New Internationalist


April 1981

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CULTURE[image, unknown] Country profile: India

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Map of Egypt

Leader: Prime Minister Indira Gandhi

Economy: GNP is $180 per person per year
Debt service payments overseas as % of exports: 9.4%
Main exports: engineering products including machinery have overtaken traditional exports such as cotton textiles, tea and jute
Rate of inflation (average 1970-78): 8.2%

People: 643.9 millions/town dwellers 22%
Health: Child death rate (1 -4) years: 18 per thousand (Sweden 1 per thousand)
Daily calorie availability: 91%
Access to clean water: 33%

Culture: Religion: Hindus 82%; Muslims 11%
Ethnic groups: Successive waves of invaders have obscured strict racial distinctions. Main ethnic strains are Caucasoid, Australoid, Mongoloid and Negroid.
Language: There are 225 main languages, including 15 official national languages. But English is only lingua franca shared by north and south.
Previous colonizing power: Britain Independence: 1947

Sources: Figures from World Development Report, World Bank 1980

0NLY India, whose riches of art, thought and sheer human potential boggle the imagination, could make the giant strides it has over the past few decades and remain a developmental tragedy.

The country still contains the largest single mass of human poverty in the world. Despite an annual agricultural growth rate of 2.6%, a doubling in recent years of gross domestic saving and investment, and an amazing drop in expenditure on basic imports, fully one-quarter of India's 650 million people suffer from severe malnutrition. Grain consumption, per person, is actually declining. But there is more food, per head, in the country than for many years. Bumper harvests have even allowed food aid to be sent to Vietnam. The food is there, but the poor can't afford to buy it.

Yet impressive anti-poverty and job creation policies are being implemented, some for many years now, by both state and central government. A recent business report on India even attributes the country's economic malfunctioning partly to 'the preoccupation of successive governments with a more equitable distribution of wealth'. This unwise (in the view of some businessmen) bias toward the poor costs dearly in rupees and involves millions of peasant families and millions of hectares of land in rehabilitation schemes. Such as:

• A state-run employment scheme in Maharashtra for the poorest which guarantees minimum wages for work in irrigation, afforestation and conservation.

• A small farmer development agency under which six million farmers with holdings under two hectares receive preferential loans.

• Operation Flood which is expected to reach 10 million families by 1985. High yield dairy cattle are provided and the milk bought at a guaranteed price by the government.

Economists believe these and other schemes could directly generate five million jobs annually - or almost the entire annual addition to the labour force. 'Eventually such programmes could cover the bulk of the poor' one expert states. But the mood is conditional. The massive social changes needed to permanently raise most Indians' lives above the poverty line are left unspoken.

Problems most often cited are managerial failure, a low rate of investment, and lack of effective politicization among the poor themselves. Many think that past policies have emphasized industrialization at the expense of rural development and the provision of cheap consumer goods. Industry has boomed but the growth it is supposed to generate has not yet been felt by the poor. Put another way, half the people of India still don't have enough money to eat properly, let alone join the ranks of the consumer society as their leaders hoped.

Penny Sanger

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Poorest 10% gets 2% of wealth; richest 10% gets 51%. Half households live on less than $100 per year.
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Self-sufficient in grain, with dramatic progress in import substitution.
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Privileged women hold many important posts. Constitution promises equality but girls still discriminated against in eduction.
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[image, unknown] A multiparty democratic republic, but Mrs. Gandhi has an authoritarian record.
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36% of adults are literate.

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Amnesty concerned about increasing number of arrests under preventive detention.

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At 51 years is poor. Health services to the poor are inadequate despite large number of doctors.

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Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 098 This feature was published in the April 1981 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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