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Poverty - A state of mind

Posted by Shreyans Jain Tuesday, 13 August 2013 0 comments
According to the United Nations, poverty is fundamentally a denial of choice and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence and it often implies living in marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation.

The Planning Commission’s claims that poverty incidence has declined from 37.2% of the population in 2004-05 to 21.9% in 2011-12 do not seem to be an outcome of a routine evaluation of the extent of poverty but an outcome of political influence. That there has been an unprecedented decline of 2.2 percentage points in the poverty rate is a cruel joke on India’s poor. Even after fixing the poverty lines at appallingly low levels of Rs. 1,000 per month (Rs. 33.3 per day) in urban areas and Rs. 816 per month (Rs. 27.2 per day) in rural areas, a considerable proportion of India’s population has failed to achieve this mark, contrary to what the government claims.

To add salt in the wounds of the aggrieved, several obnoxious remarks have been echoing from various echelons of the Indian polity. From purchasing a healthy diet for a meagre Rs. 12 in Mumbai to affording a meal for an even scantier Rs. 5 in Delhi, Indian political class has not only embarrassed the poor but also exposed its regressive mind-set. What is even more unfortunate is the fact that a psychological dimension has been added to the menace of poverty and the stigma attached to it has been reduced to merely a state of mind. Therefore, it requires courage and not resources, spirits and not opportunities to wriggle out of the vicious circle of poverty!

What good would an optimistic state of mind do to a poor landless peasant who works on daily wages and is still unable to make his both ends meet? What succour would a positive state of mind give to poor helpless children who long to go to school for education but end up working in industries to earn a living? What fortune would befall an ailing poor who succumb to his illness due to inability to meet his medical expenditure?

Poverty is not merely a state of mind. It is a chronic deprivation of material needs faced by the poor. A significant portion of India’s GDP is allocated for poverty alleviation programmes (PAPs), several populist schemes like direct cash transfer, farm loan waiver have been introduced, but the poverty graph has been spiralling! It seems we have failed to take cognizance of the problems faced by the poor at the grassroots level. We have failed to ensure that the benefits of government schemes reach the targeted beneficiaries. We have failed to bridge the divide between the haves and the have-nots. We have failed to ensure equitable distribution if national income. Instead of empowering and strengthening the lower strata of the society, we have provided them reservations in nearly all fields of life along caste lines. Instead of organising them and making them self-reliant, we have made them dependent on the resources that remain after being sieved. Instead of inculcating a spirit of entrepreneurship and competition among the poor, we have turned them into vote banks and supressed them with largesse whenever they revolted.

The need of the hour is to bring about a change in the outlook of the haves so that they embrace the have-nots with dignity. Calling poverty a state of mind is tantamount to blaming the victim for his misery. We need to revamp our policies and plug the leaks in the system in order to push the poor into ascending the social ladder. The link between the poor and the government needs to be strengthened to check the exploitation of the former at the hands of the demon of poverty. We need to implement schemes like direct cash transfer more effectively. Unless a spirit of competition is developed among the poor, they will continue to remain trapped in their morbid lives. This requires providing them equal opportunities in all the spheres of life through intense social mobilisation.

Let us shun all inhibitions and make a contribution at our end to rid India of its abject poverty.


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