Poverty in India has ever been and still continues in-spite of all efforts at the national as well as at the international levels.
Though, of course, there appears to be growing affluence in higher level of the society and the lavishness shown by many in the big cities on the occasion of marriages or birthdays presents a scenario which confounds those who say that India is a poor country, but the truth of the matter is that India is a poor country of rich people.
It is the proportion which defines the poverty level. The proportion of such lavish-level-expenditure-incurring people among the 1.25 billion of India’s population would be mere 1% or at the most 2% while those below the line of poverty are still around 21%. A large percentage of people are on the line of poverty and the rest are those who live above the line of poverty. A large proportion of people living above the line of poverty merely manage to live their living. Some may be said to be well-to-do out of which 2% to 4% may be affluent proportionately on the higher level. This is what the total scenario of poverty in India is.
There still appear reports in the newspapers how the whole family commits a suicide due to acute condition of poverty prevailing in India. After the earthquake in Gujarat inspite of all relief work, people have died not for anything else but due to their lack of purchasing power. Even if food grains are made available at subsidized rates still there are people who do not have means even to pay the subsidized rates. How many are reported to have died of acute cold as they hardly could afford so much covering as to enable them to sustain themselves against the intensity of the weather.
Caste System in India has exaggerated the problem of poverty in India. Poverty is the negative effect of caste system.
India had always had a caste system and this system based on a hierarchical structure. The status and position of the lowest class remains the lowest in every way – status-wise, work-wise and naturally money- wise. This problem has been attracting the attention of social scientists, politicians, even religious groups and others. Even the framers of the Indian Constitution were conscious of this discriminatory distinction. Hence, they made a provision for the scheduled classes and scheduled tribes to be granted special reservations. The constitution had originally provided this concession just for a period of 10 years, envisaging and expecting that this class would struggle up and come up to the average level but now the reservation issue has become less ‘social’ a matter, it has become more a ‘political’ matter and all the political parties, vying with one another for catching the votes of this class have endlessly extended this concession and none dare revert it back for the fear of losing this vote-bank.
The fact of facts remains that ‘poverty‘ as a malaise still continues as an epidemic in India and governments after governments have been planning to uplift the poverty-ridden class to a reasonable level of remaining ‘hunger-free’.
Amratya Sen, the Nobel Laureate in the field of economics also made a comprehensive study of the problem of poverty the world over and emphasized the fact that poverty need not be measured by drawing a line, the so-called ‘poverty line’ and defining all poor as those who earn and spend below this line. Inequality among the poor themselves has to be taken into consideration and the interests of ‘the poorest of the poor’ must be given precedence over that of others designated as poor. Amratya Sen went back to 1943 Bengal Famine and analyzed the causes that caused that famine. It was not, be found, that there was not enough food grains in stock but the famine was caused due to the lack of the ‘purchasing power’ of the people. In Sen’s language, their ‘entitlement’ was short of their needs. In Sen’s view ‘entitlement’ does not only end with satisfying ‘hunger’ but also it involves, education, health-care, lack of nutrition, women-welfare and the welfare of the girl-child.
With all this general survey of the issue of poverty, let us come back to the basic issue—poverty in India.
Abraham Maslow presented a hierarchy of human needs as:
- Need for self-actualization.
- Esteem need, such as need for prestige, success and self- respect.
- Belonging-ness and love needs, such as need for affection, affiliation and identification.
- Safety need, such as need for security, stability and order.
- Physiological needs, such as hunger, thirst and sex.
In this hierarchy it has clearly been indicated that a person in the society may get the 1, 2, 3, 4 or may have to wait to get them, but no. 5 is what is most essential and imperative and comes as the first priority. One can do without the first-four but one cannot do without the last one. This need having been met, other needs would follow in due course – sometimes automatically. If ‘Life’ is assured one can strive to achieve the other through his efforts. But a hungry, thirsty person—not getting food or water—is already a ‘living dead’.
The concept of Poverty also has a psychological impact in India. There are instances galore of such ‘gang’ of beggars in India who do not want to give up their self-ordained profession. They can also be categorized among the country’s ‘poor’, but they are the ‘subjective’ poor who have taken up poverty as a profession of their own free will. What sort of poverty can this be called? Society needs to take due cognizance of this scenario and the government should enact laws to ban begging and make all able bodied men or women beggars to work as daily labour and children to be sent to child-care centers to train them in some craft. A very large section of the so-called ‘poor’ of the country would stand eliminated from the census of ‘the poor’.
Caste system has also been responsible for India’s poverty-line. The fourth down-the-line-caste-people consider themselves traditionally as destined to remain ‘low’ in status and income. The ‘untouchables’, as a class suffer from a psychological feeling that they are not at par with other human beings. This gives rise to bonded-labour class or the child-labor class.
Though of course, since independence this malaise of untouchability has largely been eliminated for which the Indian political scene and a democratic set up is largely responsible. The ‘untouchable’ class is a large vote-bank and all political parties view with one another to win them over. Reservations granted to this class in government and semi-government departments have also largely uplifted this class which has begun to realize its importance and status. But here also the difficulty has remained that only the privileged among this class have reaped the major benefits which the unprivileged ones have been left in the lurch. The poorest people in India still remain poor.