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6 Ways To Reduce India’s Rising Economic Inequality

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In 2016, on my way to Salem (Tamil Nadu), I decided to stop for breakfast from an ‘Amma canteen’ in Rasipuram town (Namakkal district). The food was hygienic, delicious and extremely cheap. I was very appreciative of such government initiatives until the matter of ‘choice’ started haunting me. Are such programmes where the government gets to decide a poor person’s menu sustainable in the long run? Why are we not able to equip him financially so that he can make choices for himself? At least the basic choices like food.

A recent UNDP report praised India for its momentous efforts to pull 271 million people out of poverty in just ten years. Before the echo of cheers dies down, let’s also take note of a recent Oxfam report that points to rising economic inequalities in India. It claims that the richest 1% accrued 73% of wealth generated in 2017. Worse still, it placed India among the last 15 in Oxfam World Inequality Index (commitment to reduce inequality). Now it’s time for us to introspect as to where we are lagging. What is going wrong with us? There are a few simplistic inferences that can be made from the studies mentioned above. First is that persons with ‘Investable capital’ have their way in wealth generation. Secondly, we have to come up with some imaginative ways to facilitate resource transfer from rich to poor. This is to say that we need structural adjustments in government policies, taxation and other resource mobilisation techniques.

Being democratic and socialistic shall go hand in hand to address the socioeconomic inequality in India. This is important because there are instances of peer countries like China and Russia attempting to bring about equality through coercive measures such as compulsory take over of resources by the state, payment of salaries in kind, collective farming and the like. A more heterogeneous Indian society would not be able to sustain the hostilities and struggles that such actions create. Therefore, the resource flow from rich to poor shall be a smooth affair in India. This article is an attempt to suggest some fresh initiatives which can potentially make our development journey more egalitarian.

1. Institutionalisation Of Voluntarism

Individuals who are willing to contribute by their own free will can be brought under one umbrella. This can be done in a decentralised manner at the local level such as panchayats, or it can also be hierarchical such as district, state and national level. With the sheer number of ‘well to do citizens’ in India, this initiative will enable significant resource mobilisation. It is to be kept in mind that the contributors will not enjoy any special privilege over the assets created other than goodwill from the community. This good Samaritan attitude shall be ingrained into the future generations as part of an essential national character. Appropriate mechanisms including all stakeholders such as elected representatives and contributors shall be in place to ensure transparency in selecting the work and allocation of money from the fund.

2. Revamping The Taxation: Taxing The Super-Rich

Since we are talking of resource sharing and mobilisation, their optimal utilisation and wastage need to be prevented as well. We can

  • Additionally tax people with more than one house, more than one car, hereditary assets etc.

In a predominantly agricultural country (nearly 49% workforce) even the rich farmers are excluded from taxation. When we read this along with the fact that the big farmers arrogate benefits of most of the farm subsidies in India, the distributional injustice becomes clearer. It is high time that India should go for more targeted agricultural policies. The Minimum Support Price (MSP), farm subsidies such as power subsidies, fertiliser subsidies, farm loan waivers etc. are to be only for the deserving vulnerable sections.

3. Revamping Government Schemes

As a test case for revamping government schemes, let us consider the MGNREGS. What can be done here is to make it partially government funded and partially private funded. Registered big farmers can be allowed to avail the labour from MGNREGS provided that they agree to pay for the minimum amount payable to a worker under MGNREGS. This will unburden the government of huge economic costs while availing cheap labour for the big farmers. The beauty is the fact that resource flow is facilitated in a systematised way without bondage and labour exploitation.

Changes can be brought in the reservation policies of the government to limit the availability of reservation either for job or education for a single individual, setting up of economic capacity as criteria and the sub-categorisation of beneficiary communities.

4. Addressing The Feminine Side Of Resource Flow

The World Bank says that women who earn – invest more in the next generation. The sad reality in India is that women own little resources in a traditionally patriarchal Indian society. For example, women own less than 2% of the farmland in India as per India Human Development Survey (IHDS). To reverse this trend, carefully chosen sectors such as labour-intensive food processing, apparel and cotton textiles can be given incentives such as tax rebates if women own the assets. Along with this, massive state investment in Self Help Groups (SHG) by making them a part of the governing structure such as government procurement etc. will help

5. The Culture Of Entrepreneurship And Skill Development

State universities where more than 90% of ‘India’s to-be graduates’ study are crunched of funds. For example, when this person I know studied B tech in 2011 from a government engineering college in Thiruvananthapuram the fee used to be 6400/year which more or less remains the same to this date. The same course in National Institute of Technology (NIT) Calicut offers it at 35000/year now. The point to make is that centrally funded institutions have more or less competent fee structure while also receiving central funds – which is not the case with state universities. We need a thorough overhaul in fee structure to enable ‘cross funding and subsidisation’  wherein poor students can be exempted from fee altogether, whereas well to do individuals share more burden. To identify who will benefit from fee exclusion, SECC (Socio-Economic Caste Census) data of 2011 can be used.

At least a 6-month internship with the industries shall be a compulsory part of the curriculum. It can be designed in such a way that the emphasis is both on acquiring skills as well as adapting to a dynamic technological environment where one needs to be a continuous learner. This internship can be considered as their final year project as well.

Once an entrepreneurial mindset is cultivated and initial capital support is given, more and more ideas will take real shapes. If we assume that at least 10% of them are successful, they will garner investments from people who have ‘investable capital’. Again smooth and peaceful flow of resources!

6. Community-Owned Assets

In sectors such as renewable energy, countries in Europe such as Denmark (Wind energy) and Germany (Solar energy) had come up with some replicable models where the assets are owned collectively by the community, the electricity is collectively sold and the profit collectively distributed. Since India has committed itself to a renewable energy path by declaring its Nationally Decided Contributions (NDCs) in Conference of Parties (COP-21) of United Nations Framework Convention On Climate Change (UNFCCC), decentralised models like these are to be embraced.

Gandhiji’s idea of ‘trusteeship’ is very famous. Though it may seem too idealistic to implement, the universalism and futuristic outlook in it requires applause from the present generation. He envisaged industrialists and businessmen to be mere custodians of the community’s assets. Though they are free to keep profit generated for reinvestment and sustenance of business, a part is to be given back to the society. A practical manifestation of the same principle can be seen in today’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), but the need of the hour is that profit-oriented mindset takes a backseat.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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