Can you live on 32 Rupees a day?

According to a 2005 World Bank estimate, 41.6% of the total Indian population falls below the international poverty line of US$ 1.25 a day (PPP, in nominal terms INR 21.6 a day in urban areas and INR 14.3 in rural areas). A recent report by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) states that 8 Indian states have more poor than 26 poorest African nations combined which totals to more than 410 million poor in the poorest African countries.The Planning Commission of India has accepted the Tendulkar Committee report which says that 37% of people in India live below the poverty line(BPL).The Arjun Sengupta Report (from National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganised Sector) states that 77% of Indians live on less than INR 20 a day (about $0.50 per day). The N.C. Saxena Committee report states that 50% of Indians live below the poverty line.

The question though is not just about the number of people below the poverty line, but also the fact that India sets it poverty line, based solely on the ability to purchase a diet of 2400 KCal/day. It does not take into account housing or other such needs. Not only is it debatable, whether such a diet can be purchased with Rs. 32 or Rs. 26, but also the basic definition of poverty line, for is it enough to have food in your belly? I question this because I see here a negation of the bigger problem. By not recognizing this problem fully, we are hiding our heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich. The only way that we can even begin to address the problem of poverty is to first recognize what poverty truly means. By lowering the poverty line and using it to measure only what one needs to have food, we do not become a ‘rich’ nation. We are still poor, because the growth and development that we are proud of has only been able to reach a few, and for the many, its still a question os getting those Rs. 32 or 26 a day.

This post is prompted by an article in the Hindu this morning that I saw many of my friends react to online. Its interesting that it takes two young men from privileged backgrounds, trying to live like the “common man” and their inability or difficulty in doing so, for us to recognize the fallacy of expecting a majority of our populace to live with Rs. 32 or Rs. 26/ day. In my opinion, this situation of apathy stems in part from the India Shining campaign. The campaign itself was, may be a decade too late, but it definitely made us look beyond the obvious failures of the system. Being under the colonial rule for a 300 some years, had made us apologetic about our nation, the poverty, the caste system etc, the campaign gave us hope, and optimism. It made us proud to be Indian, however it also made us ignore the still very visible need to work together as a nation, for the betterment of the majority. Amartya Sen, in an article in Outlook a few months ago, deals with this very dichotomy, he asks “who’s growth is it anyway?”. Its not that we haven’t made progress, it also not that we should not be proud of that progress, but we mustn’t forget that there is a lot of work still to be done.

The question that we must ask ourselves as we go on with out daily lives is whether any one of us, could live with only $1.25/day, whether here in the US or in India? And if the answer is no, then I ask you, how are we expecting so many others to?

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