Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Five Myths about Poverty in India!

Five Myths!
My career with NGOs spanned for five year and I learnt a lot during those. Some of the myths about underprivileged of India that I would like to negate are discussed in the following lines.

Myth #1- India is a poor country
It is not. Contrary to the belief, we are not a poor country, but there is a lot of skew ness in the distribution of wealth. This imbalance is not a result of a “bourgeois” rich and middle class conspiracy that my communist friends would like me to believe, but it is due to an acute system failure in areas where non-privileged population lives resulting into a situation where the poor don’t have basic amenities (health, education and employment) that enable them to avail the opportunities to grow. Government after government decides that these problems can be solved by allocating more money for these sections of the society, fooling the nation as they know fully well that this money gets pilfered in the way and gets back to them. Thus, more problems, more allocation of budget, more money for the netajis and bureaucrats. Unfortunately, communist politicians in this country are not different from the general lot of politicians who come to politics to serve themselves and not the country.

Myth #2: Getting more money is the answer to all the problems of India
Incorrect. Many of my friends who are doing well in their careers and are still compassionate for the poor of the country ask me about the ways they can contribute their money to help India get rid of the problems of poverty, ignorance and lack of basic amenities. To them, my message is- there is not dearth of money for the welfare of poor in India. There is, however, an acute shortage of political will to bring an end to these problems, a lack of character (integrity, honesty) in the implementing organizations in general.

Myth #3: There is nothing I can do as a well educated, ‘settled’ person- and to do something for the welfare of the country, I need to turn a monk- which of course I can’t!
False. India does not need your money, it needs you as an individual to come forward and help out. It is not necessary for you to turn a monk to do so. It is not necessary for you to leave that lucrative job and turn a full time NGO worker. The poor need you and your financial muscle to turn their luck They don’t want another ‘poor’ intellectual joining their ranks to exacerbate their existing problems. You can contribute by: voting religiously and asking others to vote too, volunteering part time for the good organizations, extend an helping hand to poor by teaching them and getting more like minded people to start working on a smaller scale rather than waiting for some miracle to happen on a big scale that would overnight solve all the problems of the country.

Myth #4: India is primarily an agriculture-based economy and multitudes can grow only when the agriculture grows
Incorrect. The agriculture sector in India today suffers with a number of problems- over employment, poor productivity, too much dependence on rains, lack of scientific attitude to count just a few of them. India needs industries and services sector to employ people from the rural and semi urban areas to help them come out of the vicious poverty that surrounds agriculture based communities today. No amount of government aid, loan waivers or promises are going to stop farmer suicides in Vidarbha unless there are alternative sources of employment in these areas (read- industries and services like rural BPOs and not sarkaari tamaashas –government sponsored eyewash like cottage industry, art and crafts etc).

Myth #5: Nothing can change this country-I am shifting to US, to hell with this country
Absolutely foolish thought. This country is in the state that is today because of us and not the vice-versa. It has got the super power potential and all the super-powers of the world know this (follow the international news for 2 weeks, and you would agree). If there is a problem, it is with us- as the people. We like to keep cribbing about the darkness rather than lighting a lamp. Running to US or some other countries would not solve your problem. You would remain a second class citizen no matter where you go and what you do. Moreover, the guilt of leaving the motherland in difficult times agonize you till your grave. Going abroad to work or for tourism is fine- it broadens one’s horizons but shifting your home entirely because you are afraid of tackling the problems at home is not only cowardly but also thankless.

Enough of Myths; now the Action points!
Like a character in Hindi Movie “Rang de Basanti” said- “Koi country great hota nahin hai, use great banana padta hai” (No country is great from the beginning- it has to be made great over a period of time). Couple of my suggestions as a NGO person about the action points with which you can contribute in improving the conditions of our country.

Action point#1: Take some action-no matter how small it is!
Volunteer as a teacher on Saturdays in the nearest NGO run school located in the slums. Sponsor a poor child’s health or education for one year.

Action point#2: Awaken your near and dear ones
Once you start working for a cause, no matter how small it is, discuss or send emails to all your near and dear ones- your brothers, sisters, parents, spouse, cousins, uncles and aunties, your close and distant friends, your colleagues- and try to get them thinking about these issues and eventually start working for some small cause.

Action point#3: Educate others about social issues
Write letters in the newspaper. The letters to editor are followed by other like minded people who are trying to read compatriots’ mind on the burning issues. They are also followed by the public grievances departments of the government. Spread awareness by writing in these spaces- but be careful not to write generalist or hateful messages that would be immediately banned from being published. You can also write your views in the online discussion boards.

Action point#4: Help Indians from other states, castes, creed and regions
Try to help people who are different from you. Regionalism is another big obstacle in growth of our country. When you help an Indian who is radically different from you, you make him/her a goodwill ambassador of India at large to his region/caste/creed.

Action point#5: Be optimistic
Don’t ever think that our country would remain the way it is for ever. All countries have had their share of problems that they have fought with and overcome – or are even struggling with today. Our country is no different. By keeping a positive outlook towards the solution of the problems and trying consciously to solve them, we can overcome today’s problem. Talking about our country in poor light not just brings your and others morale down it also stops us from taking any corrective action to overcome the present scenario.