Unequal India

India has two million gods, and worships them all. In religion all other countries are paupers; India is the only millionaire. – Mark Twain

First of all, I would like to explain why I write about India. I have never been there yet, but I feel so close to this country and society, for some reason I still haven’t found.

The truth is, I love India. I love everything about it, the good the bad and the ugly. I believe is the center of humanity in the sense that it holds the best and worst aspects of human life. India is spirituality, greatness and splendor, at the same time that is poverty, misery and unfairness. India has it all. I also believe that the most populated country in the world instead of being changed, should be understood. Although I will never give up on trying to help as many as possible, particularly children.

India is the land of diversity. The seventh largest and the second most populous country in the world, with a rising population of 1.355 billion, is also the largest Democracy.

There isn’t one way to describe India. Politically speaking, it is a Federal Parliamentary Democratic Republic, in which the President is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government (The commonwealth, 2018). In 1947 India gained independence after nearly 200 years of British colonization. The British left in only 73 days, leaving the subcontinent divided in three parts: Pakistan on the West, the large Indian territory in the center and East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, to the East. From the three, India has experienced the biggest economic growth. Partially due to the arrangements after independence, which benefitted this country the most.

There are many aspects that make Indian society unequal.

An important element of the Indian society and particularly relevant for the study of inequality is the well known caste-system. This is one of the world’s oldest social stratification forms. The system divides Hindus into rigid hierarchical groups based on their karma (work) and dharma (the Hindi word for religion, but here it means duty) is generally accepted to be more than 3,000 years old. The system divides the society between: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. At the top of the hierarchy were the Brahmins who were mainly teachers and intellectuals and are believed to have come from Brahma’s head. Then came the Kshatriyas, or the warriors and rulers, supposedly from his arms. The third slot went to the Vaishyas, or the traders, who were created from his thighs. At the bottom of the heap were the Shudras, who came from Brahma’s feet and did all the menial jobs. The main castes were further divided into about 3,000 castes and 25,000 sub-castes, each based on their specific occupation. Even lower, and indeed outside of the Hindu caste system were the Dalits (or the untouchables).

Since 1950 India’s constitution banned discrimination on the basis of caste, and, in an attempt to correct historical injustices and provide opportunities to the traditionally disadvantaged, the authorities announced quotas in government jobs and educational institutions for scheduled castes and tribes, the lowest in the caste hierarchy (BBC, 2017). Nonetheless, this cultural aspect still rooted in modern times.

Nowadays Democracy, in addition to an increased liberalization of the market, have opened the doors for India’s economic growth in the last decades. It currently has a GDP of 2.597 trillion USD (2017) growing at a rate of 7.6% (World Bank, 2018). Nonetheless the gap between rich and poor is one of the widest in the world. The World Bank GINI index which measures the extent to which the distribution of income among individuals within an economy, was reported to be 35.1 in India in 2011 (World Bank Development Indicators, 2011). Population living in slums in India was reported at 24% in 2014 (World Bank 2014). Poverty gap at national poverty line in India was reported at 4% in 2011. Income share held by highest 10% in India was reported at 29.8% in 2011. The percentage of population living on $2 a day (PPP) was 57.96 % in 2011 (World Bank, 2011).

As Amartya Sen puts it: “far from over since India, after two decades of rapid growth, is still one of the poorest countries in the world”.

Therefore… Can democracy solve deep rooted development issues outside the Western world? In other words, can democracy’s “size” fits all? Can the Western conception of democracy ‘effectively’ address inequality issues in the culturally and historically diverse Global South? The puzzle is why a country that is thriving economically and technologically, continues having an extremely unequal wealth distribution, and what is the role and responsibility of the central government in managing the huge gap between rich and poor.

I argue that democracy and economic growth don’t translate into improved life quality in societies where inequality is culturally deeply rooted, and a stronger role of the state in income distribution is needed. Despite the expansion of democracies worldwide and the extraordinary economic growth of the last decades economic inequality is a constant in political life and one of the biggest problems in the modern world, where the global population is rapidly expanding but resources are constantly diminishing as a consequence.  In India where the vast masses of the people are poor and often socially disadvantaged, a relatively small minority holds much of the power, (Bardhan, 1984).

 

India is itself an extremely economical, political and cultural heterogenous state, giving room to comparative levels of inequality.  The importance of this topic is centered on our new reality, of an ever-changing world, no longer formed by states divided by boundaries, but by a heterogenous global society, diverse and unequal as India.

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