By Lata Jha:
I love Dominos for the joy it brings to my life. My tastes aren’t expensive, but I couldn’t be more grateful that I was born in an era where I have access to brands and chains I can indulge myself with every once in a while. And why just me, most of us wear only branded jeans and make sure we have only mineral water when we’re out. We’re also particular about basic stuff like deodorants, sun blocks and converse shoes.
India proudly ushered for itself the era of globalization in the early 1990s and hasn’t looked back since. The number of brands has grown, so has brand loyalty, and so has the need for such frills. Life has to be about being cool, hedonistic and extravagant.
While I definitely don’t have a problem with the image of ‘modern, bright, shining and progressive India’ that we’ve built (I am a part of the privileged society that likes to live well), I do not comply with the idea of this being the broad prism India is looked through. And the blatant focus on extravagance and commercialism as being ‘us’ with the neglect of issues that should but don’t bother us enough.
India, as a country and economy, continues to face stern challenges. 25% of its population is still illiterate; only 15% of Indian students reach high school, and just 7% graduate. According to a report in The Economist in 2008, half of all ten year old rural children can’t read at basic level. To the best of my understanding, parents who cannot afford education for their children, or quality education for them, are definitely not saving up for pizzas or branded jeans.
Education, though of the many, is a fundamental problem for me. I can’t protest against the fact that reservation takes a lot of rights away from people like us, ‘privileged’ only for the sake of terminology. Knowing that there are kids, who’ve got absolutely no chances in life. These children, not otherwise different from us, are unaware of Facebook and the information revolution. Their lives have been nurtured under roofs of mud, where things like infrastructure and faculty are treated as jokes.
Stark poverty in India is a reality we have to live and deal with. Despite significant economic progress, a quarter of the nation’s population earns less than the government-specified poverty threshold of $0.40 per day. 27.5% of the population was living below the poverty line in 2004—2005.
Something that social scientists had predicted ages ago is coming true only today. India was not prepared to take on the world. We can’t even feed and educate our population, forget connecting them all on social networking sites.
While our urban areas may have seen a high growth rate, our rural areas still contribute to only one-third of the national income. The main reason for rural India’s poor performance in terms of income is our heavy and consistent dependence on agriculture, to sustain which, we have neither the means nor the expertise.
It would be absolutely unnecessary to go into detail about the many other problems we face, from infant mortality to farmers’ suicides. But the point is that all these issues boil down to one underlying obstacle that our policies have failed to overcome in all these years; the fact that a lot of people in our country are still struggling to make ends meet. Which is why, while modern India deserves all our praise and appreciation for the long way it has come, the India that is still at the roots deserves our attention much more.
The un-manifesto would therefore like the government that comes to power to give up its blatant advocacy and promotion of the India that is constituted only by a privileged few and use it as an example to encourage both extravagance and commercialism. We need you to go beyond a couple of visits to farmers’ homes in villages to be able to truly reach out. Comfort does not need appreciation for what it is, but deprivation definitely needs a hand up to reach where it can.
I’m not suggesting you discard your branded sunglasses. But try looking beyond the tints to realise that you or your kin do not really represent India. The farmer in the field probably doesn’t even have a cloth to shield himself from the sun.