The Scientific Indian

Poverty is part of India’s story

Poverty is part of India’s story writes Peter Foster (Telegraph) in his blog that expands on his earlier article. I am in agreement with Foster on the apathy among well-to-do Indians although I think he makes some generalizations about middle class that are not necessarily true. His statements reflect his anger and passion and I certainly identify with it. He is absolutely right when he says

The first is that India’s poor are an unalterable fact of life. I’m reminded of the government health official who once told me that “these people don’t need toilets”.

This is a nasty manifestation of the caste system which still prevails in India and says that people are irrevocably bound to their lot. It is their ‘karma’, their place in life.

Well, I’m here unapologetically to tell you that it’s not – or at least it shouldn’t be. If India’s poor had toilets and clean water less of their children would die unnecessarily. The UN estimates that currently 500,000 Indians a year die from lack of clean water, which puts the recent floods in perspective.


  1. #1 Aisha Bauer
    August 24, 2007

    Indeed – poverty is only ‘part’ of India’s story.
    Especially when no body wants to acclaim, any sort of progress made elsewhere in India.

    Kerala – is a ‘part’ of India and while not picture perfect
    like “merry OLD england’, is an indelible proof of India’s progress.

    Perhaps more people, Indians and foreigners alike, should pay a visit to Kerala…a slice of God’s own country in India.

    Here is an excerpt from an American writer, for your reading pleasure.
    A’isha Bauer.

    What is True Development? The Kerala Model
    Bill McKibben

    “Kerala does not tell us precisely how to remake the world. But it does shake up our sense of what’s obvious, and it offers a pair of messages to the First World. One is that sharing works. Redistribution has made Kerala a decent place to live, even without much economic growth. The second and even more important lesson is that some of our fears about simpler living are unjustified. It is not a choice between suburban America and dying at 35, between agribusiness and starvation, between 150 channels of television and ignorance. It is a subversive reality, that stagnant/stable economy that serves its people well, and in some ways it is a scary one. Kerala implies that there is a point where rich and poor might meet and share a decent life, and surely it offers new data for a critical question of our age: How much is enough?”

  2. #2 Norm Ishimoto
    August 25, 2007

    The more Industrial Revolution/Western is one’s heritage, the greater the faith in the future and even the present, and less the need (or the automatic expectation) to rely on 500, 1000, or 6000 years of attitude based on expectations that the past is the future.

    As an American 2 generations removed from Japan, I know that a culture can revolutionize itself, as Japan did twice (in the Meiji Restoration and post-WWII ) and as the USA had done numerous times in its short life.

    India has suffered and outlived numerous invasions in its 6000 years and maintained its cultural and national identity. However, in 2007 this may be just an unacceptable dead weight. Americans assume that each day is not just a new tomorrow, but a new universe to invent anew. Perhaps the social technology of microloans and the silicon technology so many Indians have mastered point to a new future for the world’s 2nd most populous culture.

  3. #3 Ravi
    August 25, 2007

    I lived in India 20 years as an adult and I was constantly amazed at how indifferent my class of people – the intellectuals – were to the suffering of the poor.

    But now that I am older, I think a lot had to do with the sense all people in India suffered from: I am one against 700-million, what difference can I make?

    In India we didnt have the rich tradition Americans have, of learning as a child that one person can indeed make a difference. Not to change a whole country, but to at least change the life of 2 or 3 people, or at least to inspire them to action. When they do the same in their term, you build up momentum for change.

    When I look back, I think its kind of odd that we intellectuals didnt understand that each one of us could have made a difference: pick up a broom and sweep 100 meters of the street, plant ten trees and water them regularly, teach three illiterate children their numbers and alphabet.

    Its odd because Gandhi talked incessantly about just this kind of action.

    But we intellectuals were pure intellectuals. It was our job to endlessly point out what was wrong, to whine and to complain 24/7. Sully our hands with a broom? we’d rather die first.

    There were always folk heroes like Bahaguna the Tree Hugger who fought against deforestation and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. We could have drawn our inspiration from them. But we were too superior to have anything to do with them. Intellectuals to the end of Mother Teresa’s days were angry that a white foreigner show show them up by caring for the Indians we didn’t bother to concern ourselves with.

    With the now constant interaction between Indians at home and those overseas, particularly in the US, things have changed. Indians take home with them the skills necessary for grass roots action.

    I understand India has a very long way to go. But I do think things have started changing, and that not only are we favored intellectuals ready to pick up that broom, but that the long-oppressed poor of India also have started to realize that they too have responsbility for improving their own lot. I will not blame the poor as I blame my own class because after all, they have been oppressed for centuries and could not be expected to see they too could make a change.

  4. #4 Jim McDowell
    August 27, 2007

    I expect castism has great causality in this matter. It is a concept that totally deserves to die. I just hope that India has another social foundation upon which it can build a vibrant, just society.

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