The title of this write up is borrowed from an address by Nobel Laurite Abhijit Banerji to the students of Ahmedabad University in Gujarat on 11th December from the US during the University’s 11th Convocation. He said People in India are in “extreme pain” and the economy is still below the 2019 levels, with “small aspirations” of people becoming even smaller now. He added, “We don’t know how much below, but it is substantially below.”
The people of India are in extreme pain not only because the economy is below the 2019 levels but mainly because of the blunders, failures and lapses in governance and the atrocities committed by the right wing groups on the minorities and deprived sections of the society. Unfortunately, large sections of people are anesthetized with the drug of religion and ethnicity and as a result they are not aware of their pain and do not search for the causes of the pain.
The recently published two reports by the government agencies National Family Health Survey (NFHS) and Niti Aayog’s first Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) and two reports published by international agencies expose the nature, the magnitude and the causes for the pain of the people of India. The two reports by the international agencies are the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021 prepared jointly by Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide and German organization Welt Hunger Hilfe and the World Inequality Report authored by Lucas Chancel and coordinated by several experts including French economist Thomas Piketty.
The four reports cumulatively present an overall dismal picture of India: 1) increasing hunger in India in spite of the country’s granaries overflowing with grains; 2) alarming rise in economic inequalities; 3) rise in poverty; and 4) worsening health condition of people as reflected in rampant anaemia among women and growing malnutrition among children.
According to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021, India has slipped from 94th position to 101st position among 116 countries for which the report is prepared. In 2020, India was ranked 94th out of 107 countries. This year’s report shows that India is in the “alarming” category along with its neighbours Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Only 15 countries fared worse than India this year. The GHI score is calculated based on four indicators: undernourishment, child wasting, child stunting and child mortality.
As per the World Inequality Report, the top 1% of India’s population earned more than one fifth (21.7%) of the country’s total national income in 2021, while the bottom 50% received just 13.31% of the income. Regarding wealth distribution, the report says that the top 1% and 10% of the population owns respectively 33% and 65% of the country’s total wealth whereas the bottom 50% owns a meagre 5.9%.
Two worrying aspects revealed through the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) are malnutrition among the children and anaemia among women. Over 35% of children less than five years of age are stunted. The figure for wasted children is 19.3%. Every third Indian child is still undernourished. 57% women in the age group of 15and 49 were anaemic in 2019-21.
The findings of the report published by Niti Aayog are very much linked to the issues highlighted in the NFHS 5. According to the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) report published by Niti Aayog, 25.01% of the Indian population are multi-dimensionally poor. The MPI is based on three equally weighted dimensions: health, education, and standard of living. They in turn are represented by 12 indicators such as nutrition, school attendance, years of schooling, drinking water, sanitation, housing, bank accounts, among others.
The report reveals that Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are the poorest states in India. As per the index, 51.91 per cent population of Bihar is poor, followed by 42.16% in Jharkhand, 37.79% in Uttar Pradesh and 36.65 in Madhya Pradesh. Kerala is the state with the lowest percentage of population being multi-dimensionally poor at 0.71%, with nine out of its 14 districts having a poverty ratio of less than 1%.
Political parties, irrespective of those who are in power, have always a tendency to play down or even deny the issues of hunger, poverty, unemployment, bad education, lack of healthcare facilities etc. Even when multilateral and international organizations expose governance deficits through research studies, the governments are often in a denial mode and they even find fault with the methodology adopted by these organizations. The BJP government at the centre has questioned the methodology adopted in calculating the Global Hunger Index and refused to accept the findings regarding India.
The BJP came to power at the centre in 2014 promising good governance. But what actually happened during the last 7 years was a series of blunders on the governance front like demonetization, unplanned implementation of GST, declaring nationwide lockdown with eight hours notice that resulted in migrant labourers’ tragedy and utter failure in dealing with the second wave of Covid 19. In order to hide its failures, the Modi government resorted to the shortcut of focusing on divisive issues and passed controversial laws like abrogation of Articles 370 and 31A, Citizenship Amendment Act and the three farm laws which the government was forced to repeal because of the stiff resistance by the farmers through their non-violent struggle for more than one year.
The opposition parties have failed to transform the pain of the people into a movement against the misrule of the BJP. On the contrary, they are fighting alone against the BJP, and pulling each other’s leg. Mamata Banerji of the Trinamool Congress is involved in a game of dividing the opposition votes by entering into the states in which it has no presence. The Aam Aadmi Party of Arvind Kejriwal is also involved in the same destructive game.
At the same time, the BJP with the support of the Sangh Parivar continues its divisive strategy to polarize the Hindus. The phenomenal rise in the attacks on Christians and Christian institutions in the BJP-ruled states on the issue of conversion is part of its strategy to polarize the Hindu votes in the forthcoming Assembly elections and the parliamentary election in 2024.
Another strategy is refocusing on religious issues to divert the attention of people from the issues of bread and butter. The inauguration of phase 1 of the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor constructed at a cost of Rs. 339 crores with a lot of fanfare by the Prime Minister on 13th December is part of this strategy. The whole government machinery was mobilized for a religious event in a secular country and it was converted into a political event. A conscious attempt was made to weave the Hindutva narrative with the thread of development.
The Prime Minister presented a paradigm of a combination of religious pride, infrastructural growth and welfare schemes. All BJP Chief Ministers were asked to offer prayers at the makeshift Ram Janma Bhoomi temple at Ayodhya on 15th December.
Hindutva as defined by the Sangh Parivar has become the fulcrum of politics and governance of the BJP today and there is no political force to contest this dangerous paradigm. As The Indian Express wrote in its editorial on 14th December, “the visual and spectacle that has accompanied its inauguration, the leading role of the PM, with BJP Chief Ministers in attendance, in the run-up to the UP election, also proclaims the remarkable success of a political project, led by one man”.
Against the backdrop of a kind of helplessness among the citizens who are concerned about the secular democracy of India, the successful non-violent struggle of farmers for more than a year should give hope and inspiration not only to the opposition political parties but also to the civil society. The power and strength of the farmers emerged from their sacrifice. As the freedom fighters of India, they were ready to undergo any suffering for their cause. Thousands of them were exposed to extreme cold and extreme heat. More than 700 farmers laid down their lives, hundreds of them got injured and thousands suffered financial loss. They proved that sacrifice is the core of Satyagraha.
Unfortunately, the political leaders of today are not ready for any sacrifice. On the contrary, they often resort to shortcuts like appealing to emotional issues, hate speech and buying MLAs and MPs. That is why the opposition political parties are not able to come together to fight against the BJP, even though they know the country is going to the dogs. They give priority to their egos and narrow political gains to saving the nation from the jaws of authoritarianism and majoritarianism.
The followers of Jesus cannot remain silent spectators when the people are in extreme pain; when draconian anti-conversion laws are being passed by the BJP-ruled states and violence is unleashed on Christians and their institutions by the Hindutva goons. Their silence will only embolden the right wing groups to unleash further violence. One fails to understand why the bishops in India are silent when the Archbishop of Bangalore alone is fighting against the proposed anti-conversion law.
Only the disciples of Jesus with people-oriented spirituality will be able to feel the pain of people and will be ready to struggle to lessen their pain. Those who follow cultic religiosity will be cowards and will not be able to feel the pain of people.