“Poverty is humiliation, the sense of being dependent on them, and of being forced to accept rudeness, insults, and indifference when we seek help.” —Latvia 1998
In the simplest term, poverty may be defined as a social condition where individuals do not have financial means to meet the most basic standards of life that is acceptable by the society. Individuals experiencing poverty do not have the means to pay for basic needs of daily life like food, clothes and shelter.
Poverty also staves people off from accessing much needed social tools of well-being like education and health requirements. The direct consequences stemming from this problem are hunger, malnutrition and susceptibility to diseases which have been identified as major problems across the world. It impacts individuals in a socio-psychological way with them not being able to afford simple recreational activities and getting progressively marginalized in the society.
The term poverty is interconnected with the notion of the poverty line/ threshold that may be defined as the minimum figure of income that is required in a particular country for maintaining the socially acceptable quality of life in terms of nutritional, clothing and sheltering needs. The World Bank has updated its international poverty line figures to 1.90 USD (Rs. 123.5) per day on October 2015 (based on prices of commodities in year 2011-2012), from 1.5 USD(Rs. 81) as a response to the changes in the cost of living across the world as per current economy. The organization estimates that – “Just over 900 million people globally lived under this line in 2012 (based on the latest available data), and we project that in 2015, just over 700 million are living in extreme poverty.”
Poverty is a worldwide cause of concern even in economically stable countries like the USA. Current statistics state that over half the populations in the world, about 3 billion people, are forced to live on less than 2.5 dollars per day. In India, as per 2014 government reports, monthly per capita consumption expenditure is Rs. 972 per person in rural areas and Rs. 1407 per person in urban areas. This data is currently being accepted as the poverty threshold of the country. As of 2015, 21.9% of the total population lives below the national poverty threshold, as per the data of Asian Development Bank, that’s a whopping 269.7 million individuals not having enough money.
Causes of Poverty in India
Factors contributing to the persistent problem of poverty in the country are many and they need to be identified in order to be addressed properly. They can be categorized under the following heads.
1. Demographic – the main factor that contributes to poverty-ridden state of the country from a demographical point of view is the problem of over population. The growth of population in the country has so far exceeded the growth in economy and the gross result is that the poverty figures have remained more or less consistent. In rural areas, size of the families is bigger and that translates into lowering the per capita income values and ultimately lowering of standard of living. Population growth spurt also leads to generation of unemployment and that means diluting out of wages for jobs further lowering income.
2. Economic –there are a host of economic reasons behind persistence of the poverty problems which are outlined hereunder:-
a. Poor Agricultural Infrastructure –Agriculture is the backbone of Indian economy. But outdated farming practices, lack of proper irrigation infrastructure and even lack of formal knowledge of crop handling has affected the productivity in this sector tremendously. As a consequence there is redundancy and sometimes complete lack of work leading to decreased wages that is insufficient for meeting daily needs of a labourer’s family plunging them into poverty.
b. Unequal distribution of assets – with the economy changing directions rapidly, the earning structure evolves differently in different economic income groups. Upper and middle income groups see a faster increase in earnings than lower income groups. Also assets like land, cattle as well as realty are distributed disproportionately among the population with certain people owning majority shares than other sectors of the society and their profits from these assets are also unequally distributed. In India it is said that 80% wealth in the country is controlled by just 20% of the population.
c. Unemployment – another major economic factor that is causative of poverty in the country is the rising unemployment rate. Unemployment rates is high in India and according to a 2015 survey data, at the all-India level, 77% of families do not have a regular source of income.
d. Inflation and Price hike – the term Inflation may be defined as an increase in prices of commodities coinciding with the fall in the purchasing value of money. As a direct consequence of inflation, effective price of food, clothing items as well as real estate rises. The salaries and wages do not rise as much in keeping up with the inflated prices of commodities leading to effective decrease of the per capita income.
e. Faulty economic liberalization – the LPG (Liberalization-Privatization-Globalization) attempts initiated by the Indian Government in 1991 were directed towards making the economy more suited to international market-trends to invite foreign investments. Successful to certain extent in reviving the economy, the economic reforms had detrimental effects on increasing the wealth distribution scenario. Rich became richer, while the poor remained poor.
3. Social – The various social issues plaguing the country that contributes towards poverty are:-
a. Education and illiteracy – Education, rather its lack thereof and poverty form a vicious cycle that plagues the nation. Not having enough resources to feed their children, the poor consider education to be frivolous, preferring children to start contributing to the family’s income rather than draining them. On the other hand, lack of education and illiteracy prevent individuals from getting better paying jobs and they get stuck at jobs offering minimum wages. Improvement of quality of life gets hindered and the cycle once again comes into action.
b. Outdated Social Customs – Social customs like the caste system cause segregation and marginalization of certain sections of the society. Certain castes are considered untouchables still and are not employed by upper caste, leaving very specific and low paying jobs that they can live off. Economist K. V. Verghese put forth the problem in a very lucid language, “Caste system acted as a springboard for class exploitation with the result that the counterpart of the poverty of the many is the opulence of the few. The second is the cause of the first.”
c. Lack of skilled labour – lack of adequate vocational training makes the huge labour force available in India largely unskilled, which is unsuitable for offering maximum economic value. Lack of education, much less higher education, is also a contributing factor towards this.
d. Gender inequality–the weak status attached with women, deep-rooted social marginalization and long embedded perceptions of domesticity renders about 50% of the country’s population unable to work. As a result the women of the family add to the number of dependents that need to be fed instead of being able to contribute considerably in the family income which might assuage the poverty situation of the family.
e. Corruption – despite considerable efforts from the government in the forms of various schemes to mollify the poverty situation, allegedly only 30-35% actually reaches the beneficiaries due to wide-spread practices of corruption in the country. Wealthy people with privileged connection are able to acquire more wealth simply by bribing government officials to maximize their profits from such schemes while the poor remain in a state of neglect for not being able to assert such connections.
4. Individual – individual lack of efforts also contribute towards generating poverty. Some people are unwilling to work hard or even not willing to work altogether, leaving their families in the darkness of poverty. Personal demons like drinking and gambling also leads to draining of the family income inciting poverty.
5. Political – in India, socio-economic reform strategies has been largely directed by political interest and are implemented to serve a choice section of the society that is potentially a deciding factor in the elections. As a result, the issue is not addressed in its entirety leaving much scope of improvements.
6. Climatic – maximum portion of India experiences a tropical climate throughout the year that is not conducive to hard manual labour leading to lowering of productivity and the wages suffer consequently.
Effects of Poverty
The resounding effect of poverty echoes through various layers of an India citizen’s life. If we try to have a systematic look at them, we should proceed under the three following heads:-
1. Effect on Health – one of the most devastating effects that poverty has is on the overall health of the nation. The most prominent health issue stemming from poverty is malnutrition. The problem of malnutrition is widespread in all age-groups of the country but children are most adversely affected by this. Limited income in larger families leads to lack of access to sufficient nutritious food for their children. These children over time suffer from severe health problems like low body weight, mental, physical disabilities and a general poor state of immunity making them susceptible to diseases. Children from poor backgrounds are twice as susceptible to suffer from anemia, nutrient deficiencies, impaired vision, and even cardiac problems. Malnutrition is a gross contributor of infant mortality in the country and 38 out of every 1,000 babies born in India die before their first birthday. Malnutrition among adult also leads to poor health in adults that leaches their capacity for manual labour leading to a decrease in income due to weakness and diseases. Poverty also causes definite decline in the sanitary practices among poor who cannot afford proper bathrooms and disinfectants. As a result susceptibility to waterborne diseases peak among the poor. Lack of access to as well as means to procure appropriate treatment also affects overall mortality of the population which is lower in poor countries than developed nations like the USA.
2. Effects on Society – poverty exerts some gravely concerning effects over the overall societal health as well. These may be discussed along the following lines:-
a. Violence and crime rate – incidence of violence and crime have been found to be geographically coincident. In a backdrop of unemployment and marginalization, the poor resort to criminal activities to earn money. Coupled with lack of education and properly formed moral conscience, a poverty ridden society is more susceptible to violence by its people against its own people from a sense of deep-seated discontent and rage.
b. Homelessness – apart from a definite drop in the esthetic representation of the country, homelessness affects child health, women safety and overall increase in criminal tendencies.
c. Stress – lack of money is a major cause of stress among the middle-class and the poor and leads to decline in productivity of individuals.
d. Child labour – one of the hallmarks of a poverty-ridden society is the widespread practices of exploitation and the worst of it comes in the form of child labour. Large families fail to meet the monetary needs of the members and children as young as 5 years are made to start earning in order to contribute to the family income.
e. Terrorism – proclivity of youth towards terrorism stems from a combination of extreme poverty and lack of education making them susceptible to brainwashing. Terrorist organizations offer poverty-ridden families money in exchange for a member’s participation in their activities which induces a sense of accomplishment among the youth.
3. Effect on Economy –poverty is a direct index indicating success of the economy of the country. The number of people living under the poverty threshold indicates whether the economy is powerful enough to generate adequate jobs and amenities for its people. Schemes providing subsidies for the poor of the country again impose a drain on the economy.
The measures that should be taken to fight the demon of poverty in India are outlined below:-
1. Growth of population at the current rate should be checked by implementation of policies and awareness promoting birth control.
2. All efforts should be made to increase the employment opportunities in the country, either by inviting more foreign investments or by encouraging self-employment schemes.
3. Measures should be taken to bridge the immense gap that remains in distribution in wealth among different levels of the society.
4. Certain Indian states are more poverty stricken than others like Odhisha and the North East states. Government should seek to encourage investment in these states by offering special concessions on taxes.
5. Primary needs of people for attaining a satisfactory quality of life like food items, clean drinking water should be available more readily. Improvement of the Subsidy rates on commodities and Public Distribution system should be made. Free high school education and an increased number of functioning health centers should be provided by the government.
India is an ancient country and according to some estimates, Indian civilization is about five thousand years of age. Therefore, it is natural that its society will also be very old and complex. Throughout its long period of history, India has witnessed and received several waves of immigrants such as Aryans, Muslims etc. These people brought with themselves their own ethnic varieties and cultures and contributed to India’s diversity, richness and vitality.
Therefore, Indian society is a complex mix of diverse cultures, people, beliefs and languages which may have come from anywhere but now is a part of this vast country. This complexity and richness gives Indian society a unique appearance of a very vibrant and colorful cultural country.
Reasons of Social Problems:
But the very same complexity brings with itself complex nature of social problems and issues. In fact every society of the world has their social issues unique to their society. So does Indian society. Indian society is very rooted in religious beliefs; there are people of different religious beliefs such as Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis etc. These all adds to the socio-cultural varieties of the country. India’s social problems are also rooted in the religious practices and beliefs of it people. Almost all forms of social issues and problems find their origin in the religious and cultural practices of the people of India. These social problems are developed in a long period of times and are still continuing in one form or other.
Furthermore, India has witnessed several wars of large proportions; several foreign invaders attacked India in its long history among whom few made this country as their own and tried to force their socio-religious practices which also deteriorated social conditions; the long period of British rule crippled the country and had thrown it into backwardness. Thus, many such reasons may be cited for India’s social problems but the fact remains that we have these issues and only we can solve them.
Forms of Social Issues in India
Poverty is a condition in which a household is not able to fulfill its basic needs for survival i.e. food, clothing and shelter. Poverty is a widespread condition in India. Since Independence, poverty is a prevalent concern. It is the twenty-first century and poverty still is a persistent menace in the country. India happens to be country wherein the disparities between the haves and the have-notes are extremely wide. It needs to be taken into account that although the economy has shown some visible signs of progress in the last two decades, this progress been uneven across various sectors or areas. The growth rates are higher in Gujarat and Delhi as compared to Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Nearly half of the population doesn’t have proper shelter, access to a decent sanitation system, villages do not have a nearby water source, and villages also do not have a secondary school and lack of proper roads. Some sections of the society like the Dalits are not even included in the poverty list maintained by the concerned authorities assigned by the government. They’re groups that are marginalized in the society.
The element which further complicates and deteriorates the situation is the government subsidies system which has leakages in the distribution system. They never reach the households.
Illiteracy is a condition which becomes a blot on the development of nation. India possesses the largest illiterate population. Illiteracy in India is a problem which has complex dimensions attached to it. Illiteracy in India is more or less concerned with different forms of disparities that exist in the country. There are gender imbalances, income imbalances, state imbalances, caste imbalances, technological barriers which shape the literacy rates that exist in the country. The Indian government though has launched several schemes to combat the menace of illiteracy but due to the poor conditions of sanitation and expensive private education and defective mid-day meal schemes, illiteracy still prevails. Not only the government, but every literate person needs to accept the eradication of illiteracy as a personal goal. Each and every contribution by a literate person can make a contribution to eradicate the menace.
According to the United Nations report, India has the second highest number of child marriages. Marriage is considered to be a sacred union between two mature and consenting individuals who are ready to accept each other and share responsibilities for a lifetime. With respect to this context, child marriages happen to be an unsound institution. Child marriage mars the innocence of childhood. The Indian Constitution provides for prohibitions against child marriage through various laws and enactments. The first law that was designed was the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929 which extended to the whole of India except Jammu and Kashmir. This act defines the ages of an adult male and female. Also, sex with minors is a criminal offence under Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code. Proper media sensitization is required for a major change to take place. While on one hand, it is stated that child marriage will still take nearly fifty years to be eradicated, genuine efforts, strict enforcements of the legal provisions and change the scenarios to a great extent.
Starvation is a condition characterized by the deficiency in calorie energy intake and is a serious form of malnutrition which ultimately leads to death if not taken care about. Historically, starvation has been constant across various human cultures apart from India. Starvation can take place in a country due to many reasons like war, famine, the disparities between the rich and the poor and so on. Malnutrition conditions like kwashiorkor and marasmus can also develop into serious causes of starvation. Generally, the conditions of kwashiorkor and marasmus arise when people are taking diets which are not rich in nutrients (proteins, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats and fiber). In the context of India, it becomes needless to say that the food distribution system is flawed. The Supreme Court has issued orders over the past decades directing the government to take measures like mid-day meal schemes and the provision of health care schemes for pregnant and lactating women. The National Food Security Bill which has become a landmark act does seem to show promises with respect to its measures of the identification of the poor and the needy, redressal mechanisms for grievances and children’s entitlements. But, this bill also is not without its cons. Clear mechanisms with respect to the identification of beneficiaries have not been defined. The indicators of the poor need to be made specific. They are vague in description.
Child labour typically means the employment of children in any work with or without payment. Child labour is not only limited to India, it happens to be a global phenomenon. As far as India is concerned, the issue is a vicious one as children in India have historically been helping parents at their farms and other primitive activities. Over population, illiteracy, poverty, debt trap are some of the common causes which are instrumental in this issue. Overburdened, debt-trapped parents fail to understand the importance of a normal childhood under the pressures of their own troubles and thus it leads to the poor emotional and mental balance of a child’s brain which is not prepared to undertake rigorous field or domestic tasks. Multinational companies also recruit children in garment industries for more work and less pay which is absolutely unethical. Child labour as a global concern has been raised on international platforms as well. Abolition of child trafficking, elimination of poverty, free and compulsory education, and basic standards of living can reduce the problem to a great extent. The World Band, International Monetary Fund can help in eradicating poverty by providing loan to the developing countries. Strict implementation of labour laws is also essential in order to prevent exploitation by parties or multinational companies.
Homosexuality is still considered a ‘taboo’ in India. India today is one of the fastest developing nations with impressive economic growth rates. But is the growth rate enough to imply that India is a developing nation. A nation is also characterized by the way it treats its people. With respect to this prerogative, the way India looks at homosexuality is certainly not the way to look at it. Homosexuality is considered as a disease by most sections of the society and there are only a few sections of the society who welcome homosexuality. Homosexuality thus is also regarded as a criminal offence in India. Homosexuality is a ‘criminal offence’ under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code dating back to 1861 with punishments up to ten years which makes it all the more hard to believe that India is a progressive nation and that we are the 21st century inhabitants of the country. Although, this subject did see the light of the day when the Delhi High Court legalized gay sex among consenting adults holding that making it a criminal offence violates fundamental human rights way back in the year 2009 as a result of persuasive struggles carried out by Gay Rights activists and foundations.
In December 2013, the Supreme Court passed a controversial order making gay sex illegal quashing the Delhi High Court’s decision on the matter. In January 2014, the Supreme Court also refused to review the petition against its order on gay sex being criminalized. Needless to remark, the refusal drew flak internationally for violating fundamental rights. To sum up, homosexuality needs tolerance both by the country and its citizens. It is certainly not a disease hence it doesn’t require any treatment. According to my viewpoint, the organizations which have been instrumental with the emancipation of the LGBT community (Example- Naz Foundation) should continue with their protests because slowly but surely people are changing their perceptions towards this subject.
Other varied forms of social problems related to issues such as Casteism, Untouchability, Bonded Labour, Gender Inequality, Dowry, DomesticViolence against Women, Sexual Violence against Women, Child Sexual Abuse, Communalism, Religious Violence, Issues related to SC/STs, Marital Rape, Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace, Child Trafficking etc.
The list may go on and it is not a comprehensive list. There are several other social issues and problems ailing the country but above mentioned ones are really pressing issues which need immediate attention.
It is not so that social ills have not been fought with; in fact from the ancients times in our country there have been various social-cultural reformers such as Budha, Mahavira, Kabir, Gurunanak, Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Ambedkar, Vinoba Bhave etc who have tried to fight those evils throughout their lives; they have succeeded also to a certain extent. But still the country is facing these socio-cultural problems in various degrees which is an unfortunate reality of 21st century India.
We try to present our country as a modern, forward looking nation of the world and it’s true that India is making strides in the world as a nation with encouraging developments in scientific, economic and technological fields, but as far as social developments are concerned it is still one of the lowest ranked countries of the world. India’s Human Development Index (HDI) rank for 2013 is 135 out of 187 countries of the world which are listed in the report. This shows the sorry state of affairs as far as India’s situation on social indicators is concerned. This also shows that we as a society are still people of orthodox beliefs in a negative sense who do not want to believe in the concept of equality and brotherhood of all.
Though several Governmental and non-governmental (NGOs) bodies are working towards improving the existing situation in the social fields but results are not very encouraging. Perhaps the problem lies in the very deep rooted beliefs in the minds of people of the country which is not letting the situation to change. For instance: the issue of Female Feticides is one of the shameful practices in our country. Though there are various prohibitory measures the Government and NGOs have taken but the practice is continuing. The real reason for this is the Patriarchy system of society of our country which considers male as the superior authority and women as subordinate to them. Therefore, very strong desire of having a male child in comparison to female child led to the shameful practice of female feticides. Thus, it is belief system or the cultural conditioning of the people which is not letting the society to change at a fast pace.
Though there have been several positive changes in the society such as now girls are also going to school in vast majority and their employment ratio is also increasing; illiteracy as whole is decreasing; conditions of SC/STs are also improving etc but situation is far from satisfactory.
We witness inequality against women in our own homes, sexual violence against women can be heard on daily basis, female feticide is continuing, religious-communal violence is on the rise, untouchabilty is still a reality, child labor is widely practiced etc.
Therefore, there is a lot needs to be done for the situation to improve. And without changing the mind set and beliefs of the people it is a very difficult task. For this purpose educating people about various social problems and sensitizing them towards changing their way of thinking is the best way forward. Because without people trying to change themselves, any governmental or non-governmental efforts will prove as a half-measure. If we want to make India as a true world leader and a modern 21st country of the world, it is imperative that that we make an improvement on our social front.
In the next pages we will discuss some of the pressing and urgent social issues facing our country, their genesis, their outlook, efforts taken to fight them and present scenario etc.
Social Reformers of India