I really struggle with seeing the poverty in India, and I have posted before about my struggles with poverty, charity, apathy towards the poor and my observations of some of the middle class. I have come to the conclusion that here in India it is not in the interests of anyone with power or money to help anyone less fortunate than them.  In fact, I think its part of the core values in India to keep the poor down and do your best to step on anyone you can on the way up.

Keeping as many people down as possible is part of India’s grand growth strategy. There I have said it!  This article I read today really drove that home.

Whilst India is seen to be growing in wealth, none of the benefit is going into jobs for the poor.  According to the article, India needs 23 new jobs a minute and yet only creates 3. In desperation, the poor is migrating from agriculture to urban centres, but all that is growing are the slums and poverty. The majority of Indians rely on agriculture, but agriculture is contributing less and less to the country’s GDP, so people leave it to look for money elsewhere. But there are no jobs for them.

Yet at the same time, according to this article about 95% of Indians has wealth of less than $10,000 per annum, yet the number of millionnaires in India is expected to grow by over 50% in the next 4 years.  On a per capita basis, wealth per adult in India has grown from $2,000 to $5,300 between 2000 and 2011, but I am sure that the growth is due to a small proportion of the population not the masses, confirmed by the President  who has said growth is being driven by increased per capita income and the growing middle class.

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

There haven’t been any significant changes in quality of life for the poor. According to WaterAid, 63 out of every 1,000 children die before the age of 5 due to preventable diseases like diarrhoea.  Only 30% of the population has access to a toilet, let alone clean drinking water.  This is mind boggling and heartbreaking, and it feels so incredibly hopeless to me. These are huge issues, and ones that will stop the poor from ever making it out of a cycle of poverty, because daily life isn’t about trying to find a way out, it is simply just about surviving.

Sitting in my own little world, I see some sad things.  I watch people argue with their local vegetable seller over Rs5 (less than 10 cents) and hear those who are better off complain about how their maids are ripping them off.  Keeping people poor means that they can continue to live a more comfortable life.  After all, if salaries increased then one may not be able to afford a maid, a driver, a nanny, a cook and a runner.  How on earth would one survive without all their staff?  Who would do all the unpalatable work if it suddenly cost more and less people were desperate to do it?

Even the government doesn’t want to recognise the problems.  After all the planning commission claims that anyone who has Rs28 a day (about 50 cents) is not in poverty. Yes for Rs28 I can buy a kilo of carrots and potatoes so I can eat. Alternatively I can buy 2 litres of clean water to make sure I don’t hydrate myself to death. Or I can buy half a litre of milk. I can’t afford shelter or anything else for that matter. I would sincerely like to see the people that come up with these figures survive on rs28 per day for a month and see how healthy and rich they feel at the end of it.

This makes me so sad and frustrated.

So what do I do about it? I can’t change 1.3 billion people, but I can influence my little corner of the world.  So in my contribution to a more equitable growth strategy for India, I try to treat those around me who may not have as much with respect. Whilst I don’t allow myself to be blatantly ripped off, I don’t tend to bargain for my vegetables every day unless the price is ridiculous. I pay my maid an amount that reflects the value she provides to my life. I let my auto-rickshaw drivers keep the change.  I thank my lucky stars every day for what I am fortunate to have. I personally fight against myself every day to ensure that I don’t change my values and become a different person whilst living here.

This is my contribution to India’s growth strategy.  What is yours?

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16 thoughts on “Keeping the Poor Down: India’s Growth Strategy

  • January 17, 2018 at 9:27 pm
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    I have to agree with Jili, there are way too many generalizations in this article. I have so many people who have spent time, money and energy in educating the poor. It’s just that the middle class in India have their own battles to fight and may not be as comfortable or secure to help the poor.

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  • February 27, 2013 at 9:07 pm
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    The poverty level was higher. They actually lowered it last year to make the country not looks as bad on statistics. At one point it was 64 rupees a day. Still nowhere near enough to survive. Even in a joint family home with 4 men working that would only equal 252 rupees a day. That’s better but not nearly enough.

    I never bargained when I lived there. I supported our local stores whenever possible and did what I could as well. Some of my efforts were met with resistance. I was told at one point you can’t do anything nice for people there because they won’t understand it or will take advantage of it, etc. That came true once. I gifted the maid some western foods and she had no idea how to use them. But barring that incident, I see no reason you can’t treat people with respect at any social level.

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    • February 28, 2013 at 4:03 am
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      Oh the politics of trying to pick a poverty level is so sad. Manipulating statistics doesn’t get any closer to helping the people who live in poverty. It really is a sad state of affairs.

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  • February 20, 2013 at 12:01 pm
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    Although its naive, but still to an extent i do agree with your actions of treating the poor well with dignity & respect etc, but if everyone stops bargaining with the vegetable vendor or the auto guy, the average standard of living goes up i.e. the inflation levels and which puts a risk to an entire section of the newly formed lower middle class to be pushed back into poverty.

    The problem, i feel, with your theory is that of whether one should give a fish to a poor man or should teach him to fish. I believe teaching him how to fish will solve the problem. So next time, don’t over pay your maid, but instead go with her and pay her kids school fees.

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    • February 20, 2013 at 12:07 pm
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      I do agree with you that it is better to teach someone to fish rather than just give it to them. I don’t believe my maid is overpaid, but I know she uses her salary to pay her kids fees. Regardless I don’t think it is my place to tell another person how to distribute their income, but yes perhaps I can consider contributing more towards her children’s education.

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  • February 20, 2013 at 5:14 am
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    Rakhee please be aware of the sweeping generalizations in your article. To someone who has been here for ten years and has a better understanding the complexity around poverty in India – it is obvious that you speak from a very narrow view of the situation. You have to understand the impact of scarcity, the consequences of post colonialism and the British Raj, religious beliefs and the attitude towards suffering and many many other factors. That being said, it is good to get a fresh perspective, however naive… but it becomes dangerous when others with the same limited exposure make judgments about an entire country and its people based on those generalizations.

    Yes there is a percentage of people who horde wealth and benefit from keeping people in poverty. Those part of certain political parties and the various networks and middle men connected to them. However, you cannot equate that to the common mans general apathy towards poverty. Arguing over five rupees is not an example of India Keeping the Poor Down. If you are talking about the new middle class in India, remember that severe poverty is a recent memory for many of them. Their struggles and sacrifices to save every rupee were often, to put a child in university or send one abroad to earn and support the family back at home.

    Scarcity is ingrained in the Indian mentality…whereas the American world view (I’m American) is one of surplus. Its easy for us (expats from wealthy developed countries) to sit and judge the actions of others and even easier to pay a few rupees more to make ourselves feel like saints. If someone really wants to support the poor here they should volunteer to teach English in a slum school or sponsor a child’s education. As for me, I will fight with every rickshaw driver that tries to cheat me. I will pay my maid a fair price by Indian standards and treat her with dignity and respect. I will look a begging child in the eyes, acknowledge her humanity and give her a packet of parle ji biscuits – as will many of my Indian friends.

    The rich get richer and the poor get poorer – everywhere in the world. This is not an Indian phenomenon. Please be careful with your words, because “sitting from your own little world” judging an entire country of 1.3 billion is not only just POOR judgment, but also irritatingly arrogant.

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    • February 20, 2013 at 5:24 am
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      Thanks for your insight. I appreciate that I am relatively new here, and I am just trying to make sense of the world I live in. My intention is not to be arrogant, but just comment on my observations, but I take on board your comments.

      I come from a more socialist country, where we have social welfare and that frames a lot of my perspective. Yes the rich get richer and the poor get poorer everywhere, but the extremes here in India are afar wider than they are in Australia, which is my point of reference.

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      • February 20, 2013 at 8:16 am
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        I understand what you mean by point of reference. That reference point creates a huge impact on how we view and judge others. In my work as an intercultural coach – we talk about the importance of removing our own cultural “lens” in order to have a more unbiased view of the other. If I look at the behavior of an Indian through my American lens – I tend to jump to conclusions very quickly about his or her actions, based on my own value system and beliefs. I lived in Melbourne for two years (2005-2007) and it was a cultural experience as well, as there are different value systems at play. So keep observing and exploring. Just remember to try and think outside one’s own cultural paradigms (reference points) that way one can get a deeper understanding of what is happening around you.

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        • February 20, 2013 at 8:39 am
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          Your work on intercultural coaching sounds very interesting. I would be interested in learning more about it, is there somewhere I can read up more?

          Reply
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  • February 19, 2013 at 5:49 pm
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    Poverty is a very complex problem at many levels.Take elections. We need honest leaders, not the corrupt ones we have now. Why we have corrupt leaders is because in India the people who vote are the ones from lower class who are hardly educated. Their voting style depends on whatever short term benefit is promised to them. So politicians often take them for a ride and in the long run they end up getting nothing. Even the people who are directly representing these classes get corrupt once they are in more powerful roles in the government.
    In a way you are right about the apathy of higher classes (both middle and rich) towards the poor and generally everything else. If they were concerned , they would get out and vote for who they felt is addressing important issues.
    Also you must have noticed that people rally against criminal issues or the rising fuel prices most of the time. There was a great cry about the Lokpal Bill in 2011 but no one talks about the reforms in election system. There is no talk of strengthening the basics.

    Bargaining and stuff depends on individuals. I don’t think you should generalize there. And if you are thinking of doing something good for your maid or driver, why don’t you, if possible, sponsor their children’s education or buy their books or teach them or something. It would go a long way in changing their lives. Letting them keep the change is peanuts.

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    • February 20, 2013 at 3:42 am
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      Thanks for your ideas, you have given me more to think about in how I can change my corner of the world.

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  • February 19, 2013 at 4:38 pm
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    Nice article, Rakhee. My wife and I keep discussing this all the time. Unless you are directly involved in an organization it is very difficult to find one which is not siphoning off funds. We had been contributing $ to an organization thinking that our donations were being used towards child welfare. Years later we come to know that we were wrong (after a report came out in the news).

    So now our family tends to give directly to the people we know – instead of writing a check to CRY or equivalent and feeling good about it, we make sure that we help the folks who work for the family. Could be in the form of buying warm clothes for winter, picking up the medical tab when their family member is unwell, pay for the kid’s education etc, paying reasonable wages (which always causes an issue for the neighbors) … This might not give the satisfaction of thinking that you are contributing to a larger cause, but you know that you have made the lives of a few families better and continue to make it better.

    But the above approach will not solve the bigger problem … there is a huge % of folks who will never benefit from the above approach. But I feel that it is at least improving the lives of 3-4 families till we can figure out a better way.

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    • February 19, 2013 at 5:12 pm
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      Yes like you I have no answers for the big problem, but if I can make a change in my small corner of the world I will.

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  • February 19, 2013 at 11:20 am
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    Hey girl, bold take on a topic! But … I have many wealthy friends (and a few with some real power) who work hard to enrich the lives of others. They do it through their own philanthropic ventures or thru basic contributions. Maybe if you had said the government or big industry it would be more palatable but ‘anyone with money or power’ refers to some of my friends who are lovely, generous people.

    And the housekeepers stealing …. my 1st housekeeper did and I dealt with it while it was just food for a few months but then it was one of my favourite headbands (that she returned after I confronted her) and then Rs. 2,000 I fired her instantly. Instead of bitching about their maids they should just replace them.

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    • February 19, 2013 at 11:29 am
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      Yes I was generalising, but the it certainly feels like the majority to me. I am happy to hear that there are some great people who are doing their bit to help those less fortunate.

      I didn’t mention stealing, and no I do not condone anyone stealing from anyone.

      Reply

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