Shimmers and shadows

Arshid Malik

India has come up as one of the faster developing countries as of late, pitching equally in the global arms race. That’s why the “India Shining” campaign hit all electronic and print media some time back leaving shimmering traces of the road ahead, a bright, sparkling road studded with precious diamonds. It was a whole hullabaloo.

Well, seemingly everything seems to be in place as India advances by leaps and bounds in the international arena. The statistics, figures, data and facts as well as some fiction are promoting India in mammoth manner.

Do we measure the prosperity and development of a country by its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita or by the sense of security and safety guaranteed to its citizens? Speaking humanely, the prime factor that come into play when we talk about the progress of any nation or country and that is the security and welfare of its citizens.

And when we come to talk about that vis-a-vis India and the progress it has made in the past few decades, we are surprisingly disgusted. There are problems all over; poor people are being displaced to build dams under the stance that alternate spaces would be provided to them to inhabit while the truth is that no such thing is taking place and when these poor people come out to protest they are brutalized. In the name of education, the basic right of every individual of the country, what is being done? By erecting four walls and calling it a school and handing the teaching jobs to people who have no experience in the field of teaching, you cannot call it educating the people. Real education is what we need to bring in here.

Data and statistics about people who have been “roped” into the literacy drive may make some sense for people who are heading international organizations for the “relief and welfare of people of underdeveloped and developing countries” and for powerful presentations unfolded in mahogany conference halls across the globe, but for the people who live those “presentations” and “statistical colloquies” reasons are dire and food is executively missing. There are scores of hundreds of children who die due to malnutrition every year. There are farmers who give up on life as “land lordism” is still in vogue wearing alien vestiges.     

According to the Perspectives on Poverty – Stylized Facts from Survey Data of the World Bank, “In India data issues cloud our assessment of whether the growth process has become more or less pro-poor in the post-reform period. Poverty has declined and growth has tended to reduce poverty, including in the post-reform period. However, the data present no robust case for saying that the responsiveness of poverty to growth has either increased or decreased since the early 1990s. The main source of data uncertainty is the large and growing gap in mean consumption per person found by the household surveys and by the national accounts. With the available evidence, it seems likely that the surveys are missing the growth in top-end incomes and, therefore, do a better job of measuring poverty than inequality or aggregate growth.

High premium should be placed on better understanding and resolving the sources of discrepancy between India’s national surveys and the national accounts… Structural inequalities by caste, tribe, and gender are present and visible. Scheduled tribes are being left behind. Structural inequalities take different shapes in different parts of India. Overall, however, although multiple welfare indicators for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes are improving, the gap between them and the general population is large and persistent… Caste remains a potent indicator of labor market outcomes and social status, but positive signs of dynamism are also appearing within the caste hierarchy. Indicators that India’s educational expansion is leaving scheduled tribes behind, especially at the secondary school and higher levels, are worrying. Scheduled tribes show the least improvement in intergenerational mobility in education and also display the worst indicators of child nutrition and mortality. Scheduled tribes appear to be at risk of becoming locked out of sharing in India’s growth and prosperity.”

Now, when we talk about “India Shining” we are presumably talking about the elite, the prolific, the corporate guns and misconstrued elect. The poor, the starving, the stampeded are nowhere on the map! They are just statistics. They are numbers. They are dots in black and white. They are the disease that we won’t let out on the wide plasma, liquid crystal displays and light emitting diodes and our presentations don’t carry the pictures of these starved, malnourished poor people. Yes, these people do find some space on the pages of international journals and magazines representing the India that the foreigners “pity”.

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