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The shocking truth about India’s abysmal poverty line and the degraded life of the lower caste communities is only comparable to some of the most backward and poorest nations on the planet. The Indian government has recently ordered an arsenal build up costing a staggering $15 billion. This includes fighter jets from France, submarines, missiles, guns, and tanks from various other countries. This makes India the biggest importer of arms and ammunition in the world.
For a country which attained its independence 67 years ago from the British rule using non violence, the stockpiling of weapons in the name of defense, seems as aloof from its origins as one can imagine. One must also not forget that India is armed with nuclear weaponry for use as a counter-attack option. However, with the government spending the amount of money for buying weapons, it makes a very important case to take a closer look at the state of the population of 1.25 billion which is the second highest in the world after China.
It must be noted that according to the newly formed Government of India, people with a daily spending capacity of more than Rs.32 (approx. 51 Cents) in villages and Rs.47 (approx. 75 Cents) in towns and cities, must not be considered poor or below poverty line. As it is obvious, a person who can spend more than $15 a month in villages and $22.50 a month in a city will be considered to be living above poverty line in the country. This parameter of daily spending capacity has in fact been increased by the newly formed government. The previous government had actually set lower poverty line and daily expenditure limit at Rs.27 (approx. 43 Cents) in villages and Rs.33 (approx. 53 Cents) in cities. The new Indian government boasted about its remarkable feat of raising the poverty line expenditure limit by a staggering 18.6 percent in rural areas and 41.5 percent in the cities.
As per these figures, the population of India living below poverty line as of today is estimated at 363 million. This is more than the entire population of the United States today which is around 320 million as per the latest data. The previous government of India had claimed to have reduced poverty in the country by fixing an abnormally low poverty line. As per those figures, close to 270 million people were considered to be living below poverty line in the country. Recently, India registered food inflation of above 10 percent due to which the cost of simple food like tomatoes, lentils, rice, and vegetables has shot through the roof.
India is also the biggest importer of gold in the world among other essential commodities like petroleum and gas. In reality, India is a country where millions of people do not have enough bread to eat twice a day and are forced to sleep on an empty stomach. It is a country where manual scavenging is still prevalent, especially in a ‘model state’ of the nation. To be clearer, there are lower caste communities in the Indian society which are designated with the job of cleaning human excreta from dry latrines in many parts of the country. They then carry the large buckets filled with waste on their head to the dumping pits.
People in the country do not get fresh water to drink or clean air to breathe. As per a report by the World Health Organization, New Delhi, the capital city of India, is the most polluted city in the world. This along with malnutrition causes more deaths in the country due to tuberculosis and pneumonia than anywhere in the world. With real estate prices sky-rocketing in the country, buying a roof over one’s head in the world’s seventh largest nation by area, has become unaffordable for the working middle-class.
This is a small fraction of the shocking truth about India, its poverty line, and lower caste communities living in the country. It must also be reported that India is a country where the army and other law enforcement agencies are such violators of human rights, that it does not even figure in the top 100 nations in the global index of Human Development and Human Rights. The latest being the culture of the government flexing its muscle to impose ban on various things including beef and films based on homosexuality. The government has actually tried to introduce a law that would allow the local police and other law enforcement agencies to arrest people for their comments and ‘likes’ on Facebook and other social media websites. The combined weight of crony capitalism, government apathy, and bureaucracy lethargy has caused the most populous democracy in the world to become a place where the value of human life of a poor person has ceased to exist.
A popular television program named ‘Satyamev Jayate’ which means truth always triumphs, hosted by Aamir Khan, a renowned Bollywood actor, had brought up the issue of untouchability and manual scavenging in the 21st century India. It is heartening to know that the Indian government passed the Anti-Manual Scavenging Bill after the episode was aired on national television. However, what is more important to know is how the law gets implemented and if it makes any change at ground level for the communities which have been neglected for generations. This is the shocking truth about India, its poverty line and lower caste communities. It is about time that the nation stands up against the unjustified practices like the use of mathematical ratio for deciding the country’s poverty line, the sufferings of manual scavengers including other lower caste communities, as well as the human rights violations taking place in the name of law enforcement in a country so desperate to call itself a ‘Super Power’.
By Ankur Sinha