Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Right to Food in India, Pakistan and China

There is no basic human right more important than the right to adequate food. This right is recognized as a basic human right within the U.N. Universal Human Rights framework. Specifically, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (U.N. 1948), Article 25, states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food.”

In practice, however, the right to food is widely ignored by the most vociferous human rights campaigners, as well as the leaders of the world's largest democracy in India. This is particularly true when the critics compare human rights records of India and China. The harshest criticism by various human rights groups is reserved for China, while India gets only a minor slap on the wrist for its most egregious violations of basic human right to food, shelter, clothing, health and education.



Since 2001, even the Indian Supreme Court has upheld the right to food as a basic human right, and demanded that the government provide a hot lunch to every Indian schoolchild. On paper, 120 million Indian children receive this benefit ordered by the apex court.

Has anything changed on the ground since that historic ruling? To answer this question, let's look at some recent data.

In IFPRI's most recent global hunger report, India still ranks at 65, worse than Pakistan at 58, and much worse than China at 5.

The first India State Hunger Index (Ishi) report in 2008 found that Madhya Pradesh had the most severe level of hunger in India, comparable to Chad and Ethiopia. Four states — Punjab, Kerala, Haryana and Assam — fell in the 'serious' category. Gujarat, 13th on the Indian list is below Haiti, ranked 69. The authors said India's poor performance was primarily due to its relatively high levels of child malnutrition and under-nourishment resulting from calorie deficient diets.

In its latest issue, the harsh reality of hunger and malnutrition in India is described by the Economist magazine as follows:

"India-wide, more than 43% of Indian children under five are malnourished, a third of the world’s total. Over 35% of Indians are illiterate and over 20m children out of school. For all its successes, including six decades of elections and a constitution that introduced the notion of equal rights to an inequitable society, India’s abiding failure is its inability to provide aid and economic opportunity to millions of its impoverished citizens."

According to World Bank's HNP (Health and Nutrition) paper "India's Undernourished Children", here is some data on the scale of the problem India faces:

1. 47% of Indian children under 5 suffer from malnutrition.
2. 60 million in all, highest in the world.
3. Two million Indian children under 5 die each year.
4. At least one million of them die from low immunity attributable to malnutrition.
5. Ten million children out of the statistical range a year suffer from lack of motor and cognitive skills for the rest of their lives.
6. Most of the retardation occurs between two to three years of age.

In 2008, Indian Planning Commission member Syeda Hameed acknowledged that India is worse than Bangladesh and Pakistan when it comes to nourishment and is showing little improvement.

Speaking at a conference on "Malnutrition an emergency: what it costs the nation", she said even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during interactions with the Planning Commission has described malnourishment as the "blackest mark".

"I should not compare. But countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are better," she said. The conference was organized last year by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Ministry of Development of Northeastern Region.

According to India's Family Health Survey, almost 46 percent of children under the age of three are undernourished - an improvement of just one percent in the last seven years. This is only a shade better than Sub-Saharan Africa where about 35 percent of children are malnourished.

India has recently been described as a "nutritional weakling" by a British report.

Among the developing countries ranked by NGO Action Aid for Hunger, Brazil wins the top spot with B grade (no country gets an A on a scale from A to E), with the aid agency praising President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's support for land reform and community kitchens for the poor.

ActionAid said Brazil's success shows "what can be achieved when the state has both resources and political will to tackle hunger".

China (B grade) is also gets high marks for cutting the number of hungry by 58 million in 10 years through strong state support for smallholder farmers.


But the report is critical of resurgent India, which receives the lowest possible E (essentially an F) grade for hunger. It says 30 million Indians have been added to the ranks of the hungry since the mid-1990s and 46% of children are underweight. Pakistan, with grade D, is also ranked low, with 31% of its children underweight. Bangladesh, receiving C grade, is praised for reducing the number of chronically food-insecure people from 40 million to 27 million in the past 10 years and for improving childhood nutrition in the past two decades. But the report says Bangladesh has a long way to go to reduce overall malnutrition and build a sustainable agricultural system.

India's failure to follow through on the Supreme Court order of right to food has not deterred the Indian politicians from creating even more legislation granting new rights rather than ensuring implementation of the rights already created. It has introduced a right-to-information law and a vast new public-works program, known as NREGA, that guarantees all rural households 100 days of employment a year. Re-elected last year, the Congress Party government pushed through a law that seeks to guarantee free compulsory education to all children between the ages of six and 14. A bill to uphold Indians’ right to food could follow. It'll be a first in the region. As far as I know, no such legal rights to food exist in China or Pakistan.

However, as the Economist story puts it, the poor Indians "have recently grown rich in legal “rights”. In theory these guarantee them education, health, food and many other boons. What good, students of Indian poverty wonder, does this do them?"

Given the fact that India ranks at 171 out of 175 ranked on public health spending (less than 1% of GDP), the new rights are not likely to substantially change access to health care by the poor Indians. According to the Economist, "over 80% of health-care spending in India is in the private sector, for example, yet any “right-to-health” legislation is likely to focus on non-functioning public clinics".

No too long ago, Beijing's Tienanmen Square was the scene of the Chinese government crackdown by the units of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) against mass students protests in 1989. Since the death of Chairman Mao and passing of the leadership to late Deng Xiaoping in 1980s, the Chinese communist party has pursued liberalizing the nation's economy without political liberalization, in the same way other East Asians did earlier. Such a strategy has allowed them to pursue rapid industrialization with accelerated economic growth over the last two decades, while forcefully controlling the chaos on the streets, to lift a record number people out of poverty. China's large neighbor India has failed to use a period of high economic growth to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty, falling far short of China’s record in protecting its population from the ravages of chronic hunger, United Nations officials said recently. Last year, British Development Minister Alexander contrasted the rapid growth in China with India's economic success - highlighting government figures that showed the number of poor people had dropped in the one-party communist state by 70% since 1990 but had risen in the world's biggest democracy by 5%.

In many ways, the fundamental rights are better respected in China than the democracies in South Asia. Clearly, democracy in developing countries like India and Pakistan is highly overrated. Unlike the one party communist state in China, the much-hyped South Asian democracies have failed to deliver good governance and the basic necessities like food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, heathcare and education.

The oft-repeated rhetoric that "even the worst democracy is better than the best dictatorship" can not save democracy, particularly in Pakistan. If the current crop of elected politicians is really serious about strengthening democracy, it is important for its leadership to pursue a broad good governance agenda in Pakistan with education and training of politicians as the center piece. It is important for them to revive the idea of a school of government in Islamabad to increase the chances for democracy to survive and thrive in Pakistan. Unless the politicians find a way to improve governance to solve people's problems, the nation will be condemned to repeat the past history of democracy's failure in Pakistan.

Here's a video clip of campaign for right to food in India:



Related Links:

Indian Democracy Overrated

Theory and Practice of Right to Food

South Asia's War on Hunger Takes Back Seat

Food, Shelter and Clothing in India and Pakistan

Amartya Sen on Hunger in India

Haq's Musings

India's Rights Approach

Child Malnutrition India Video

Grinding Poverty in Resurgent India

Why is Democracy Failing in Pakistan?

Right to Food in India Campaign

Escape From India

Social Inequality Threatens India's Economic Stability

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

http://www.voltairenet.org/en

anoop said...

Riaz,

Whats the point in naming the headline with Pakistan's and China's name in it when it is clearly about India alone?
Your unwavering focus towards my country is a compliment in a way. You focus more on India than all the world put together,including your ex-home country Pakistan. In spite of all the mess it is in you focus on a foreign power's deficiencies. What a pity..

India might have a large number of poor but it is the only country in the subcontinent committed to wiping out poverty. Being the 2nd fastest growing economy proves it. In about 5 years we are going to be THE fastest growing economy in this world. The poverty reduction demonstrated by China is the past decade is going to be replicated soon in India.

If you consider other economies in the subcontinent,especially Pakistan, it is barely keeping up with its population growth. Pakistani economy grew at a pathetic rate of around 3%(Compare this to 7.2% for India during the same period in a recession year) while its population grew at around 2.

India is on its way to fight poverty. When will Pakistan even get a sense of stability and stops being a security state? I dont see any positive signs from Pakistan.

Riaz Haq said...

There was a piece in NY Times titled "Army Chief Driving Pakistan’s Agenda for Talks" By Jane Perlez.

The gist of the article is that Gen Kiyani worked with the civilian bureaucrats from various departments to develop a coordinated position and strategy ahead of the "strategic dialog" in March 2010 in Washington.

The way I see it is that somebody had to do the job of coordinating Pakistan's strategy and positions ahead of the multi-faceted strategic dialog in Washington covering a wide range of subjects from water to energy and security.

The Army chief has simply filled the vacuum left by lack of competent leadership by civilian politicians in preparing for talks.

Pakistan does have the British legacy of functional institutions such the nation's military and the bureaucracy which have been able to sustain the state. The members of the civil and military services have the basic educational facilities, such as a number of staff colleges and academies, for training them to do their jobs. As a result, the military and civil service officers are reasonably competent in carrying out their assigned responsibilities.

However, no such training exists for the politicians who get elected to the highest positions of leadership in the executive and legislative branches. Under the constitution, they are charged with appointing judges and making and executing laws and policies to solve the nation's problems. Yet, most of them lack the basic competence to understand and appreciate their responsibilities. The parliamentarians are usually uninformed about most of the key issues of governance brought for discussion on the floor. As a result, the level of parliamentary debate is very poor, and important budget priorities and policies are agreed, and laws are passed without fully taking into account all of the issues involved.

There is no effective system of drafting legislation, holding hearings with stakeholders and experts, making budget appropriations, and subsequent oversight by specialized parliamentary committees. People who chair such committees don't have much of a clue as to where to begin, what questions to ask, and how to hold the executive and the bureaucracy accountable. As a result, once the laws and policies are approved, and budgets passed, there is not much oversight or accountability.

There was a proposal in 1998 to set up Jinnah Democracy Institute, named after Pakistan's founding father Qu aid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who spoke eloquently about democracy when he told military officers, “Never forget that you are the servants of the state. You do not make policy. It is we, the people’s representatives, who decide how the country is to be run. Your job is to only obey the decisions of your civilian masters.”The idea for democracy institute was inspired by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in the United States, and its main purpose was to offer at least one semester of required training to Pakistan's elected representatives. Unfortunately, the proposal has not gone anywhere.

anoop said...

Riaz,

The reason you just gave forever will be held up to deny Pakistan democracy.. The best way to learn swimming is to jump into the water.. Now I see Pakistanis scared of water or atleast need the Army's help to swim.. They will never learn as the army will not let them learn.. Pakistan is doomed to be a security state..

Riaz Haq said...

anoop: "They will never learn as the army will not let them learn.. Pakistan is doomed to be a security state.."

There are plenty of examples from Turkey to countries in East and South East Asia where the military has guided economic and human development and industrialization leading to much better and more responsive democracies than the sham democracies and bad governance we see in South Asia today.

anoop said...

"There are plenty of examples from Turkey to countries in East and South East Asia where the military has guided economic and human development and industrialization leading to much better and more responsive democracies than the sham democracies and bad governance we see in South Asia today."

This line of thinking represents everything what is wrong with Pakistan. There are many,many people who think like this. This precisely the reason I think Pakistan forever will be a security state. Pakistan Military will forever have no accountability. It will answer to no one on how much it spends on what and where- Its budget is NEVER scrutinized and never will it let it be. It'll continue to be the biggest feudal landowner and its generals will retire as millionaires upholding the grand Pakistani tradition. You and other people who have lost hope in democracy will prefer Military over democracy not understanding that Democracy needs time to grow and needs a period of uninterrupted stability and total control which cannot happen in Pakistan.

Regarding the comment where you say South Asia's tryst with Democracy is hopeless I'd like to point to India,a beacon among unsuccessful experiments.

Its easy to come from a country like Pakistan where democracy is frowned upon and criticize India but I am a child of Democracy and have seen it work. Many people in India have and never have they thought any system except this one can serve them better. India is on its way to become to eliminate this menace called poverty which is the only shameful stain on India. Unfortunately, too many power centers will hamper the progress of its neighbours who will forever suffer from Inferiority complex and few among those neighbouring states will be doomed as security states.

Your perception that India is not a good democracy is deeply flawed considering it is the fastest growing economy in this world. No wonder US favours a Strategic Partnership with us and Pakistan is the Bounty hunter who is asked to catch the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

If Pakistan follows your advice the person most satisfied is me as I am convinced that Pakistan will never develop under the present status quo. Only Democracy in its purest form as practiced in India or China type Single party system can save Pakistan. All else is bound to fail.

Riaz Haq said...

anoop: "I'd like to point to India,a beacon among unsuccessful experiments."

You are part of the "India Shining" advocates, mostly urbans but a small minority, who have benefited while the vast majority of Indians suffer hunger and malnutrition and still defecate in the open. That's what is wrong with the Indian democracy, and I do not wish it upon any country.

What I wish for developing nations aspiring for genuine and inclusive democracy is the example of Turkey, or Malaysia, or Taiwan, or South Korea, which became highly developed before turning to democracy.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's the latest report on India's right to food bill:

The members have expresses their shock by the EGoM draft bill which does not address any of the nutritional needs of the people. This draft is not only a betrayal of the people of India but also is in contempt of the letter and spirit of the orders of the Supreme Court in the right to food case. This draft completely ignores the multiple entitlements which constitute the right to food of all ages of people and all sections of society including vulnerable groups.

The single entitlement proposed by the EGoM in the name of food security of the people by provisioning for only 25 kgs per household is in fact less than what is the current entitlement of 35 kgs which has been mandated by Supreme Court orders. A legislation that promises a “right” but in reality reduces the existing entitlement is completely unacceptable to the people of India and an affront on their dignity.

To make matters worse, the proposed Bill seeks to restrict this “entitlement” further to just BPL families (as per Planning Commission estimates). As you are undoubtedly aware, child malnutrition rates in India at 46% is amongst the highest in the world, and twice the rate of child malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover we have an unconsciably and shamefully high maternal mortality, a large part of which is attributable to the malnutrition amongst women.

Nothing short of a universal entitlement for the Public Distribution System would suffice to change the existing situation. Every adult resident of the country must be covered by the PDS with entitlements of 14 kgs of cereals (including nutritious millets) per month at Rs 2 per kilogram, 1.5 kilogram of pulses at Rs 20 per kg and 800 gms of cooking oil at Rs 35 per kg with children getting half the entitlements and the ration cards made in the name of female head of the household.
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A universal entitlement for food is the only way that the country can ensure food security for all.

Replacing food entitlements by cash will not bring about any food security to individuals instead the entire purpose of ensuring food and nutritional security will be defeated.

India is reeling under the worst food inflation in the last three decades and are dismayed at your Government's refusal to bring down prices. At such a time this bill makes a further mockery of growing hunger and malnutrition.

People are perturbed by the fact that the announcement of an inadequate and exclusionary PDS entitlement by the EGoM happened just when the Justice Wadhwa Committee report, which talks of an expansion of the PDS entitlement, was submitted to the Supreme Court. The timing chosen by the EGoM seems to be an attempt to sabotage the Supreme Court proceedings in the right to food case.

The multiple legal entitlements guaranteed by the Supreme Court of India already grant the right of 35kgs of food grains per household along with other entitlements such as reduced prices for the PDS grain under Antyodaya Anna Yojana forvulnerable sections of society, supplementary nutrition for infants and young children under ICDS, maternity entitlements under NMBS and Janini Suraksha Yojana, school mid-day meals, old age pensions and addressing needs of the homeless and urban poor, streetchildren, single women and infants under six months.
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The members have urge PM to intervene immediately to ensure that the National Food Security Act creates multiple entitlements, as outlined above. The Act must also create an enabling environment for promoting food production by prioritising people’s control over productive resources including land, forests and water. No diversion of these resources must be allowed as large sections of the people of this country only survive on access to these natural resources.

anoop said...

"You are part of the "India Shining" advocates, mostly urbans but a small minority, who have benefited while the vast majority of Indians suffer hunger and malnutrition and still defecate in the open. That's what is wrong with the Indian democracy, and I do not wish it upon any country."

--> I am perfectly aware of how much India's poor are suffering. But, if you tell me that 8+ % growth is not lifting up people from poverty and only beneficial for people in the Urban setting you must not know much about economics. I am well aware of the kind of poverty that exists ,considering I myself belonged to the lower middle class not too long ago,but I see hope and action on part of,not the govt, but the entire democratic set up.

Dawn says,"China and India have together lifted 125 million people out of slums in the last decade, while a further 112 million escaped poor conditions in the rest of the world, according to a new report from UN-Habitat, the UN agency for human settlements."

http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/editorial/millions-escape-worlds-slums-430

I have pointed out what inspirational leadership can do to poor states with the example of Bihar under Nitish Kumar. I have spoken to people from Bihar and they speak highly of Nitish. He is incorruptible surrounded by a mixture of corrupt and honest people and he is finding a way for development to happen. Every govt hospital is under Nitish's radar,they tell me, as he usually goes to one or the other Govt Hospital as a surprise visit every week and his punishment for shoddy work is severe,they say. It is the same for other spheres of public life.

Another example is of SM.Krishna(Now the Foreign Minister) from my state of Karnataka who dared to dream. He laid the foundation of Dream Bangalore. In no time(5 years to be exact) Bangalore became an International brand and you living in the US must have seen T-Shirts with the saying "I've been Bangalored". Have a look at these-

http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-ban1.htm

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-does-it-mean-to-be-bangalored.htm

As they say ,rest is History.

Good leaders can only come up in a democracy and good leaders always manage to come to the top as you can see that in India where you can see people like Manmohan,Chidambaram,Mani Shankar Aiyar,Pranab Mukherjee,etc. This is an example just from the ruling party.

In a military set up the man who has the most "influence" or power or whatever comes up and I am surprised after the failed experiments of Zia,Ayub,Yahya and Mushy you want another term of Military rulers.

I see hope and hope is a powerful thing. Compared to the failed experiments in south asia India is a beacon of light where people from different ethnic backgrounds,Religion,Language live together. We have spent half of modern India's life attaining stability and now its time to grow. We, not Pakistan or Bangladesh or China, is the fastest growing Democracy in the world. We, not Pakistan not Bangladesh, are going to be the fastest growing economy in 5 years. If you still tell me that growth means nothing for the India's poor I suggest enroll yourself in an IIM, India's pioneer insitution, to learn Economics.

Now, India has earmarked $1 Trillion , many times Pakistan's GDP,just for Infrastructure and NDTV says,"Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that India will double its infrastructure spending in the next five year plan starting April 1, 2012 to achieve its target of 10 per cent growth to one trillion dollars."

http://www.ndtv.com/news/india/govt-earmarks-1-trillion-for-infrastructure-18303.php

This is called growth with Vision . Pakistan would do well to emulate even 1/10th of India's achievements.

Next Military ruler in Pakistan might be another Zia. I hope that scares you or you just dont understand your own country's History.

Riaz Haq said...

anoop: "But, if you tell me that 8+ % growth is not lifting up people from poverty and only beneficial for people in the Urban setting you must not know much about economics."

It's clear from the Indian data that growth alone does not do anything for the poor and hungry. It has just made the rich richer as evident from the rising gini index for India in the last decade.

Last year, UNICF attacked India's record in the following report from Rediff:

"India has failed to use a period of high economic growth to lift tens of millions of people out of poverty, falling far short of China's record in protecting its population from the ravages of chronic hunger, United Nations officials said on Tuesday.

Unicef, the UN's child development agency, said India, Asia's third largest economy, had not followed the example of other regional economies such as China, South Korea and Singapore in investing in its people during an economic boom. It said this failure spelled trouble as the global economy deteriorated, while volatile fuel and food prices had already deepened deprivation over the past two years.

The stinging criticism of India's performance comes only two weeks after the Congress party-led alliance was overwhelmingly voted back into office. Its leaders had campaigned strongly on their achievement of raising India's economic growth to 9 per cent and boosting rural welfare."

anoop: "I have pointed out what inspirational leadership can do to poor states with the example of Bihar under Nitish Kumar. I have spoken to people from Bihar and they speak highly of Nitish."

The Bihar "miracle" has the same problem as resurgent India: Growth in Bihar is not reflected in its social indicators.

anoop: "He laid the foundation of Dream Bangalore. In no time(5 years to be exact) Bangalore became an International brand and you living in the US must have seen T-Shirts with the saying "I've been Bangalored". Have a look at these-"

Hype and PR are not a substitute for real change on the ground. Here is the reality as described by blogger Sean Paul Kelley in his post "Reflections on India":

"Right next door to the Taj Mahal was a pile of trash that smelled so bad, was so foul as to almost ruin the entire Taj experience. Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai to a lesser degree were so very polluted as to make me physically ill. Sinus infections, ear infection, bowels churning was an all to common experience in India. Dung, be it goat, cow or human fecal matter was common on the streets. "

anoop said...

Riaz,

What did you expect from Bihar? Growth is a slow process and needs time to seep in. Dont forget Bihar has been the most backwards states in the world. Nitish is not Magician to turn it upside down in 5 years. It'll take Bihar a decade or 2 provided people like Nitish are at the helm.

I agree with you there are pockets of India are wealthy and there are pockets which are extremely poor. Human Indices analysis should be based on comparison between different periods of time. You say, "India has horrible Human Index". OFCOURSE IT HAS! I am not denying it. It'd be foolish on my part to do that. But.... But, things are looking up. Things are changing rapidly when compared to Pakistan,Bangladesh,etc.. I am talking of the rate of change not the present state of Human Index performance of India.

Things have really improved in the last 2 decades. Farmers can get access to easy loans, their kids can grow to better monitored schools(not so the case in all the states), their voices are heard more clearly these days. In this scenario if you compare the rate of growth of whatever countries you choose to compare with you will find India doing better than them,especially compared to countries on the decline like Pakistan. I am saying India has achieved a faster rate of growth when it comes to social indicators. But, we still have a long,long way to go. Our Human Indicators are among the world's worst and the post-1991 India should consider this as a black-mark to be erased asap.

Go to any Economist and ask them if 9% growth will have any effect on the poor. The rich are just not that huge numbers to single- handedly drive this growth. This growth is partly because Rural India is growing. You speak the truth but not the complete truth.

To say and a country is the fastest growing in the world with a growth rate of 10% and doesnt lift people from poverty is just plain,forgive me for the use of the word, Stupid.

"Hype and PR are not a substitute for real change on the ground. Here is the reality as described by blogger Sean Paul Kelley in his post "Reflections on India"

I live in Bangalore and there are no slums here. This is the Dharavi effect. Bangalore has small roads and poor people but the poor of Bangalore dont live in slums like they do in Mumbai. Dharavi is the result of poor Urban policies limiting the growth of Mumbai,then called Bombay. In a fast growing city like Bombay they made a colossal mistake of limiting its boundaries which gave rise to slums. But, to generalize that the whole of India lives in slums doesnt make any sense. I'd challenge anyone to show me a slum in Bangalore on a map. That guy is clearly generalizing way too much.

Bangalore is not Hype if you look at the High Tech Parks and Tech centres,one of which I happened to visit today. Bangalore is not just PR if you look at the Rapid Transport system called,"namma metro" which is going live from 2011. Bangalore is not an illusion when the leader of a great nation says,"Say no to Bangalore and yes to Buffalo".

http://www.rediff.com/money/2009/may/05bpo-say-no-to-bangalore-says-obama.htm

He not only talks of Call Centres but outsourcing of R&D jobs to locations in India. R&D is a field which cannot happen in areas with low quality man-power. I've witnessed myself the R&D block in my company expanding and jobs coming from the West. 35 Jobs came here from Canada and 15 from Australia in the past 3 months alone in my company. If you reverse-magnify and look at the whole of bangalore then you will see the kind of growth Bangalore is enjoying.

Wait for 5 years and enjoy the spectacle of a great democracy becoming the fastest growing economy in the world. It is going to happen and poor will be lifted out of their miserable existence.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's the story of "Shining India" as reported by a blogger at escape from India explaining why a million Indian escape each year:

Poverty Graph

According to WFP, India accounts around 50% of the world’s hungry. (more than in the whole of Africa) and its fiscal deficit is one of the highest in the world. India’s Global Hunger Index (GHI) score is 23.7, a rank of 66th out of 88 countries. India’s rating is slightly above Bangladesh but below all other South Asian nations and listed under “ALARMING” category. Ref: IFPRI Country Report on India

Around six out of 10 Indians live in the countryside, where abject poverty is widespread. 34.7 % of the Indian population lives with an income below $ 1 a day and 79.9 % below $ 2 a day. According to the India’s planning commission report 26.1 % of the population live below the poverty line. [World Bank’s poverty line of $1 a day, but the Indian poverty line of Rs 360 a month, or 30 cents a day].

The Current Account Balance of India

“A major area of vulnerability for us is the high consolidated public-debt to GDP ratio of over 70 percent … (and) consolidated fiscal deficit,” says the Governor of Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Mr. Yaga Venugopal Reddy.

According to CIA world fact book, the Current account balance of India is -37,510,000,000 (minus) while China is the wealthiest country in the world with $ 426,100,000,000 (Plus) . India listed as 182 and China as no.1 [CIA: The world fact book]

Human Development vs GDP growth

The Human Development Report for 2009 released by the UNDP ranked India 134 out of 182 countries, working it out through measures of life expectancy, education and income. India has an emigration rate of 0.8%. The major continent of destination for migrants from India is Asia with 72.0% of emigrants living there. The report found that India’s GDP per capita (purchasing power parity) is $2,753, far below Malaysia’s $13,518. China listed as 92 with PPP of $5383. Read the statistics from UNDP website.

Population:

According to the Indian census of 2001, the total population was 1.028 billion. Hindus numbered 827 million or 80.5 %. About 25 per cent (24 million) of those Hindus are belonging to Scheduled Castes and Tribes. About 40 per cent (400 million) are “Other Backward Castes”.

15 per cent Hindu upper castes inherited majority of India’s civil service, economy and active politics from British colonial masters. And thus the caste system virtually leaves lower caste Hindus in to an oppressed majority in India’s power structure. Going by figures quoted by the Backward Classes Commission, Brahmins alone account for 37.17 per cent of the bureaucracy. [Who is Really Ruling India?]

The 2004 World Development Report mentions that more than 25% of India’s primary school teachers and 43% of primary health care workers are absent on any given day!

Living conditions of Indians

89 percent of rural households do not own telephones; 52 percent do not have any domestic power connection. There are daily power cuts even in the nation’s capital. The average brownout in India is three hours per day during non-monsoon months, 17 hours daily during the monsoon. The average village is 2 kilometers away from an all-weather road, and 20 percent of rural habitations have partial or no access to a safe drinking-water supply. [Tarun Khanna, Yale Center for the Study of Globalization]

According to the National Family Health Survey data (2005-06), only 45 per cent of households in the country had access to improved sanitation.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting commentary on India's growing social inequality threatening stability published in Fast Company:

Can a country where a third of the population is illiterate be an Information Technology superpower? Can a country where 78 million rural homes have never seen electricity be an economic superpower? Can anyone feel safe living in islands of prosperity in a sea of poverty? While India’s educated elite are reveling in their new found status on the global stage, inequitable distribution of wealth and opportunities are shaking the very foundation of India’s new economy. Will the Indian government’s apathy towards the rural poor bring India’s party to an abrupt end?

In the last 12 years, India's economy has grown at an average annual rate of about 7 percent, reducing poverty by 10 percent. However, 40 percent of the world's poor still live in India, and 28 percent of the country's population continues to live below the poverty line. More than one third live on less than a dollar a day, and 80 percent live on less than two dollars a day. India's recent economic growth has been attributed to the service industry, but 60 percent of the workforce remains in agriculture.

The rate of increasing disparity between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, is hard to miss in tech centers like Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi. Technology professionals are returning, having made their millions in the US. They are driving expensive cars and living in luxury apartments. Cities are growing in all directions. Farmlands are being acquired to build luxury townships, golf courses, five star hotels, spas and clubs. Poor farmers get paid off, and are forced to move further away from the city. And while global leaders and businessmen wax eloquent about India’s growing status as an IT superpower, everyone turns a blind eye to the majority of the population untouched by the economic growth.

And the scenario is not too different in smaller cities. Nagpur is a bustling metropolis in the heart of India, in a region known as Vidarbha. There are signs of economic boom everywhere in the city – shopping arcades, multiplexes, pubs, and luxury clubs. Yet, right outside the city, farmers are committing suicide due to their inability to repay debts as small as $100. In the last five years, almost two thousand farmers in the region have killed themselves.
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While, the government must own primary responsibility for social upliftment, the answer to India’s woes probably lies in a public-private partnership towards addressing India’s deprived poor. It’s happening in pockets. Companies like the Tata Group have ingrained social responsibility in their DNA. Azim Premji Foundation, promoted by the Wipro Chairman, is working with state governments to improve grassroots level education in rural India. What’s probably now needed is for all private enterprises and government bodies to collaborate, to create a larger, more meaningful, nationwide impact.

Corporations should not view it purely from a philanthropic perspective. A bigger pool of educated and employable population will mean availability of better quality human resources. And a stable society creates a far more secure environment to do business in. Cleansing the environment where you are running your operations definitely makes better long term business sense. And the sooner corporations realize this, the better it is for everyone.

Anonymous said...

i don't know why anybody has a "right" to food, unless they establish property rights over it by legal means. what makes for a "right" to food?

Riaz Haq said...

India has unofficially become the world's child death capital, with a study claiming that over 5,000 children die in the country every day of "totally preventable causes". According to the study, Child Health Now, by the NGO World Vision, India accounts for the highest number of child deaths (under five years of age) in the world at 1.95 million per year.

The study revealed that the majority of the deaths occur in the child's first year itself. The causes included diarrhoea, pneumonia and neo- natal problems.> Simple life- saving measures such as oral rehydration solutions, basic vaccinations, breastfeeding and using mosquito nets could bring down the dismal number by more than two thirds, the report said.

Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo follow India in the list. Together, the three nations account for 40 per cent of the total child deaths in the world. It was also found that the three countries allocated the least share of funding - less than three per cent - to maternal and child heath in the health sector allocation.

Reni Jacob, the advocacy director for World Vision India, said, "When hundreds die in a disaster, it is considered an emergency. But when 5,000 children die every day, it is not considered one. This is the biggest human rights and child rights violation of all times." The fact that simple interventions can go a long way in preventing child deaths is evident from the disparities that exist within India itself. While states like Orissa have a high infant mortality rate of 10 per cent, in others like Kerala, the rate is just a little over 1 per cent. And that is primarily because of initiatives in child care and maternal health services.

Indeed, the report found that children in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are more vulnerable than those in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In Bihar, less than one- third infants are breast- fed and 50 per cent of children are stunted because of malnutrition. The state has a high infant mortality rate of 85 deaths per 1,000 live births.

World Vision has launched a five- year campaign in India to address the alarming situation. It has also urged the government to revamp the National Rural Health Mission and widen the focus of the Integrated Child Development Scheme to less than three- year- olds.


http://gregmathews.livejournal.com/19622.html

Riaz Haq said...

Here is a Times of India report about Transparency International Survey:

Around seven lakh BPL households in India paid bribe in the last one year to avail services related to school education of their children - the total amount paid as bribe being estimated to be around Rs 12 crore. Another nine lakh BPL households used contacts to get their child admitted or promoted in school. However, another five lakh BPL households weren't that lucky - their children couldn't avail such services because they were either too poor to pay bribe or had absolutely no contact or influence to use as an advantage.

The survey - that covered 22,728 randomly selected BPL households across 31 states and union territories - said a majority of those who paid bribe did so for getting their children admitted in the school or for getting promotion of their children from one class to another. Issuing school-leaving certificate was another lucrative business for corrupt schools authorities. However, the amount bribed was highest when it came for allotment of hostel. In comparison, a higher proportion of urban BPL households (40%) paid bribe for new admission and issuance of certificate as against rural areas (33%).

On the other hand, a higher proportion of rural BPL households (32%) paid bribe for promotion of their children from one class to another as against urban households (28%). The same is the case in applying for scholarship where 12% rural BPL families paid bribe compared to 3% urban BPL households. Of those who paid bribe, 86% paid it directly to officials of the school while 12% paid it through middlemen.

According to the report, on an average, a BPL household had to pay Rs 171 as bribe in the last one year related to school education of their children. While looking at states with moderate or high corruption in the school education sector, the level of corruption in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Meghalaya and Goa was found to be “alarming”.

Anonymous said...

Some of the most fertile areas of India and which receive abundant rain are being taken out of agricultural use and handed over to SEZ, Real Estate, and industrial developers. The entire coastal belt from North Konkan to Malabar is an example. This is further exacerbated by high labor costs. Lack of local labor results in migrant workers claiming anything from Rs 150-250 a day as wages. This is uneconomical.
Can people eat concrete?

Riaz Haq said...

Here's BBC commentary by Soutik Biswas on India's "rights revolution":

Ensuring the basics in life remains the biggest challenge for India, six decades after independence.

Take food. Some 43% of Indian children younger than five are underweight - far above the global average of 25% or sub-Saharan Africa's 28%. India is a lowly 65th among 84 countries in the Global Hunger Index. Half of the world's hungry people live in India.

So the proposed right to food, entitling a poor family to 25kg of rice or wheat at three rupees (seven cents) a kilogram is good news. The bad news is that identifying the deserving poor is a challenge - there are four different government estimates of the very poor or below poverty line (BPL) people floating around. States may inflate numbers of beneficiaries to corner more federal benefits. Then there is the notoriously leaky public distribution system, from where food is often siphoned off by a triad of low-level bureaucrats, shop owners and middlemen.

Nobody can deny that the right to education - every child aged 6-14 can demand free schooling - is critical: an estimated eight million children in that age group do not attend school in India. India's 61% literacy rate lags behind Kenya's 85%. But critics point to a lack of teachers - India would need more than a million teachers just to implement the right - and say there are simply not enough schools to cope with the increased demand.

Rights don't work miracles. But activists say they are an urgent social intervention to empower the poor in a highly iniquitous society, where it is difficult for the poor to access officials to air their grievances and secure their entitlements. "In a hierarchical society, rights-based movements are a way of moving towards equality," says leading political scientist Mahesh Rangarajan. Also, they put pressure on the state to deliver - the right to information, despite glitches, is making government more accountable.

Studies show that sensitive political and bureaucratic leadership combined with grassroots awareness and an engaged local media can translate rights into reality and improve the lives of the poor. Activists point out that money is not a problem - the economy is doing well, revenues are buoyant, federal health and education outlays have been increased. The government has pledged more than $5bn to send 10 million poor children to school.

The cynicism over rights mainly comes from India's burgeoning educated upper middle class. It is mostly not engaged with public institutions at all - its members rarely serve in the lower ranks of the armed forces, teach in state schools or work for the government. Yes, there are valid concerns about whether the state has the capacity to deliver on rights. Yes, the Indian state continues to focus on maintaining law and order and collecting revenue. Delivering services is not its strength. Rights could actually help it move towards a functioning welfare state. I would like to hear stories from you - and people you may know - who are reaping the benefits of the rights revolution.

Riaz Haq said...

The Development Set

By Ross Coggins

Excuse me friends, I must catch my jet,
I’m off to join the Development Set.
My bags are packed and I’ve had all my shots;
I have travelers checks and pills for the trots.

The Development Set is bright and noble.
Our thoughts are deep and our vision global.
Although we move with the better classes,
Our thoughts are always with the masses.

In Sheraton Hotels in scattered nations,
We damn multi-national corporations.
Injustice seems easy to protest,
In such seething hotbeds of social unrest.

We discuss malnutrition over steaks
And plan hunger talks over coffee breaks.
Whether Asian flood or African drought
We face each issue with open mouth.

We bring in consultants whose circumlocution
Raises difficulties for every solution,
Thus guaranteeing good eating
By showing the need for another meeting.

The language of the Development Set
Stretches the English alphabet.
We use swell words like “epigenetic”
“Micro”, macro and logarithmatic.

It pleasures us to be esoteric—
It’s so intellectually atmospheric!
And though establishments may be unmoved,
Our vocabularies are much improved.

When the talk gets deep and you’re feeling dumb,
You can keep your shame to a minimum.
To show that you, too, are intelligent,
Simply ask, “Is it really development?”

Or say, “That’s fine in practice, but don’t you see,
It doesn’t really work in theory.”
A few may find this incomprehensible,
But most will admire you as deep and sensible.

Development Set homes are extremely chic,
Full of carvings, curios and draped with batik.
Eye-level photos subtly assure
That your host is at home with the great and the poor.

Enough of these verses—on with the mission!
Our task is as broad as the human condition.
Just pray God the biblical promise is true,
The poor ye shall always have with you.

Riaz Haq said...

In rural Pakistan where about 70% of Pakistanis live, people spend 55% of their income on food, according to a World Resources Institute (WRI) report.

The bottom two BOP (Bottom of Income Pyramid) groups alone account for more than 50% of national food spending in Pakistan. Average annual food spending per household in the BOP in Pakistan is $2,643. While BOP3000 households have 6 times as much income on average, they outspend BOP500 households in the food market by a ratio of only 2:1 in Cameroon, 2.3:1 in South Africa and Pakistan, 2.4:1 in Kazakhstan, 1.9:1 in Uzbekistan, and 3:1 in Peru.

Currently, food inflation in Pakistan is running at 15.49 percent, hitting the poor the hardest.

According to a recent Daily Times report, Non-perishable food item prices increased 14.76 percent whereas perishable food items recorded 21.30 percent increase in their prices.

Fuel & lighting index rose 20.19 percent during January this over the last year whereas house rent index posted 13.38 increase this month.

Transport & communication index rose 9.43 percent, education expenses increased 13.68 percent and medical expenses increased 5.88 percent.

The detailed analysis of the SPI prices for Jan-10 reveals that few items, within the food category, were observed to post over 100bps MoM increase in prices. Sugar (1.92 percent weight in the CPI) remained exceptional with 19 percent MoM increase and food prices (40.3 percent weight in the CPI) contributed passively this time around to the CPI in Jan-10 due to being relatively stable.

Riaz Haq said...

In a recent interview, food campaigner Jean Dreze aid, "For Indians to eat like the Chinese, let alone the French or the Italians, there will have to be a lot more food around."

Here are some excerpts from it:

"Firstly, I would not agree that India is “self-sufficient” in food production. It looks self-sufficient only because food intake is abysmally low, not only in terms of quantity but also in terms of quality. For Indians to eat like the Chinese, let alone the French or the Italians, there will have to be a lot more food around. Having said this, low food production is not the main issue, and food production itself would easily go up if there were enough purchasing power among the masses. The main issue is people’s inability to secure essential things that are required for good nutrition. These include not only food but also other inputs such as clean water, health care, sanitation, basic education and child care. All these fields of public policy have been grossly neglected for a long time."

"The NREGA can certainly help, and it does. In a recent survey of 1,000 NREGA workers conducted in 10 districts of North India, 69 per cent of the respondents felt that the NREGA had “helped them to avoid hunger” [see “The Battle for Employment Guarantee”, Frontline, January 2009]. But even if the NREGA functioned really well, which is not the case, it would have a limited impact on the nutrition situation, for many reasons. Some people are unable to participate in NREGA work because of illness, disability, old age, and so on. Those who do participate earn a meagre income at best, even if they work for 100 days in the year. And most importantly, good nutrition is not a matter of income alone. This applies especially to child nutrition, which is the foundation of good nutrition for all.

Even among households that are relatively well-off in economic terms, child under-nutrition is not uncommon, for reasons that can range from low birthweight and poor breastfeeding practices to lack of health care or gender discrimination. This is why a range of complementary interventions are required. It would be pointless to expect a single intervention, whether it is the NREGA or the PDS or the ICDS, to ensure food security."

Riaz Haq said...

Part of the problem fueling anger and insurgencies is the growing number of the poor in India. Here's a recent Reuters report:

India now has 100 million more people living below the poverty line than in 2004, according to official estimates released on Sunday.

The poverty rate has risen to 37.2 percent of the population from 27.5 percent in 2004, a change that will require the Congress-ruled government to spend more money on the poor.

The new estimate comes weeks after Sonia Gandhi, head of the Congress party, asked the government to revise a Food Security Bill to include more women, children and destitutes.

"The Planning Commission has accepted the report on poverty figures," Abhijit Sen, a member of the Planning Commission told Reuters, referring to the new poverty estimate report submitted by a government panel last December.

India now has 410 million people living below the U.N. estimated poverty line of $1.25 a day, 100 million more than was estimated earlier, officials said.

India calculates how much of its population is living below the poverty line by checking whether families can afford one square meal a day that meets minimum nutrition needs.

It was not immediately clear how much more the federal government would have to spend on the poor, as that would depend on the Food Security Bill when it is presented to the government after the necessary changes, officials say.

India's Planning Commission will meet the food and expenditure secretaries next week to estimate the cost aspects of the bill, government officials said.

A third of the world's poor are believed to be in India, living on less than $2 per day, worse than in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, experts say.

http://in.reuters.com/article/topNews/idINIndia-47791820100418

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excepts of Nehru University's Prof Jayanti Ghosh's video interview on Real News Network in which she says there is "no Indian miracle":

JAY: So in India you're saying there never was major reforms and it's getting worse.

GHOSH: Absolutely. If you look at the pattern of Indian growth, it's really more like a Latin American story. We are now this big success story of globalization, but it's a peculiar success story, because it's really one which has been dependent on foreign—you know, we don't run trade surpluses. We don't even run current account surpluses, even though a lot of our workers go abroad to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, to California, as IT workers. We still don't really run current account surpluses. So we've been getting capital inflow because we are discovered as this hot destination. You know, we are on Euromoney covers. We are seen as this place to go. Some of our top businessmen are the richest men in the world. They hit the Fortune top-ten index. All of that kind of thing. This capital inflow comes in, it makes our stock market rise, it allows for new urban services to develop, and it generates this feel-good segment of the Indian economy. Banks have been lending more to this upper group, the top 10 percent of the population, let's say. It's a small part of the population, but it's a lot of people, it's about 110 million people, which is a pretty large market for most places. So that has fuelled this growth, because otherwise you cannot explain how we've had 8 to 10 percent growth now for a decade. Real wages are falling, nutrition indicators are down there with sub-Saharan Africa, a whole range of basic human development is still abysmal, and per capita incomes in the countryside are not growing at all.

JAY: So I guess part of that's part of the secret of what's happening in India is that the middle, upper-middle class, in proportion to the population of India, is relatively small, but it's still so big compared to most other countries—you were saying 100, 150 million people living in this, benefiting from the expansion. And it's a lot bigger. It's like—what is it? Ten, fifteen Canadas. So it's a very vibrant market. But you're saying most of the people in India aren't seeing the benefits.

GHOSH: Well, in fact it's worse than that. It's not just that they're not seeing the benefits. It's not that they're excluded from this. They are part of this process. They are integrated into the process. And, in fact, this is a growth process that relies on keeping their incomes lower, in fact, in terms of extracting more surplus from them. Let me just give you a few examples. You know, everybody talks about the software industry and how competitive we are. And it's true. It's this shiny, modern sector, you know, a bit like California in the middle of sub-Saharan Africa. But when you look at it, it's not just that our software engineers achieve, it's that the entire supporting establishment is very cheap. The whole system which allows them to be more competitive is one where you are relying on very low-paid assistants, drivers, cooks, cleaners. You know, the whole support establishment is below subsistence wage, practically, and it's that which effectively subsidizes this very modern industry.

Riaz Haq said...

It's not just Haiti, it seems that the poor India are also resorting to eating dirt to survive, according to BBC:

"We live on a day-to-day basis," Suraj says, as the faint sound of hammering echoes across the village. "What we earn is what we spend on our families in a day."

In Ganne, just off the main road about an hour south of the city of Allahabad, this is a simple fact of life.

It is home to members of a poor tribal community, who live in small huts clustered around a series of shallow quarries.

Inside one of the huts sits a little girl called Poonam. She is three years old, and in the early stages of kidney failure.

Like many children in Ganne she has become used to eating bits of dried mud and silica, which she finds in the quarry. Tiny children chew on the mud simply because they are hungry - but it is making them ill.

When reports first emerged of children eating mud here local officials delivered more food and warned the villagers not to speak to outsiders. But Poonam's father, Bhulli, is close to despair.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an IANS report on "The dark side of India's economic growth" leading to growing hunger and malnutrition in India:


New Delhi: A more inclusive growth policy targeted at marginalised communities and protection of their basic rights is required to combat hunger in India, international NGO ActionAid said.

"The dark side of India's economic growth is the fact that the poor have been dispossessed further, leading to malnutrition, hunger and starvation deaths," Sandeep Chachra, executive director of ActionAid India said here.


The International Food Policy Research Institute has ranked India 67th on the global hunger index, way below its neighbours China and Pakistan.

In a hunger score card released before the Millennium Development Goals Summit at the United Nations headquarters at New York in September, ActionAid said that while India's per capita income had tripled between 1990 and 2005, the number of chronically hungry had not reduced, standing at a staggering 270 million.

At this rate, India cannot halve its number of those starving until 2083, the report said.

"Implementation remains a massive challenge. Food and other entitlements have to be delivered on the ground, which requires greater political will," Amar Joyti Nayak, thematic head for food rights for ActionAid India, said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an opinion piece by Amartya Sen published in The Hindu:

... I managed to resurrect the memory of having said in passing, in a meeting of TIE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) in Delhi in December, that it is silly to be obsessed about overtaking China in the rate of growth of Gross National Product (GNP), while not comparing ourselves with China in other respects, like education, basic health, or life expectancy. Since that one-sentence remark seems to have been interpreted in many different ways (my attention to that fact was drawn by friends who are more web-oriented than I am), I guess I should try to explain what that remark was about.
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Let me look at some numbers, drawing from various sources — national as well as international, in particular World Development Reports of the World Bank and Human Development Reports of the United Nations. Life expectancy at birth in China is 73.5 years; in India it is still 64.4 years. Infant mortality rate is 50 per thousand in India, compared with just 17 in China, and the under-5 mortality rate is 66 for Indians and 19 for the Chinese. China's adult literacy rate is 94 per cent, compared with India's 65 per cent, and mean years of schooling in India is 4.4 years, compared with 7.5 years in China. In our effort to reverse the lack of schooling of girls, India's literacy rate for women between the ages of 15 and 24 has certainly risen, but it is still below 80 per cent, whereas in China it is 99 per cent. Almost half of our children are undernourished compared with a very tiny proportion in China. Only 66 per cent of Indian children are immunised with triple vaccine (DPT), as opposed to 97 per cent in China. Comparing ourselves with China in these really important matters would be a very good perspective, and they can both inspire us and give us illumination about what to do — and what not to do, particularly the glib art of doing nothing.
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Life expectancy in Bangladesh is 66.9 years compared with India's 64.4. The proportion of underweight children in Bangladesh (41.3 per cent) is a little lower than in India (43.5), and its fertility rate (2.3) is also lower than India's (2.7). Mean years of schooling amount to 4.8 years in Bangladesh compared with India's 4.4 years. While India is ahead of Bangladesh in male literacy rate in the youthful age-group of 15-24, the female rate in Bangladesh is higher than in India. Interestingly, the female literacy rate among young Bangladeshis is actually higher than the male rate, whereas young females still do much worse than young males in India. There is much evidence to suggest that Bangladesh's current progress has much to do with the role that liberated Bangladeshi women are beginning to play in the country.

What about health, which interests every human being as much as anything else? Under-5 mortality rate is 66 in India compared with 52 in Bangladesh. In infant mortality, Bangladesh has a similar advantage, since the rate is 50 in India and 41 in Bangladesh. Whereas 94 per cent of Bangladeshi children are immunised with DPT vaccine, only 66 per cent of Indian children are. In each of these respects, Bangladesh does better than India, despite having less than half of India's per-capita income.
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And perhaps more worryingly, this group of relatively privileged and increasingly prosperous Indians can easily fall for the temptation to treat economic growth as an end in itself........

Riaz Haq said...

Here is an excerpt from a Time magazine opinion piece by Hannah Beach on the status of Asian democracies:

Asia gave birth to people power in 1986, when a sea of yellow-clad demonstrators peacefully overthrew a dictator in the Philippines. Other popular uprisings against authoritarianism followed, from Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan to Mongolia and Indonesia. Watching the events unfold in the Arab world, Asia's fledgling democracies can be forgiven for indulging in a moment of nostalgia. While revolutionary zeal may have toppled the region's strongmen, however, too few of their successors have bothered to build the institutions needed to sustain democracy beyond its first flush. Democracy through revolution is heady stuff, but it's not always a template for building lasting freedom and justice.

The withered potential of people power is best examined on its home turf. This month, the Philippines will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the start of its historic uprising. Those following the events in Egypt will find many parallels. Ferdinand Marcos, a corrupt, aging, U.S.-backed dictator, was ousted by a populace that rallied, in part, thanks to technology. (Then it was radio, not Facebook or Twitter.) But a quarter-century later, with the son of people-power heroine Corazon Aquino now serving as President, the Philippines is still beset by the poverty, cronyism and nepotism that provoked the 1986 protests. (See a brief history of people power.)

These failings are not the Philippines' alone. Across Asia, elections are held, but vote buying taints the results. Politics is dominated by the same old families. Economic growth often rewards the few rather than the many. And from Malaysia and East Timor to Taiwan and Thailand, I have met local journalists who passed information on to me because they felt it was too dangerous to write about the issues themselves. Without the crucial check of a free press — or independent legislatures and courts, for that matter — democracy exists in name only.

Still, Asia also offers heartening lessons for the Arab world. There's South Korea, for instance, which overthrew a U.S.-backed military dictatorship, then carefully constructed a prosperous democracy. And then there's Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim-majority nation. In 1998, after 32 years in power, strongman Suharto was forced out by massive street protests. Since then, change in Indonesia has occurred not in one cataclysmic jolt but instead through years of brick-by-brick nation building. That may not sound sexy, but it works. Indonesia has now peacefully cycled through several secular-minded leaders, and its civil society is flourishing. The country's problems are still immense: graft and poverty persist, as does sectarian conflict. But Egypt could do a lot worse than to follow the model of this moderate, Muslim-majority democracy

Riaz Haq said...

“Democracy in India is only top-dressing on an Indian soil which is essentially undemocratic.”

—B.R. Ambedkar, the framer of the Indian constitution, in 1949, in "Thus Spoke Ambedkar, Vol. 1: A Stake in the Nation"

Read more at Countercurrents.org

http://www.countercurrents.org/sagar280210.htm

vinayak said...

Being an India, its really difficult but we should accept the facts presented by Mr. Riaz. Democracy is the top dressing rest all is divided into caste, religion and what not nonsense. But I personally think that things are improving with more and more people recognizing the need of education. I have experienced this in the rural India. I conclude that after a decade India will defnetly not have these problems...Political system should though not be given the credit..