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The Indian Economy: From Independence To The Pandemic

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At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history when we step out from the old to new when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.

~An excerpt from Jawaharlal Nehru’s Tryst With Destiny speech, August 15, 1947

This 15th of August, India celebrates its 75th independence day marking 75 years of freedom, democracy, and development. Through the years since 1947, India has shown significant progress in spheres of social, cultural, political, and economic conditions, transforming it into one of the fastest developing nations and has emerged as a major global player. 

Historically, India was the world’s largest economy with extensive trade connections spread across the world. During the 1700s, India produced nearly 30% of global industrial output. According to economic historians Immanuel Wallerstein, Irfan Habib, Percival Spear, and Ashok Desai, per-capita agricultural output in 17th-century Mughal India was higher than in 17th-century Europe and early 20th-century British India. 

In the latter of the 18th century, the Mughal Empire declined and India went through a phase of deindustrialization and British rule further worsened the situation. There was almost no industrial production during the British Raj as raw materials and agricultural produce were shipped to Europe, converted into final products, and eventually sold in Indian markets. In 1820, India’s GDP was 16% of global GDP which slipped down to 14% in 1870 and to merely 4% in 1947. 

On 15th August 1947, India became an independent nation. Independence came with dreams of economic, social, and political prosperity and left leaders, economists, and politicians with the arduous task of accelerating economic growth. India was engulfed in abject poverty at the time of Independence. Less than a sixth of Indians were literate, there were stark social differences, health conditions were poor and most people were unemployed. These factors caused obstacles in an already difficult task of transforming the Indian economy.  

India’s History Of Economic Reforms Since Independence 

India’s economic plan gave prime importance to the public sector which had the authority over private enterprises. The Planning Commission was set up in 1950 for the ideation, allocation, and implementation of five-year plans. The first five-year plan was implemented in 1951 which focused on the growth of the agriculture sector. It turned out successful, showing economic growth of 3.6% annually. The focus was now shifted towards industrialization with the second five-year plan and industrial policy resolution. This paved the way for industrial development and license raj.

Representational Image. Demonetization was the biggest change in the Indian economy under the BJP.

But the quest for rapid industrialization required reallocation of funds from the agricultural sector to the industrial sector, resulting in a shortage of food, inflation, and depleting foreign exchange reserves. This led to the realization of the importance of private enterprise and foreign investment. Gandhi nationalized 14 private banks in 1969 to accelerate agricultural lending which increased farm credits. Under Indira Gandhi, the Indian rupee was devalued by a sharp 56%. It was done to tackle the balance of payments but it resulted in increased inflation. India reached the International Monetary Fund for loans and it had to open its economy and end license raj which resulted in mushrooming of various industries and plenty of choices for consumers.

The Modi Government brought many modifications to the Indian economy, the most notable being the demonetization of 2016. India went through an overnight demonetization wherein 500 and 1000 rupee notes were declared invalid from midnight of 8 November 2016. This was done to curb the flow of black money in the economy. PM Modi also implemented the goods and services tax which clubbed various indirect and central taxes into one. This removed tax barriers between states and ensured a common market. Many such economic reforms and policies have been implemented through the years to strengthen the economy. 

Impacts Of Economic Reforms 

The impact of these reforms is remarkable and can be comprehended with the help of several economic indicators such as growth, literacy, income levels, etc. 

Since 1947, India has achieved tremendous progress in growth despite an increase in population and inflation. India’s GDP has increased from Rs 2,939 billion during 1950-51 to Rs 1,40,776 billion (2011-12 constant prices) in 2018-2019. Similarly, the average Indian citizen earned an income of just around Rs 7,513 during 1950-51 which increased to Rs 92,565 during 2018-19 (2011-12 constant prices). The agricultural sector is an integral part of the Indian economy and more than half of India’s population depends on it for livelihood. The Green Revolution of the 1960s acted as a game-changer, significantly increasing productivity and surplus production. The net production of foodgrains in India increased from around 48 million tonnes during the 50s to a massive 241 million tonnes during 2017. India is also the leading producer of rice, wheat, various fruits and vegetables, and milk.

Liberalization, globalization, and privatization of the Indian industrial sector as a result of the new economic policy of 1991, opened new doors for diverse market development and foreign investment. Where earlier there were only three automobile companies, today there are numerous firms in the automotive industry including international companies. Many startups, unicorns have mushroomed and India’s IT skills are known all over the world. The service sector consisting of travel, tourism, trade, and hospitality has also flourished at a staggering amount of Rs 24,711 billion in 2018-19 from Rs 308 billion during 1950-51. The civil aviation industry, national roads and highways, and power sector has also shown extraordinary growth and development.  

Human Development Index indicators play a crucial role in measuring a country’s development. India’s literacy rate has increased from 18.3% during the 1950s to 74% in 2018. Access to safe drinking water has also increased from 18.3% during the 1950s to 91.4% during 2011. Due to advancements in medical technology and infrastructure, India’s health conditions have improved. The infant mortality rate at the time of Independence was as high as 509 deaths per 1000 births. It has come down to 30 deaths per 1000 births. The number of enrolments in schools and colleges has also risen significantly. 

These developments and reforms have today made India the fifth-largest economy in the world when it was one of the poorest countries at the beginning of the 20th century. Considering the growth rate of the Indian economy, it has been forecasted to jump to the third position by 2031. Many more economic reforms and revolutions will come about as India seeks to become a five trillion-dollar economy. 

Feature image is for representational purposes only.

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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.

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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.

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 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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