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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

India Suffers 50 Years of Poverty and Ignorance


Rome Not Built in Day

In response to "India Suffers 50

Years of Poverty and Ignorance,"

Oct. 15.


How easy it is to say, "Don't look at them; keep your head down," referring to the poor on the crowded streets of India's capital, New Delhi. The author went to a department store, a sign of modernization, spent a few hours there and was back on the street in the middle of "them." And "they," obviously, could remind her of nothing but the failure of her country. But it should also be asked, what has the minor part of the population that constitutes the middle class done for the country?

Rome was not built in a day. India has made much progress in many fields yet still experiences wide divisions between rich and poor. Hopefully, as the middle class continues to spread -- and its growth is revealing -- income disparities will subside along with it.

Sonu Jhawer

Architect of India


We were amazed to read such retrogressive and willful views about India. This is not because the article depicted a grim picture of India. Rather, two months back, on the occasion of India's independence day, the paper had already expressed its views on the failures and achievements of post-independent India. And now, when everything has been said and done, this sudden outburst seems irrelevant.

Sujata Rao has accused Jawaharlal Nehru, the architect of modern India, of deliberately neglecting education for the sake of winning votes. Nehru inherited a socially heterogenous national movement from Gandhi. For him, the prime task was to find an ideology that would hold the various classes together. He believed that socialism would enable India to free itself from the shackles of a colonial economy. India adopted policies that protected the domestic market and maintained a large public sector as a corrective to the colonial suppression of the country's industrialization.

In today's globalized environment, foreign investment is seen as a panacea for the overall development of underdeveloped and developing countries. But from an Indian perspective, such voodoo economics are not accepted at face value because there is a whole set of social issues involved, ranging from balanced labor legalization and environmental protection to child labor and illiteracy.

Vinod Raturi and Anil Bhuwania

Proud Indian Nation


Strangely, it appears that the only Indians about whom The Moscow Times staff writes are the Cleveland ones, whose heroic exploits in the World Series have received much passionate attention in the daily. As for real Indians, proud descendants of an ancient civilization, very little is written about them.

Unlike the writer of the article, the vast majority of Indians, both at home and abroad, viewed India's 50th anniversary of independence as an occasion for hope in the future and pride in the country's democratic achievements. Hundreds of thousands of young Indians have migrated, some in search of work, others in search of higher education and some just exercising their right of travel. But there is a common thread that unites them all: Even though distant from their motherland, their feelings for it remain positive. If there are exceptions, they do not prove any rule.

All Indians have a role to play in building on the country's accomplishments and offering their advice. But the task is a formidable one involving a civilization with a strong secular basis in a land where people are forward-looking and seek to ensure that their nation remains what it has been for five decades: free, independent, ambitious and eager to change what is wrong and reinforce what is right.

Name withheld upon request

"Don't look at them, keep your head down," my friend urged as we pushed through a crowd on the street in India's capital New Delhi.

We relaxed as we entered the department store, free to wander for a couple of hours, until we were on the street again and in the middle of "them."

"They" are the swarms of ragged beggars with outstretched palms, carrying dirty babies or missing a limb, the hostile lower classes that are everywhere on Indian roads and public transport. "We" are the educated upper middle class, a tiny fraction of India's population of 1 billion.

Independent India turned 50 this year but, to my mind, the festivities have little meaning for most Indians, especially for "them," who make up 80 percent of the population. A look at the past half century and present-day India shows that there is little to celebrate and a lot of which to be ashamed.

Magazines and newspapers all over the world carried articles about the anniversary, but the description that struck me as most apt was the one given by the Economist: "an epic tale of wasted promise."

A full half century after managing its own economy and politics, India is one of the poorest countries of the world, with two-thirds of the world's destitute and half its illiterate people. An Indian passport holder is unwelcome in most countries and viewed with suspicion as a potential immigrant.

For me, the pleasure of travelling abroad has always been marred by a helpless rage that India has failed to achieve even a fraction of what many other countries have: clean, safe cities, efficient medical and school systems and a decent standard of living for the majority.

India's failure is tragic and spectacular in its proportions, particularly because it is self inflicted. Most Indians do not like to accept this, citing "achievements" such as satellites, a nuclear power station or a computer software industry.

Half of India's population is illiterate to this day, a matter of deep shame, especially when one compares the figure to literacy rates of other populous Third World countries: Mexico, 90 percent; Indonesia, 84 percent; and Brazil, 80 percent. Russia's population, 90 percent illiterate in 1917, was almost fully literate by the '50s.

Independent India's founding fathers, including the scholarly Jawaharlal Nehru, refused to acknowledge the importance of education. Later generations of politicians, including Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi, deliberately neglected education --would an educated electorate vote for them? The consequences of neglecting basic literacy are everywhere: in the slums, on every sidewalk, in every Indian city, in the crowds that line up during elections to vote crooks into power and, most of all, in the statistics of burgeoning population growth.

India's population has more then tripled over the past 50 years, a direct consequence of illiteracy. In a familiar vicious circle, illiteracy is responsible for the population growth, which in turn produces more illiteracy. Now, finding funds to educate a billion-strong population seems an impossible task.

Most surprising for me was that the entire Western press singled out democracy as India's main achievement of the past half century. I would maintain that the state of democracy in India, much like everything else, is nothing to boast of.

During the past 50 years, several generations of a single family have been voted into power. The voters, most of whom cannot sign their own names, continue to vote notorious criminals, convicted murderers and corrupt politicians into office.

Kalpnath Rai, for example, won a parliamentary seat last year after organizing his campaign from a jail cell where he was awaiting trial for harboring criminals. His rival candidate was in jail for murder! Another politician, H.K.L Bhagat, who openly incited mobs to murder Sikhs after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination, later became a minister in Rajiv Gandhi's cabinet.

Despite the economic reforms of the past seven years, the situation has worsened as the chasm between the haves and have-nots broadens. The reforms have not affected the villages, and thousands stream into urban areas every day. Cities are filthy, epidemics are common and ragged children clamber over garbage heaps everywhere looking food.

Every visit to India drives this home to me. A few years ago I could go for walks in my neighborhood in southern New Delhi, an area with several leafy parks and benches under shade trees.

Not any more. The sidewalks have disappeared under slums built by new entrants from the countryside, and sitting alone on a park bench would be a very foolish, if not dangerous, thing to do.

Most things don't work or work badly. Telephone lines in my neighborhood are often down because the cables are pulled up to be resold on the flea market for a couple of dollars.

Electricity blackouts are common in the sweltering summer months -- not because there is not enough electricity but because most of it is stolen by factories who have discovered this as the ideal way to cut costs. Compliance with any environmental laws is nonexistent, so Delhi is covered with a blanket of smog in all seasons. The river, once the pride of imperial Delhi, is a stinking cesspool of effluents and lined for miles with the ubiquitous slums.

It is interesting to consider India's past 50 years from abroad, especially from Russia. When I first arrived almost six years ago, nothing had prepared me for gray, gloomy Moscow with lines snaking around every corner. Stores were bare and, like most expatriates, I came with suitcases full of toothpaste, shampoo, tampons, vitamins, instant coffee, cans of food -- even scotch tape and safety pins!

My first reaction was to catch the next plane home, where one could buy everything, provided one had the money.

But here too there was a catch. Protectionist policies throughout those 50 years kept out foreign competition, allowing India to develop a powerful manufacturing base, but condemning its goods to a standard of mediocrity that is still hard to overcome.

Like Russians in those days, we would ask friends and relatives travelling to the West to bring back coveted Levis, cosmetics or Walkmans, which were shut out of the country.

The political and economic consequences of half a century of misrule and pseudo-socialism are clear enough. What of the social consequences? Isolation from the rest of the world under the guise of "protecting our culture," has created a society which at times appears to be living in the 15th rather than the 20th century.

Fifty years after independence, little girls are commonly aborted, or killed soon after birth by their own parents, and hundreds of women are burnt to death every year by their husbands for not bringing enough dowry. These horrific crimes are so commonplace that they now even fail to draw public or media attention.

What talk of independence can there be when India remains shackled to poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, disease and backwardness?