by Khadijah Ali (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 9, Safar, 1439)
India-doting Western writers and officials seem to be blinded by the lure of its supposed economic progress. How realistic is this progress and why does India’s ugly face remain hidden from their view? True, the US is actively courting India to use it against China, the emerging global giant, but the hype about India’s economic progress is not borne out by facts.
Before analyzing India’s mythical economic miracle, let us first consider its social reality. It is a caste-ridden society in which religiously sanctioned apartheid and discrimination are widely practiced. In the caste pyramid, the Brahmans sit at the top while the Dalits (aka “Untouchables”) are consigned to the lowest rung.
There are more than 200 million Dalits who are humiliated on a daily basis and shunned like lepers. Since the majority of India’s 1.2 billion people are rural-based, they rely on water from wells. Dalits cannot draw water from the same well as “upper caste” Hindus; they cannot use the same utensils for food. They cannot even touch “upper caste” Hindus otherwise the latter would become “unclean.”
Dalits are also forced to do the dirtiest jobs that other castes refuse to handle. In India, more than 550 million people have no toilets; they defecate in the open. The majority of those that do have toilets in homes do not have a flush system. The toilet usually comprises two blocks on which people squat and defecate in-between. The job of cleaning this filth falls to the Dalits! They are also forced to skin dead cows that are sold to tanneries to make leather. Often, Hindu vigilantes attack and beat up Dalits accusing them of killing cows to make money. Muslims face a similar fate. They are accused of killing cows for meat consumption even though Hindu businessmen are the biggest exporters of beef.
“Untouchability’,” however, is set aside when “upper caste” Hindus rape Dalit girls and women. In Hinduism, women have traditionally been oppressed and discriminated against. It was only in December 1987 that the horrific practice of sati, a widow jumping on the funeral pyre of her dead husband to be burnt alive, was officially banned through an act of parliament.
The act, however, has done little to dissuade villagers from forcing widows to jump on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands (there is no such requirement for widowers!). The last reported case was in October 2008 when a 75-year-old widow in Chechar village of Chettisgarh state in central India burnt herself on the funeral pyre (https://www.theguardi an.com/world/2008/oct/14/india). The horrific practice of sati persists because relatives of the dead husband force the widow to commit self-immolation. Two factors seem to be at work; one, to take possession of the dead man’s property, and two, to not have to take care of a widow who is considered to bring bad luck!
The other horrible practice widespread in India is that of rape. Every year, this figure keeps climbing. In 2011, there were 24,206 reported rape cases in India. The figures for subsequent years are (https://www.thedailybeast.com/whats-really-behind-indias-rape-crisis; March 25, 2016):
a. 2012: 24,923;
b. 2013: 33,707;
c. 2014: 37,000.
“In India a woman is reportedly raped every 15 minutes, or four rapes/hour — multiply that by 24x7, 365 days a year. And keep in mind the majority of rape cases still go unreported. The statistics on crime against women are even worse: every two minutes, a woman in India is a victim of a crime” (thedailybeast, March 25, 2016). Regardless of academic analysis of the crisis, the fact is women in India face horrific mistreatment.
Economic disparities also play a major role. Caste discrimination has given rise to class discrimination. Again, women pay the price.
During the 2014 election campaign, Narendra Modi had promised to create 10 million jobs each year. Given that 12 million people enter the workforce annually, such job rate creation was widely if prematurely applauded. Like his promise to build 50 million toilets, his job-creation program has also become constipated. Senior members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as well as economists and commercial organizations have publicly raised the issue, much to the chagrin of Modi.
In his typically abrasive style, Modi has hit back at his critics ridiculing them as a “handful of people.” And he has tried to rubbish their concerns by saying they are painting a negative image of the economy based on the slowdown experienced during “just one financial quarter.” Modi claims the fuss is over a decline in growth to 5.7% in the last financial quarter.
Economists say that decline in the growth rate has been consistent over six quarters and not just a single quarter. In other words, the Indian economy has been declining for more than 18 months. Both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Reserve Bank of India have confirmed this. Are these institutions also among the “doomsayers” that Modi dismisses so nonchalantly?
Even the official claim that the growth rate declined to 5.7% is not accurate. Politicians in the region are notorious for cooking up statistics and Modi and his gang are no exception. But the manner in which he and his finance minister have tried to fudge facts forced senior BJP leader and former finance minister Yashwant Sinha to launch a scathing attack on the Modi regime’s economic policies, saying that the economy was headed for a downward spiral.
In an opinion piece for the Indian Express (September 27, 2017), Sinha took serious issue with the regime’s decisions on the economic front. “I shall be failing in my national duty if I did not speak up even now against the mess the finance minister [Arun Jaitley] has made of the economy,” wrote Sinha, adding that many within the BJP are aware of the situation, but fear speaking up.
Sinha identified two factors for India’s economic woes: demonetization and the Goods and Service Tax (GST). While the first proved to be an “unmitigated economic disaster,” the second (GST) was a “badly conceived and poorly implemented” havoc, according to Sinha.
The former finance minister also challenged the veracity of the 5.7% growth rate calling it “statistical fudge” by changing the methodology for calculating the GDP. The actual growth rate in the last quarter, according to Sinha, would be a mere 3.7% if the earlier method were used!
Far from being the miracle economy, Sinha says “Private investment has shrunk as never before in two decades, industrial production has all but collapsed, agriculture is in distress, construction industry, a big employer of the work force, is in the doldrums, exports have dwindled, sector after sector of the economy is in distress…” As a consequence, unemployment has soared in a population where the vast majority is under the age of 25.
Given India’s horrific social crimes against women and other oppressed people and less than sterling economic performance, why are so many Muslim governments rushing to make deals? Should social justice issues not take precedence over economic interests?