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No place for poors in ‘Shining India’
By Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal
Shaheena (name changed) is a girl studying in Class 7th and was forced like many other girls her age to drop out of school because in January last they became homeless and have been living on the footpath with their belongings. More than 6000 people were thrown out of their homes in EWS quarters, Bangalore this January. They were living there for more than 25 years on the land allotted and legally meant for building houses for the economically weaker sections. But Bangalore’s municipal authorities lately entered into a contract with a public private partnership for constructing a shopping mall and a housing complex on the said land. The deal that is alleged to be illegal has not only forced these people on the streets, it has also left them with no compensation or any kind of rehabilitation programme. The residents of EWS quarters come from marginalised, deprived, backward and minority sections of society, and they work long hours for minimum daily wage. Majority have lost their jobs as a result of being away from work guarding their possessions on the road, and many children have not been able to attend school, according to a petition circulated on internet as part of a signature campaign.

The case mocks at the quality of democracy in this country, which allows 6000 people to become homeless with just one stroke of a pen, followed by a few hours of bull dozing, only to suit the interests of those who want to churn out millions with this bit of a deal. This happens ironically in a country, where it is traditionally considered inauspicious and cruel to even disturb a bird’s nest. 6000 people added to the monstrous statistics of 80 million people without homes in this country, pushing them towards the brink of enhanced poverty, joblessness and starvation. It hardly makes an impact on the huge numbers already stored in official files. And even as this incident would induce in the lives of the affected a process of gradual poverty, ruthlessly calculated on the basis of starvation line, it may make not even a marginal difference to the figure of 360 million officially accepted poor in this country, which ranks among the biggest contributors of impoverished and shelter-less people in the world.

Poverty and homelessness in India is not a new phenomenon. It has been known for centuries and statistically speaking, India has made significant progress in reducing the number of impoverished, especially after independence. However, the graph is once again on a steady increase since the last six years or so, a period that coincides with burgeoning rise of crony capitalism. 7 Indians are listed among the 100 richest people in the world. 50 Indians made it to the Forbes list of billionaires in the world. Between 1996 and 2008, the combined wealth holdings of Indian billionaires are estimated to have risen from 0.8 percent of GDP to 23 percent. Then, are the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor pushed to more enhanced forms of poverty, deprivation, dispossession and impoverishment? The official statistics may not point out to a co-relation between the two. But a simple cursory look at lesser known stories like the making of this Bangalore mall, which is not really an aberration, would. The country’s rising GDP itself is not an index of how rich the nation is becoming. It only reflects the shameful disparities in a land that talks of equality but functions on the edifices of exploitation of poor and the weak by the rich and powerful. The economic liberalization policy that was touted to eradicate poverty by employing jobs has only revealed, and this has been admitted officially by the Planning Commission, that it has created a bigger class of the poor.

It is a well-established fact that inability to reduce poverty stems from factors like unfair assessment of counting the people below poverty line on basis of their starvation (rather than poor nutrition and poor access to health and other facilities), corrupt system where the impressive social welfare schemes do not translate into adequate action on the ground and mostly lack of a good agrarian policy to suit the interests of the largely agrarian population. A fair assessment of this corrupt system and the declining focus on the agriculture sector cannot be made without taking into account the greed of corporate business world that feeds into this corrupt polity by way of kickbacks and policies suited to sharpen the socio-economic divides and inequalities. A manufactured idea of corruption takes out of purview the greedy business interests who perpetuate and fuel this vicious cycle of corruption. The Vidarbha farmers were pushed to starvation and suicides because the government policies were designed to suit and woo the bigger farm industrialists, especially the sugar lobby. Big ventures like POSCO are born out of deprivation and dispossession of the local people. Ventures such as power projects like the Narmada Sagar dam and the Hirakud dam too are tailor-made to indirectly benefit the big business lobbies at the cost of displacing and impoverishing millions without an adequate compensation. While the making of Hirakud dam is still celebrated as an early effort to modernizing India, decades on, the people it displaced continue to live without the promised compensation and these stories are not even heard. Harsh Mander in his well researched book ‘Ash in the Belly: India’s unfinished battle against Hunger’ breaks the myth that poverty is restricted to the rural landscape and writes about the heart-breaking stories of hunger, deprivation and desperation encountered on city streets.

But it has now become a fashion to be in denial of the poor – rural or urban. The media rarely offers them space, as if it is just a side story, an insignificant one, in the larger picture of the improving lives of the middle class and the elite. The stories of poor are denied and dismissed, other than the occasionally appearing statistics; their lives and narratives of living by drinking rice-starch water, eating poisonous plants and stealing grains from rodent holes restricted to rare books like Harsh Mander’s; films on poverty are passé and the occasional ones would be dismissed as attempts by some exploiters to sell India’s poverty abroad. Myths are manufactured about the unwanted teeming millions seen on the streets swarming people like pests at market places and traffic signals begging for alms or trying to sell an odd thing or two and it is usually believed that they live poor and breed uncontrollably only because they wish to, or that they continue to beg because people encourage them by liberally giving them alms. It is never acknowledged that their poverty also stems from a continued and exacerbated system of their exploitation at the hands of those adding up, by the year, to the list of world’s rich and those rulers who patronise such exploiters rather than seeking to protect the interests of the poor. A century ago, this country saw the rise of a truly great man, who chose to express his solidarity with India’s poor by adopting a simple life-style and decided to sustain himself wearing minimal clothes and with minimal food in-take. Today, that man is solely remembered by garlanding his statues by men who want to strip the poor of that last remaining piece of cloth on their bodies and dispossess them of the last morsel of food they can afford. A slogan ‘Garibi hatao’ coined in this country is reduced in practice to ‘Garib hatao’.
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News Updated at : Sunday, April 14, 2013
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