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India
Untouched
The Forgotten Face of Rural Poverty

Abraham M. George

THE WRITERS’

COLLECTIVE

Independent Books for Independent Readers

India Untouched: The Forgotten Face of Rural Poverty
©2005 Abraham M. George
©2004 New York Times. Op-Ed Column by Thomas Friedman, used in the Foreword by permission of the copyright holder.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except brief extracts for the purpose of review, without the permission of the publisher and copyright owner.

Cover Design by Barbara Hodge
Book Design by Day to Day Enterprises
ISBN: 1-59411-122-7
Library of Congress Control Number: 2004095498
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Published by The Writers’ Collective  Cranston, Rhode Island

To
Mariam, Ajit, Vivek, Ammachi and Achachan
for everything you are to me.

CONTENTS
Foreword

xi

Preface

xv

Acknowledgements
Chapter 1

A Long-Awaited Journey

1

Chapter 2

Getting to Know India

15

Chapter 3

The Literate Children of Rural India

37

Chapter 4

A Promise of Hope

57

Chapter 5

Beyond Prosperity for a Few

79

Chapter 6

Forever Left Behind

115

Chapter 7

Holy Cows, Untouchables,
and Non-believers

139

Chapter 8

Unequal and Powerless

171

Chapter 9

Beyond Redemption?
Disease and Health Care in Rural India

187

Chapter 10 Unconventional Possibilities

213

Chapter 11 The Intangibles

227

Chapter 12 In Search of Moral and Ethical Conduct

271

Chapter 13 Global Perspectives and Perceptions

299

End Notes

311

Bibliography

329

Index

333

About the Author

348

FOREWORD

I

ndia recently had a stunning election, with incumbents across the country thrown out, largely by rural voters. Rural Indians, who make up the country’s majority, clearly told the cities and the government that they were not happy with the direction of events. I think I can explain what happened, but first I have to tell you about this wild typing race I recently had with an eight-year-old Indian girl at a village school.

The Shanti Bhavan school sits on a once-scorpion-infested bluff about an hour’s drive - and ten centuries - from Bangalore, India’s Silicon Valley. The students are mostly “untouchables” (the lowest caste in India), who are not supposed to even get near Indians of a higher caste for fear they will pollute the air others breathe. The Shanti Bhavan school was started by Abraham George, one of those brainy Indians who made it big in high-tech America. He came back to India with a single mission: to start a privately financed boarding school that would take India’s most deprived children and prove that if you gave them access to the same technologies and education that have enabled other Indians to thrive in globalization, they could, too.

I visited Mr. George’s school last February, and he took me to a classroom where eight-year-olds were learning to use Microsoft Word and Excel. They were having a computer speed-typing lesson, so I challenged the fastest typist to a race. She left me in the dust - to the cheering delight of her classmates. And dust is an appropriate word, because a drought in this area of southern India has left dust everywhere.

“These kids - their parents are ragpickers, coolies and quarry laborers,” the school’s principal, Lalita Law, told me. “They come from homes below the poverty line, and from the lowest caste of untouchables, who are supposed to be fulfilling their destiny and left where they are, according to the unwritten laws of Indian society. We get these children at age four. They don’t know what it is to have a drink of clean water. They bathe in filthy gutter water - if they are lucky to have a gutter near where they live. Our goal is to give them a...
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