So poor

There has been a lot of talk in the local media this week about the poverty rates in India. The poverty is one of the hardest things that I have faced since moving to India.  Almost 40 percent of the population is believed to live below the poverty line and many of those live in slums in the larger cities.  Cities like Bangalore.

When Willy and I first arrived here, we were informed that the “poverty line” for India was set at approximately 35 rupees per day for urban areas, and 25 rupees for rural areas.  These amounts translate into roughly 70¢ and 50¢ Canadian.  Those numbers continue to shock us both, as we can’t fathom being able to live on $15 – $20 A MONTH.  Yes, the cost of living is much lower, but not that much lower.  We see it daily, from the moment we step outside of our community, our little bubble.

There are small and large areas of slum dwellings pretty much everywhere you go, everywhere you look.  There are a number of families that squat in an open lot between the parking lot of the lils’ school and the lane that we walk down to the school building.  They live in shacks that have no electricity, no running water, but they have the luxury of a few feet between their house and their neighbour`s, something that this not seen in the large and packed slums that we also see in our travels.  Official estimates say that approximately 10% of Bangalore’s population lives in slums, but I can see that the numbers are higher, much higher (by our definition). It is generally accepted that 30-40% of the population live in slums.  Bangalore is a city of 9.5 million people, which means that at least 3 million people live in slums.  That is more than three times the population of Ottawa.  It`s sobering. I know too that we have been protected, that we haven’t seen the worst of it.  We catch glimpses of it when we travel to the poorest states, like Uttar Pradesh, where Agra and the Taj Mahal are located.  Or travel to other large cities like Delhi and Mumbai, where 50 – 60 % of the population lives in slums.

Poverty has been in the national news this week, as the latest figures on the percentage of the population deemed to be poor have been released. It seems that the numbers have dramatically dropped over the last five years, and officials state there has been a decrease of almost 7 per cent in the national poverty rate.  In five years.  This decline is more significant in my state, Karnataka, where the drop is said to be closer to 10 per cent.  This appears to be a substantial development at first glance.  When one delves just a little bit further, they see that this reported drop is tied to a similar drop in the figures used to determine the “poverty line”, a move away from the anecdotal figures that we have been told, and away from the UN determination for poverty.  The new current figures use a rate of 28 rs (urban) and 22 rs (rural).

I don’t see how this arbitrary lowering helps the poor in India, other than telling almost 100 million people that they are no longer poor, and that they very likely will lose the meagre subsidies and coupons that they received when they were “poor”.  There is also little that I can do in my time here, poverty India is systemic, is generational, is structural.  It hurts in ways that I never anticipated.

Category: India | Tags: , , , | 1 comment

  • Brie says:

    I feel for you. It’s hard to see poverty and not do anything about it.

    I remember a friend telling me about her travels to India more than 10 years ago. She said the country was beautiful but that at the end of every day she went back to her hotel room and cried.


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