country? In a country with a predicted GDP growth rate stands at a huge 7.3 percent, why haven’t the poor already become rich?

This sudden bolt of inspiration came into my mind when I was at a market near my place, and a balloon vendor, all dressed in scraps, came to me asking if I wanted a balloon. My stature does not serve justice to my age, but then the both of us knew that I wouldn’t have bought the balloon, I am too old for that. The desperation on the face of the man made me give him a 20 rupee note. We do know that desperation makes men scale the unscalable, and the will of the man who is ready to offer a balloon to every grown up at a market really shook the workings of my inner mind to the core. The face of that man has occupied my mind ever since, and this article is a result of the many hours I have put in to research what it is like being poor in the developing nation we call ours.

According to the Census of 2010, the number of people below the poverty line in India stands at 32.7 percent, or almost 43 crore Indians. The count stood at 49.4 percent in 1994, and on paper, it could be seen as a great achievement when you reduce the poverty rate of such a huge country by almost 17 percent over 16 years. Our regional rival, China has brought down the percentage of its poor from 60 percent in 1990 to 12 percent in 2010, just to keep things in perspective.

This achievement is quite hollow though. According to the latest report presented by the C Rangarajan (the ex RBI governor) expert panel, the minimum daily wage stood in urban areas for qualifying above the poverty line stood at 47 rupees, which was brought up from 33 rupees per day in 2011-12 as recommended by the Suresh Tendulkar expert panel. The World Bank has set the standard at US$ 1.9 per day. Adjusted for PPP (Purchasing Power Parity, or in simple terms, the amount a local currency can buy what US$ 1.9 could buy in the US), it amounts to about 54 rupees, a little more than what our seemingly efficient (pun intended) Finance Ministry thinks is okay. The simple conclusion is, the number of poor people in India is more what the reports show.

I am not an economist or a statistician, but as an engineer, I can crunch some numbers for you.

Two young economists, Abhijit V Banerjee and Esther Duflo, studied numbers from many cities throughout the globe, and Udaipur, a huge city in the Indian state of Rajasthan was one of them. I am using their data and observations to put my points forth to the reader. Udaipur has people from both ends of the economic rainbow living peacefully among its beautiful blue walls for many years now. It is an ideal place to do an economic study, because like all rainbows, the rich found the pot of gold first.

Consider this. 65 percent of the poor in Udaipur are underweight. In a country where obesity is looked on to as a sign of healthy well-being, this data is clear enough to show that the poor in India have troubles even while trying to procure food. 55 percent of the people have some form of anaemia (deficiency of red blood cells), and 46 percent of them have been seeing a doctor because of the issue. 45 percent of the adults reported they cut down the size of their meal quite often to have enough for their children. This actually hinders the healthy development of the brain, and coupled with anaemia, we are looking a way lesser number of IQ points available for poor children to use. The rich may not be born clever, but they certainly win over the poor during childhood.

So, what do the poor people eat?

In Udaipur, the cheapest cereal is millet. 68 percent said that they depended the most on millet, 20 percent said that they had rice (which costs twice as much per calorie), 10 percent depended on wheat (70 percent more expensive than millet per calorie) and the rest resorted to sugar (which is the most expensive per calorie and has no nutritional benefits). The poor are great at managing their food budgets though. A person in the middle-class income bracket will go through weeks without even touching millet, only complaining about how quickly the prices of other staples have increased. The poor learn to manage their money better than the rich, giving up on satisfaction and taste to save a little more money.

On studying their expenses, we find that only about 2 percent is spent on their children’s education, which is quite understandable as almost 72 percent of the children in the city attend schools run by the state government, which offer free education and mid-day meals. Poor children still continue to underperform at the higher education level, a proof of the fact that our public schooling system is functioning way below par.

Almost 8 percent of their income is spent on alcohol or tobacco, and this is where the knowledge of keeping one’s body healthy comes in. A well to do, educated person has some degree of concern for his health, while a poor uneducated guy revels in the momentary pleasure his cigarette gives, not giving much thought to how great is the damage to his life expectancy. Life expectancy is a farce for a poor Indian though. Less than 5 percent of our poor have access to clean water and toilets, and you don’t expect people to live very long in those conditions anyway, which equals lesser time to earn money.

It is true that the poor are always at a disadvantage in the money game, they face a difficult childhood, coupled with mismanaged, and often missing government funds, thoughtless economic policies which have no real economic benefit to the poor. They do learn to save money, the do not take care of their health, or even if they do, their surroundings are way too unhygienic to prevent disease. At this juncture, it is quite easy to understand why only a small proportion of poor people do manage to rise up the economic ladder. The government might show that they are helping the needy, but then there is no such thing as free lunch, or a mid-day meal (pun intended).

The poor in our country are seen as scum, as people who do not belong to our country, the ones pushing our economy downwards. Yet, at the same time, they clean our houses daily, they stand in the heat to sell fruits and vegetables, they take us place to place in their rickshaws and contribute a significant 27 percent to our GDP (Gross Domestic Product, and I’m not explaining this) while doing so. It is high time that we start helping these people on our own, instead of blaming the two ineffective political parties who are always in power in our country.

We, as the people of this country can turn things around, and we should.

Though I still do wonder what would have happened if I had bought that balloon.

 

The Need for Financial Inclusion

Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.
                                                                                                                        -Nelson Mandela

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A rather important concept, policymakers across the globe have grappled with the issue of reducing the scope of the informal sector since colonial times. To put things into perspective, an estimated 2 billion working-age adults have no access to formal banking services, which are regulated by financial institutions. The stark reality is that most of the working-age adults lack access to sustainable financial services, which excludes them from reaping the benefits of the economic growth of a country.

The process of economic growth, especially when it is on a high growth trajectory, must strive to ensure participation from all quarters of the society. Despite having higher economic growth than most developed countries in recent years, a vast majority of India’s population still remains unbanked. In order to achieve inclusive development and growth, financial inclusion is important as global trends have shown. In India, the term financial inclusion was first used in April 2005 in the Annual Policy Statement presented by the then Governor of Reserve Bank of India, Y. Venugopal Reddy.

Even though this new socio-economic concept, namely financial inclusion, has gained ground in India, we still lack on many fronts and haven’t been able to make the Indian economy a financial inclusive economy. Financial inclusion of the unbanked masses is a critical step that requires political will, bureaucratic support and dogged persuasion by the government and other financial institutions.

In simple words, financial inclusion can be thought of as the delivery of banking administrations at a reasonable cost to the immense segments of burdened and low-income population of a country. With a majority part of the population of the country, being bereft of any financial security, financial inclusion helps in encouraging savings and securing the future of the citizens of all sections. Unrestrained access to public goods and services is the sine qua non of an open and efficient society.

This rather-new concept, being introduced at the rural level as well as the financially backward pockets of cities, presents a win-win situation for everyone involved – the banks/NBFC’s intermediaries, and the left-out rural/urban population. Financial inclusion extends the resource base of the financial system by developing a culture of savings among a large segment of the rural population and plays its own role in the process of economic development. Furthermore, by bringing the left-out population within the vicinity of the financial sector, financial inclusion helps in the protection of wealth and other resources in exigent circumstances.

The perceived advantages of financial inclusion, both at the macro and the micro levels, can be listed as:

(1) Macro-level advantages

  1. Higher and better productivity.
  2. Faster growth in the economy.
  3. Increase in employment and income opportunities.
  4. Helpful in plugging the leakage through distribution channels.
  5. Possible reduction in poverty.

(2) Micro-level advantages

  1. Buffer against avoidable expenditure.
  2. Rational utilization of saving.
  3. Increase in risk-taking ability.
  4. Smoothing consumption.
  5. Safety of assets from major disruptions.

Even though it is a new social-economic concept on the Indian economic landscape, the gradual progress being made by the government is remarkable by every standard. The first step towards achieving comprehensive financial inclusion is to achieve credit inclusion for the disadvantaged and vulnerable sections of our society. This, coupled with tailored government policies and improvement of the market functioning mechanism, should encourage the financially excluded to enjoy the rewards of the economic growth of the country.

By- Rohitanshu Kar