The “other” India [Archives:2008/1125/Community]

January 28 2008

By: Rajendra K. Aneja
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As India marks another euphoric Republic Day in the throes of becoming an economy growing at 8 percent annually – which foreign businesses are eyeing romantically – it's crucial that we don't ignore the “other” India, which involves approximately 400 million people, or about 40 percent of the country.

Dwelling in villages and slums, these other Indians are a bewildered group these days. Many live within the 727,000 hamlets with populations as low as 100. Economists claim that approximately 100 million of them belong to the middle-income class, but in reality, between 250 and 300 million of them actually are below the poverty line, earning less than $30 per month – the cost of a meal for one in a posh Bombay restaurant.

Many of these Indian villagers trudge 5 to 10 kilometers daily to a well or river to fetch a container of water. They essentially subsist on what they grow in their small patches of land or food grains that landlords, on whose farms they labor, give as part of their wages. Illiterate, they possess no radios or televisions and even 60 years after independence, they have no electricity in their huts.

Living in small towns and cities, these “other” Indians often flock to larger cities, seeking employment and affluence. They are influenced by films such as, “Amitabh” or “Rajnikant,” in which they see impoverished people coming to the city and soon thereafter surrounded by a fleet of cars, servants and huge mansions.

However, these “other” Indians find no “pot of gold” at the end of the urban rainbow; instead, those who do go to the cities are swallowed by slums, also known as “jhuggies.” In fact, 40 percent of those residing in Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi and Madras live in slums.

Full of hope, these “other” Indians slog to get out of these shanties and into an apartment someday, but eventually, the pavement becomes their bed. They fight hard in the beginning, but then the sheer drudgery of living in filthy, stinking slums kills their soul and their fighting spirit. As a result, their children don't go to school and they simply work the streets, scavenging and/or pickpocketing.

This is the other India no one is thinking about. Economic liberalization – with the availability of Sony and Canon products – isn't going to touch their lives. These “other” Indians are anguished at the discovery that the fruits of such liberalization frequently are only wafers, chocolates and televisions, which they can't afford. They are embittered that Bombay shops sell suits for 100,000 rupees (approximately $2,500) each, while they don't even possess one decent shirt. These “other” Indians are being cajoled that the bounties of liberalization will trickle down to them erhaps.

I wrote my first article, “There will be no revolution in India,” in 1973 when I was a student and, naturally, a leftist! Today I advocate a free economy, but I can't help believing that there will be no revolution in India now either.

Someday, the “other” Indians will demand to be counted and ask about the growth in the number of buses, trains and homes, but unfortunately for them, providing water faucets and electricity currently aren't on the national agenda; rather, we're just too busy with public relations and mega-projects in Davos, Switzerland [annual host of the World Economic Forum].