“Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it.”
“Poverty in India is widespread, with the nation estimated to have a third of the world’s poor. In 2010, the World Bank reported that 32.7% of the total Indian people fall below the international poverty line of US$ 1.25 per day (PPP) while 68.7% live on less than US$ 2 per day.” And, even more shocking, 96.9% live off of less than five dollars a day. “The latest UNICEF data shows that one in three malnourished children worldwide are found in India, whilst 42% of the nation’s children under five years of age are underweight.” The rich here are astonishingly rich, but unfortunately, the poor here are just as poor.
This difference, between the rich and the poor, the educated and the illiterate, is especially seen in and around big cities. For instance, where I stayed in Delhi (an area called the defense colony) is considered to be a very affluent part of town. The rent for the apartments there was 3,000$ a month, more than it would have been in downtown Manhattan or LA. Three minutes away though, there were children, without shoes or even clothes, begging for food. There were bike-rickshaw drivers who, after working all day pedaling people across town, were sleeping on the streets because they had no where else to go. And there was a river of sewage flowing through all of this because most people don’t even have a toilet. This, the absolutely astonishing contrast between rich and poor, is one of the reasons there is such extreme poverty here in India.
At the beginning of my stay here I read a book, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” (which I would highly recommend), that follows a few families living in Annawandi, a slum just outside the Mumbai airport. First off, what is a slum? By definition, it is “a heavily populated urban informal settlement characterized by substandard housing and squalor,” (a more simple definition is a “residential areas where dwellings are unfit for human habitation”) but for one in six city dwellers in India, it’s home. Around the Mumbai airport alone there are 90 thousand families who reside there. This particular slum was a bog until 1991, when after lots of hard work, a few of the first residence were able to move in. At the time the book was written, there were three thousand people packed in or on top of the 335 huts that made up Annawandi. Three of these three thousand people had formal jobs, the rest, like 85% of India, were part of the countries informal unorganized economy. One of the main boys this story follows is a young trash collector, who collects rubbish made of paper, plastic, and metal, and then sells it off. Abdul, this boy, made 500 rupees (eight dollars) a day in the very peak of his best season. By making that much, he was able to support his twelve siblings and parents, and still put away money for a small piece of land outside the city. In fact, he was making more than anyone else in the whole slum. Others were not so wealthy. They were forced to eat rats and frogs for dinner because that is what they could get their hands on. The children are all tiny, permanently stunted, and the dream many of the boys have is to someday get enough food to grow.
This story shows the corruption that takes place in India as well. In many of these slums there has been a push for education through different grants. Once a year someone comes by to make sure the school is running, and unfortunately, that is the only day of the year the children ever sit in that classroom. The money that is suppose to be going towards supplies and paying a teacher never makes it that far. It also shows of many times where innocent citizens were taken to jail, and were forced to pay their way out. Or how death certificates were often changed in situation where the cause of death was suspicious. These are just a few of the countless examples of the corruption that is ever present in these people’s lives. It is because of this corruption that the vicious cycle, that the poor will stay poor, and the rich will stay rich, is practically impossible to break.
Another aspect of life this book shows, something I have touched on as well, is how women are treated. Here is a quote that demonstrates the horrendous living conditions many Indian women face as the result of a male centric society. “Young girls in the slums died all the time under dubious circumstances, since most slum families couldn’t afford the sonograms that allowed wealthier families to dispose of their female liabilities before birth.” Women are a burden. They are the men’s servants. They have no rights of their own. A women who accepts a love note from a boy could be killed for shaming her family, just because she read the note. Women are abused and raped on a daily basis, and if punishment was to ensue, it would be the female being punished, not the man. There is no equality of men and women, and the women are forced, daily, to face the consequences.
India is at the center of inequality. The contrast between the rich and the poor, women and men, and the different social classes, is absolutely astounding. This contrast is one of the reasons India is the chaotic and unorganized place it is today.