India not free 71 years on, rising inequality, unemployment to blame 

A family and a street dog sleep on a footpath in Kolkata 

Poverty, rising inequality, growing unemployment, rampant violence and atrocities continue to ravage India

Seventy-one years ago, when India got its Independence, rich or poor, male, female or transgenders, Dalit, Adivasi or the dominant caste, whether Hindu, Muslim or other minorities, millions envisioned ‘freedom’.

There were also voices of caution that political freedom for India without the social freedom from caste bondage experienced by Dalits, adivasis and women is in peril and under threat. It may not make a difference to the marginalised ‘depressed classes’ of India.

While this contradiction of the outcomes of ‘freedom’ exist and the debates continue, there is another twist to the deprivation and insecurity experienced by the Dalits, Adivasis and the minorities under the NDA government in the last four years.

It is therefore necessary to examine the facts and experiences facing these margilnalised communities in the last four years in the wider context of completing over seven decades of Independence.

Rising excIusion and inequalities

Let us examine five indicators – poverty, inequality, employment, violence and atrocities. Let us also examine five scenarios –protection and promotion of gender rights, abolition of untouchability and feeling of security faced by Scheduled castes and Scheduled Tribes, protection of minorities, budget credibility especially towards the most marginalised communities and strengthening the constitutional values.

India, today, is considered the fastest growing economy in the world and is the sixth largest economy of the world. However, this is on the back of a 1.3 billion population (17.7% of the global population), whose per capita income is low, and inequality is high. The average per capita GDP is about US$ 1,975 in March 2018. India is still home to the largest number of the poor in the world and the largest number of illiterates. Several parts of the country are below sub-Saharan Africa in the Human Development Indicators (HDI).

73% of the wealth in 2017 was cornered by the top 1% of the population 

Based on national data (68th round, NSSO 2011-12), the World Bank has calculated that one in every five Indian lives below poverty line. The neighboring country, China has substantially reduced the population living below US$1.25/person/day. All eyes are on India to achieve similar levels in order to reach the targets agreed on in SDGs.

But the picture gets more complex. Seven low income states, within India, with 45% of the national population holds 62% of the people below poverty line (BPL). 43% of the Scheduled Tribes and 29% of the Scheduled Castes are below BPL with 21% among the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and 12% among general/forward castes live under the poverty line.

The picture of multi-dimensional poverty and access to basic services show greater inequalities. Poor have lower access to basic services – 21% access to toilets (62% among non-poor), 61% electricity (compared to 85% among non-poor), 6% to tap water (compared to 33% among non-poor). Even in terms of strategic development opportunities, the poor fall far below; the poor spend 69% of their income on food, fuel and light; 6% on education and health, 25% on others. The non-poor spend 11% on education and health and 33% on others. Only 15% among the poor complete secondary school compared to 37% among the non-poor.

The unemployment rate continues to remain stagnant at 3.4% in 2017, with about 18 million unemployed people. The poverty problem is compounded by the increasing inequalities. Oxfam reported that 73% of the wealth created in India in 2017 was cornered by the top 1% of the population. 670 million Indians comprising the populations poorest half saw their wealth rise by just 1%.

Denial of budgetary resources to SCs, STs

The allocation of funds for SCs and STs in the last four years is yet another indicator of the government’s lack of will in the economic empowerment of the community. Violating the government’s own policy, there is denial of allocation of funds to the tune of over Rs.30,000 to 40,000 crores per year over the last 4 years. Even in the allocated amounts, the targeted schemes for SC and ST are less than 50% of the allocated funds each year. This denial and diverted funds directly affects the well-being of SC, ST communities, their education, housing and other civic amenities.

Atrocities and violence against SC, STs

Large scale violence against the Dalit community has become the new normal in the country and the government is the mute spectator of this violence. In several attacks by extremist Hindu groups over wide ranging issues like beef eating, inter-caste marriages, gross lynching of Dalits and Adivasis, the government has been unable to take any rapid legal action against the perpetrators.

These communities are forced to live with everyday fear of violence. The violence in Bhima Koregoan in January 2018 reflects government’s response to the show of Dalit identity and self-respect and mobilisation.

Government’s reluctance to take legal action against the perpetrators of violence on Dalits has also added to the environment of fear and violence. Cases of violence against women particularly Dalit women are increasing. The NCRB data 2016 reported 2541 cases of rape and 3172 cases of assault on Dalit women with intent to outrage her modesty. As per the NCRB rape of Dalit women has doubled

Bringing social justice to the forefront

As argued by Dr. BR Ambedkar, social freedom seems to have been sacrificed for the so-called political freedom. The ritual of electoral politics may not support the real values of democracy that the founding mothers and fathers have fought for.

We need to do all that is in our power to reverse this trend. There is a dire need to once again revisit and realise social justice and build a country ‘where the mind is without fear and the head is held high …’ And where the land is free of untouchability, atrocities and lynchings; Where poverty is history; Where the Constitutional values and the Rights emanating from them are held high…into that state of freedom, my Mother/Father, let my country awake.

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