In the wake of our recent economic successes, it is common for Indian dailies to have headlines that scream “India now has 1000 millionaires” or “the stock market added/removed 1000 million dollars to/from investor’s wealth”. Great, right? That will set a few thousand of my countrypeople hurrying towards their million milestone. As if not getting there is some sin. And all this time these millionaires or their lesser cousins, the wannabe millionaires, remain oblivious to news like “India has 220 million people below the poverty line”. Bereft of big brother phrases, it simply means that 220 million people in India struggle to get clean water, recommended dietary input and a roof on their head. Let us not even mention stuff like education and respectable employment. And if you are naive enough to mention justice and equal opportunity, be warned that it will generate a donkey like reaction – motionless & silent or wild kicking of limbs accompanied by hee-hawing; depending on who is listening to your ‘stupidity’.
Here are some facts to slap-end the starry eyed, all is hunky-dory view of India which majority of city dwelling Indians posses (like some genetic disease):
So, what is the official definition of “poverty line”?
It is based on a 1970s criterion of money required to buy 2400 calories of food!! So, as per today’s figures, if you earned above Rs. 600/- per month, you are not considered below poverty line. Shockingly, the government assumes all your money is spent on food. Based on these assumptions we say that 22% of our population is below poverty line. If we were to be more realistic, the below poverty line figure could be 90% of our population. What does that say about us?
Links to poverty line definition and some number crunching:
A post on the krishworld blog
And how do we compare with say America? Well, the 1999 data for US says they have 12.6% (37 million) people “living in poverty”. While there is no justification to being comfortable with one’s misery simply because the person beside you is also miserable, I am sure reading that 37million figure made the Indian poverty look not-so-bad. But wait, poverty in America is not the same as poverty in India.
A poor American is described as “has a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, a stove, a VCR, a microwave, a stereo, and a color TV. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not over-crowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry, and in the last year he had sufficient funds to meet all his essential needs.”!!
Read this for more:
While we continue to pat our backs with statements like “India has arrived on the world stage”, let us stop and ponder on whether we are asking the necessary questions.
The din created by people asking “How rich are we?” is matched by the eerie silence of the question “How poor are we?” Statistics, true to its image of being the devil’s whip, will hardly give the complete picture. We are so bombarded by numbers that there is no time to ponder over what is not stated and the effect of the missing.
To arrive at the right answer it is imperative that we ask the right question. Asking “how rich are we?” serves the vanguard of India’s rich. It glaringly leaves out the poor. Keep looking and working on the front and middle lines and you are bound to leave the trailers far behind. In other words, the rich-poor divide will increase. Asking “how poor are we?” does help focus on trailers and move their kind ahead, but only so much. End result – we will become a society of mediocres.
The preferred path is doing both at an optimum mix. For a country like India, it definitely means doing the “how poor are we?” more frequently than “how rich are we?” Simply because it is far more important to get water to a thirsty mouth than getting Pepsi into the refrigerator. Sadly, the equation is opposite in India.