by Kurshid Alam (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 48, No. 3, Sha'ban, 1440)
India is in the middle of a noisy and violent election campaign. It goes through this ritual every five years. With 900 million eligible voters casting ballots for 545 seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house), India is dubbed the world’s “largest democracy.” The election process is spread over five weeks from April 11 to May 19 to accommodate all the voters.
The main contest is between two main parties and their allies: the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress Party. There are also a number of smaller parties, mostly regional in character, in the running. Regardless of who wins, India’s myriad problems will not go away. In fact, they are becoming more intractable.
On April 8, the ruling BJP unveiled its election manifesto. It is strong on jingoism — nationalism, security, and scrapping Article 35A that prohibits non-Kashmiris from acquiring property in the troubled state whose people do not wish to be part of India. For nationalism, read Hindu fascism, and “security” is a buzzword for whipping up war hysteria against Pakistan. Narendra Modi cut his political teeth in the Nazi outfit, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), that leads the cow vigilante campaign as well as lynching of Muslims.
The opposition Congress Party has zeroed in on Modi’s failure to deliver on his 2014 election promise to create 10 million jobs a year. With a million people entering the workforce each year, unemployment is “at its highest since the 1970s,” according to an official report that the Modi regime buried, as reported by Agence France Presse (AFP) on April 7. The French news agency further reported, “last year a staggering 19 million people applied for 63,000 positions at Indian Railways.”
If periodic or even regular elections could solve a country’s problems, India would by now be problem free. The reality, however, is very different. One does not have to rely on the opposition parties to know that Modi’s BJP-led regime has failed to solve most of the country’s problems. Things are simply not working out in the world’s largest toilet bowl.
Speaking of toilets, in his 2014 election campaign, Modi had promised to build five million toilets in his first term (NDTV reported he had promised to build 100 million toilets in five years!). He failed to deliver on this promise as on many others. More people have joined the long queue — 597 million or 47% of India’s population — that have no access to toilets. They defecate in the open, often in the streets of main cities.
There are other troubling indicators that must be borne in mind despite India’s impressive economic growth and a GDP of $1.644 trillion. Unfortunately, the Western world is only interested in India’s 300-million strong middle class that it wants to sell goods to. Overlooked in this vulture capitalism is the plight of India’s poor.
According to soschildrensvillages.ca, “Two-thirds of the people in India live in poverty: 68.8% of the Indian population lives on less than $2 a day. Over 30% even have less than $1.25 per day available — they are considered extremely poor.”
The vast majority of the poor comprises women and children. Talking in percentage terms does not accurately reflect the enormity of the problem. With a total population of 1.2 billion, at least 852 million people live on $2 or less, mostly in rural areas. This is more than the total population of Europe and North America combined.
India’s urban growth has led to rapid migration of people from villages only to end up in urban slums. Urban centres like Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore, and Calcutta have sprawling shopping malls and high-rise office towers surrounded by mega-slums made up of millions of corrugated metal-sheets that serve as home to the rural destitute.
Lack of basic amenities — clean drinking water, garbage disposal, toilets, and in many cases electricity — are breeding grounds for diseases. Cholera, typhus, and dysentery are widespread. Again, the most severely affected are children and women. Infant mortality at 1.4 million children each year in India before their fifth birthday is one of the highest in the world. While it launches satellites into space, India is unable to take care of hundreds of millions of its citizens on earth.
Indian law prohibits child labour for those under the age of 14. According to official figures, 12.5 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are working. Aid agencies say this is grossly underestimated since 65 million children between 6 and 14 years do not go to school.
Poverty is the main reason, not only because they cannot afford to go to school — they can’t — but in order to be able to survive. Children are forced to work to contribute to family income. They work in the field, in factories, in quarries, in private households, and in prostitution.
According to UNICEF, about 25% of children in India have no access to education. The number of children excluded from school is higher among girls than boys. Both poverty and customs lead fathers, brothers, and husbands to oppress their daughters, sisters, and wives. All of them — male and female — in turn are oppressed and humiliated by upper-caste Hindus. Lack of education keeps the poor (mostly lower caste) in poverty because they cannot find suitable employment forcing them into permanent bondage.
Like Hollywood in the US, Bollywood has also done a remarkable job of painting a rosy but false picture of India. This is most clearly visible in the mistreatment of girls and women in every strata of society.
India’s rape statistics offer a glimpse into this grim reality. There are at least 110 reported cases of rape every day in India. The actual figure is much higher because many girls and women do not report rape in order not to besmirch “family honor.”
In the British daily, the Guardian of July 2, 2018, titled “India is the most dangerous country for women. It must face reality,” Deepa Narayan wrote, “…National Crime Records Bureau statistics for 2012 to 2016 show that approximately 40% of female reported rape victims were minors and 95% knew the rapist. The rapists belonged to the ‘circle of trust’ of extended family and friends. Young girls have nowhere to go”. The Washington Post was no less scathing in its criticism of Indian rape crimes when it wrote (June 17, 2018), “India ranked world’s most dangerous place for women…” .
With the bulk of its population residing in rural areas, farmers are the mainstay of India’s economy. Yet, their plight leaves much to be desired. Each year, 14–15,000 farmers commit suicide because they cannot meet their debt obligations. They are the victims of loan sharks acting at the behest of big banks or wealthy landlords who are members of upper castes. In the country as a whole, nearly 135,000 people commit suicide each year.
The Hindu caste system, little more than religiously sanctioned apartheid, is a great insult to human dignity. Yet it is widespread in India and evokes little or no opprobrium from Western human rights crusaders.
There are 300 million Dalits in India. Previously called “Untouchables,” Dalits are not permitted to draw water from the same well or eat in the same plate as upper-caste Hindus. Doing so “pollutes” those instruments. And Dalits are required to clean the human excreta of hundreds of millions of Indians every day.
Such assaults on human dignity are not only allowed to pass but the Western world has no qualms about doing brisk business with such a repulsive state.