Since 1947, India has been celebrating Independence Day to rejoice in her freedom from imperialism. Its essence is also to recall how much suffering people had undergone during the British rule.We all are now ready to celebrate 65 years of Indian Independence, which is obviously a good day to sing patriotic songs, listen to dignitaries’ speeches and feel passionate about our motherland. However, we tend to forget the basic introspection required that where are we heading, as an Indian and as a Nation? “The Tryst with destiny “ speech of Pt. Nehru at the dawn of Independence reminds us of the will and courage of the freedom fighters who laid their lives happily for mother India. We are also reminded of the new responsibility that comes our way where every citizen of the country has to contribute to the best of his or her abilities in the service of Mother India. While there are many reasons to celebrate 65 years of India's independence, there are good reasons to introspect as well. The primary cause for concern is the dichotomy that has rendered our nation into two unequal worlds. Only a small number of people have access to the majority of resources while the larger part of our country, with its teeming millions struggle even for one square meal a day.
Many people take pride in the fact that the Indian economy has been growing at rates between 7% - 9 % in the past few years. In fact, some people even argue that improvement of the country's Human Development Index (HDI) is a testimony to India's progress (0.406 in 1975 to 0.547 in 2011). References are also made to the rising FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) and Forex (Foreign Exchange) reserves where everyone is busy counting millions of dollars that are infused into Indian economy by outsiders.
These trends, however positive, are accompanied by a paradox-the ever-looming spectre of the 'other' India of urban poverty and rural inequities that refuses to go away. A shocking 30%-35% of India's total population still lives below the poverty line who cannot even manage three meals a day, which die of malnutrition and for whom everyday is a new struggle, the struggle to survive.
An overwhelming 836 million people in India live on a per capita consumption of less than Rs 20 a day, according to the findings of the Arjun Sengupta report on the Conditions of Work and Promotion of Livelihood in the Unorganised Sector. The report is based on government data for the period between 1993-94 and 2004-05. These are disturbing statistics and in many ways a serious indictment of the effectiveness of our policies and the efforts so far.
According to Census 2011, a huge proportion of the population (68 %) is based in rural areas of the country, where agriculture is the primary source of livelihood. Barring a couple of years (2005-06), the performance and growth of agriculture has by and large been rather indifferent and continues to be so. Even when agriculture performs, the benefits accrue to the larger and better off (corporate) farmers and not the small/marginal farmers. That several farmers and low-income people have committed suicide in the last few years (at least 17,368 Indian farmers killed themselves in 2009) tells us that the causes of these problems are not short-term, but they are due to serious structural weaknesses in the system of livelihood of low-income people that requires urgent and systematic attention. The limitations on increasing production and productivity in agriculture are forcing people to migrate to urban areas.
An NSSO survey revealed (a few years ago) that nearly 40% of farmers claimed that they would like to quit farming if they had the option to do so. Unfortunately, there is little option for them, except moving into urban slums. This results in increased population pressure in urban areas as well as larger numbers of urban poor.
Infrastructure in urban areas is simply not enough to...