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India’s Inequality Story: Where 63 Billionaires Are Wealthier Than The Union Budget

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Nelson Mandela once said, “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.

With inequality growing at a rapid pace, the divide between the rich and the poor is also increasing. This makes it crucial to address this problem at the local, national, and global levels. Over the years, policymakers, academics, and various organisations have been striving to address this wide gap and draw attention to the growing importance of the subject.

India’s top 1% of the population holds 42.5% of national wealth while the bottom 50%, the majority of the population, owns a mere 2.8% of the national wealth. Representational image.

With the top 1% population of India holding 42.5% of its total wealth, it is of vital importance that the dialogue about inequality be solidified in the world’s largest democracy.

The Global Scenario

The Global Wealth Report, 2019, published by Credit Suisse shows that financial stature at the very top is rapidly increasing while millions are forced to live their lives in acute poverty. While aggregate global wealth rose by $9.1 trillion to $360.6 trillion, a 2.6% increase over 2018, the bottom half of the world’s population collectively owned less than 1% of total wealth as of mid-2019.

The top 10% is estimated to own 82% of global wealth, with the top 1% owning 45%.

According to the report, and assuming that there is no change in wealth inequality, 670 billionaires are likely to emerge over the next five years, bringing the number around a staggering 2,450. A shocking yet interesting fact the report puts forth is that the number of billionaires has almost doubled with a new billionaire created every two days, since the global financial crisis.

India’s top 10% of the population holds 74.3% of the total national wealth. Representational image.

This perpetual inequality, when seen from a macroeconomic viewpoint, has negative implications, disrupting economic stability and inclusive growth. With this persistent inequality, decision-making abilities are restricted to a few, leading to much greater social impacts. It also compromises positive measures taken, like poverty reduction mechanisms, and consolidates inequalities between males and females on multiple aspects such as health, education, and employment opportunities.

According to the Inclusive Development Index by the Davos World Economic Forum, India ranks 62 out of the 74 emerging economies. It lags behind its neighbors Nepal (22), Bangladesh (34) and Sri Lanka (40). The same report estimates that 6 out of 10 Indians live on less than $3.20 per day.

With the Gini coefficient, which serves as the most commonly used measure of inequality, rising to 83.2% in 2019 from 81.2% in 2008, wealth gaps in India have widened alarmingly. Over the last year, India added 416,000 dollar-millionaires, with the current estimates of dollar-millionaires in the country reaching to about 7,59,000.

The number of ultra-high net-worth individuals – those possessing fortunes worth $50 million or more – is estimated at 4,460, with 1,790 of these having a net worth greater than $100 million. Both numbers have risen by 1,060 and 290, respectively. According to Forbes, India had 106 billionaires in 2019.

Over the last year, India’s total wealth increased by $ 625.5 billion (approx. ₹4,42,5900 crore). An increase of 46% was registered in the wealth of the top 1% population in the country while the bottom 50% saw an increase of just 3%.

The Indian Billionaires

The numbers speak for themselves. India’s top 10% of the population holds 74.3% of the total national wealth. The contrast is even sharper for the top 1%.

India’s top 1% of the population holds 42.5% of national wealth while the bottom 50%, the majority of the population, owns a mere 2.8% of the national wealth.

In other words, the top 1% hold more than 4 times the amount of wealth held by 953 million people (or the bottom 70% of the population). The bottom 90% holds 25.7% of national wealth. The wealth of the top 9 billionaires is equivalent to the wealth of the bottom 50% of the population.

It would take a female domestic worker 22,277 years to earn what the CEO of India’s top tech company makes in a year. Representational image.

To unwrap this number, consider this – it would take a female domestic worker 22,277 years to earn what the CEO of India’s top tech company makes in a year. With earnings pegged at ₹106 per second, the CEO would make more in 10 minutes than what the domestic worker would make in a year.

This gap between the rich and poor is not uniform and the distribution of wealth among groups is not just exclusive to their gender, religion, caste, etc. but also is heavily dependent on their location, i.e. urban and rural.

And, to give some more perspective, the total wealth of the top 63 billionaires is higher than the Union Budget of 2018-19. 

Further analysis of billionaire-wealth shows that there are 15 billionaires from the consumer goods industry, and more than 10 billionaires from the pharmaceutical industry in 2019 – a rarity among developing countries. In terms of the gender balance among Indian billionaires, there are only five women billionaires in the Forbes 2019 list, i.e. just 4.7% of Indian billionaires.

Gender Inequality

This inequality is widely visible along gender lines. India continues to rank poorly in the Global Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum. According to the report, India ranks a low 112 out of 153 countries; faring poorly on three out of the four measured segments, i.e., educational attainment (112), participation and opportunity (149), and health and survival (150).

Gender Equality is not only a means of achieving a healthier financial growth rate but also is a means to achieve a much wider set of sustainable development goals. Representational image.

Moreover, due to the discriminating wage-gap that exists between men and women, households with women as the primary breadwinners are seen to perform poorly. In most cases, women are paid considerably lower for the same work done.

While it has been established historically that the transfer of women’s work from household to commercial employment is among the most notable features of economic development, India’s Female Labour Force Participation Rate (FLFPR) at 23.3% is extremely disappointing.

World Bank data shows that India is only ahead of nine countries in its FLFPR – Egypt, Morocco, Somalia, Iran, Algeria, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

The more disturbing bit is the fact that the female labour force participation has been reducing since 2004-05; the numbers are especially stark for rural women – from 49.4% in 2004-05 to 24.6% in 2017-18. Then there is the quality of work that women are involved in, with textile-based vocations and house cleaning being the two most common professions among working women in urban settings.

In the rural scenario, more than 70% of women are engaged in agriculture activities of some sort, implicating that non-agricultural jobs are hard to find which, is a massive policy failure.

Representational image.

The labor force of any country is the most important aspect of its human resource potential. Data shows that only 31% of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher are part of the labour force in the country, while around 25% of the same were unemployed and currently in the process of seeking employment.

Due to the vast levels of discrimination, wage inequality and lack of decent work opportunities, many educated women in the country are ultimately forced to drop out of the labour force.

Among the states, Bihar ranks lowest among Indian states with an FLFPR of 4.1% while Meghalaya (51.2%), Chhattisgarh (49.3%), Sikkim (43.9%), and Andhra Pradesh (42.5%) recorded the highest rates of women’s workforce participation.

Studies establish the fact that an increased female labour force participation is associated with higher per capita GDP. According to the World Economic Forum estimates, an increase in female labour force participation could pump the Indian GDP by almost 27%.

Gender Equality is not only a means of achieving a healthier financial growth rate but also is a means to achieve a much wider set of sustainable development goals including but not limited to reduction of poverty, end of marginalisation, and more. Gender equal labour markets would not also serve as a boost for greater decision making, not only in employment settings, but also in their households.

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About the author: Shivam Pal is a guest writer at Oxfam India.

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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.

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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

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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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