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1% Rich Own 4 Times Of What 73% Indians Do: Here’s A Solution For Our Gross Inequality

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People watch a street play by students against rising inequality in India.

The year 2019 was a year of global protests against inequality—from Chile to Lebanon to France, citizens came out on the streets to protest the rising power of the super-rich. Inequality this year has not been a fringe issue raised by radicals, but a mainstream issue of discourse in the corridors of power. Even mainstream economic institutions, not known for their radicalism like the IMF and World Bank, accept that it has gone out of control. Citizens the world over are again mobilizing this week as part of the Global Protest against Inequality. India is no exception.

The profound chasm between the rich and poor in India is not inevitable. It is the result of policy choices that successive governments have made in India. What governments have made can be unmade—if there is a will to change the prevailing reality.

India Has Five Problems Related To Inequality That Present Five Solutions:

Problem 1: Wealth is overwhelmingly concentrated in the hands of the elite.

While the previous year has been bad for India’s economy, its richest 1% held more than four-times the wealth held by 953 million people constituting the bottom 70% of its population. Some of this wealth needs to be redistributed to benefit the rest of India.

Solution: India needs to increase corporate taxation and introduce more targeted taxes on the super-rich (including inheritance tax and tax on dividends) to plough back India’s wealth for the benefit of India’s citizens. India’s corporate tax rate is moderate (34.61% compared to a global average of 23.62%). The effective corporate rate, however, considering exemptions, is only 26.87%. The wealth, thus generated, should provide more resources for public services and expand social protection.

Problem 2: The economic structure and labour policies are geared towards the rich.

The lion’s share of India’s workforce is in the unorganized sector, which is marked by inadequate regulation, low labour rights, low social security and lack of social protection that the formal sector enjoys. While the efforts like the recent Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan Yojana (voluntary pension scheme for the unorganized sector) are welcome, they do not go far enough.

While the rationalization of existing labour laws into four codes is appreciated, it is regrettable that the Industrial Relations Code Bill has been watered down to offer concessions to employers at the cost of workers’ welfare. Obscene gaps between the earnings of the rich and poor have opened up.

The lion’s share of India’s workforce is in the unorganized sector, which is marked by inadequate regulation, low labour rights, low social security and lack of social protection that the formal sector enjoys.

As the recent Oxfam India report suggests, it would take a female domestic worker 22,277 years to earn what a top CEO of a technology company makes in one year. With earnings pegged at ₹106 per second, a tech CEO would make more in 10 minutes than what a domestic worker would make in one year.

Solution: Concrete state-driven efforts to place social protection mechanisms, enforce living wage for all for workers (of government and corporations alike), stop labour abuses and protect the rights of workers to organize are needed. Voluntary welfare schemes like the scheme above for the unorganized sector need to be converted into legal provisions, whereby the state pays the premium for poor, unorganized workers and provides a social security net for all. Regressive provisions under the proposed Industrial Labour codes need to be reversed.

Problem 3: India is not doing enough to invest in the development of its human capital.

The quality of India’s public education system is poor, resulting in millions of citizens who either drop out of school or finish it without the skills needed to take on the jobs this economy needs. At the same time, poor healthcare means an excessively high disease burden in India and the risk of catastrophic expenses in the event of critical illness. Inequality in education creates inequalities in that knowledge that then last a lifetime.

Solution: The government needs to implement universal, free, quality and equitable public services like health and education as a right for all. Government spending on education and health needs to be enhanced to meet global benchmarks of 6% and 3.5% of GDP. Doing so would improve the government schools and health facilities—providing one of the most basic prerequisites for ensuring that everyone, and not just the rich, have access to public services of the highest quality. Strengthening regulation of private providers in health and education and their enforcement is critical to prevent overcharging and other abuses in these sectors.

Problem 4: India’s marginalized communities remain discriminated against, and the implementation of affirmative action provisions remains poor.

Discrimination against India’s traditionally marginalized communities: persons with disabilities, Dalits, Adivasis, religious minorities, transgender communities, has persisted.

Solution: India needs to put in place an umbrella anti-discriminatory legislation to address prejudice, discrimination and social exclusion of all forms, including based on caste, class, gender, religious or tribal status and disability. It should ensure effective implementation of affirmative policies already in place for Persons with Disabilities, SCs, STs, and minorities to address historical injustices against historically marginalized communities. The implementation of the Persons with Disabilities Act, in particular, needs to be strengthened.

Problem 5: Women continue to be discriminated against in India.

Women and girls put in 3.26 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day—a contribution to the Indian economy of at least ₹19 lakh crores a year.

Estimated 239,000 girls under the age of five die in India each year due to neglect linked to gender discrimination. A gender gap remains in most development indicators. This is despite the fact that women and girls’ labour makes a significant contribution to India’s economy. Women and girls put in 3.26 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day—a contribution to the Indian economy of at least ₹19 lakh crores a year, which is 20 times the entire education budget of India in 2019.

Solution 5: The government needs to take steps to correct the gender imbalance in key sectors that hold power in Indian society (like police, judiciary and legislature), address the gender wage gap in all sectors and invest in the care economy to enable women to enter paid labour.

None of this is possible without making governance more inclusive and providing more meaningful space for the involvement of civil society and citizens at large in decision making. This week, the Fight Inequality Alliance’s Global Protest against inequality provides space for youth, informal workers, children, women and men across the country to come together to demand action for a more equal and fair world.

Featured image only for representation. Source: Flickr.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)’.

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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.”

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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

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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.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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