Posts Tagged ‘Poverty’

Fears of social unrest ahead as India’s rise creates new underclass

January 5, 2008

Double-edged boom hits India’s poor

Fears of social unrest ahead as country’s rise creates new underclass
From Raymond Thibodeaux in New Delhi

EVEN AMID the chaotic swarm of Delhi’s traffic, with horns blaring and trucks and buses rumbling past, Omprekash Takur’s place of business remains a bastion of stillness and calm. Which is a good thing, as Takur’s speciality is open-razor shaves.

Takur has spent nearly 10 years at this barber shop, or what passes for a barber shop: a small stretch of pavement with a rusted chair, a plastic table for his shaving kit, two pairs of scissors, a comb and a square mirror hanging from a nail driven into the trunk of a tamarind tree, its leaves darkened by soot and dust kicked up by the traffic.

“My father taught me to do this when I was seven and I’ve been doing it ever since. My teachers would beat me for skipping classes, but I enjoyed making money from cutting hair,” said the slight, dark-skinned Takur, now 27, as he loaded a fresh blade into the razor.
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India’s city streets are filled with people like Takur – barbers, ear cleaners, cobblers and tailors, a rag-tag platoon of kerbside personal assistants for the country’s urban masses. But for many of them, India’s economic rise has chipped away at their client base as a growing number of Indians are better able to afford more upmarket versions of their services at newly sprouted shopping malls.

The huge wealth being generated by India’s booming economy has been slow to trickle down to the street level, where most of the country’s 400 million workers ply their trades. Typically, they are poorly educated and semi-skilled, and toil away in a shadowy, informal economy that falls under the radar of most government controls and protections.

As India’s rises, the gap between rich and poor appears to be widening. With a 6% inflation rate, the new India seems to be backfiring on the poor, who are hardest hit by increases in the cost of basic necessities such as food and shelter. This has stoked fears of a looming social turmoil in this country of 1.1 billion people, as a growing and increasingly restive underclass is left to fend for itself as India’s economic tide turns.

“These are our electricians, our plumbers, our housemaids and our drivers. They are the backbone of our economic success, and yet they live in slums,” said Ranjana Kumari, director for the Centre of Social Research in New Delhi, a non-governmental agency focused on India’s workplace.

“There is a serious flaw in the government policies that guide our economy. There needs to be more government initiative to care for these workers and give them a bigger share of the wealth.”

So far, India’s pro-growth government has been reluctant to burden businesses with costly regulations that would do just that. And many Indian companies have been unwilling to absorb them as formal employees, who would then be entitled to the few perks already required by law: health benefits, pension plans, holidays and severance pay.

As a result, about 93% of India’s workforce remains informal and unorganised.

“Ideally, we want to formalise our entire workforce, give them pensions and health benefits and so on, but that’s going to take a long time,” said Pronab Sen, the Indian government’s chief statistician. Part of the hold-up is that more and more rural Indians are abandoning their farms and moving to urban areas to seek better jobs as rickshaw drivers, street sweepers and barbers. These workers are hard to keep track of and much harder to organise.

“The informal sector is an extremely important transition between the rural areas and the cities. It allows the people to learn different trades that are more useful and better-paying,” Sen said.

In the shade of the tamarind tree, Takur dipped his shaving brush in hot water and lathered up another scruffy face, his third in the space of an hour. He said he usually rakes in at least £3 a day, three times the daily wage of most Indians. It’s enough to support his wife and his three sons, aged six, four and two.

Asked how India’s boom had benefited him, he said: “It hasn’t.” But a client, a rickshaw taxi driver waiting his turn in the barber’s chair, pointed out that Takur had doubled his prices since last year.

“Yes, that’s true, but that is not really a benefit to me,” said Takur, using his palm to wipe shaving cream off the razor. “My supplies are costing more, so I must pass that on to my customer.”

Sunday Herald

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Hindutva states issued ‘ghost’cards for Public Distribution System

December 22, 2007

Rot in PDS: Over 2 cr ghost cards

NEW DELHI: It has been one of India’s worst kept secrets. But now, a recent study has put the number of “ghost” public distribution system cards at a staggering 2.3 crore and, what is even more damning, revealed that as many as 1.21 crore “deserving” poor have been left out of the food security umbrella.

So, the PDS or the “ration card” scam is actually a massive double whammy. Not only do a huge number of fake cards point to diversion of the PDS subsidized foodgrain, but the leaking system is bypassing those who are in dire need of state support. While the government is importing foodgrain to maintain buffer stocks, the delivery system is falling wide off the mark.

The study, conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER), has provided evidence to confirm what senior ministers like P Chidambaram and Sharad Pawar have been claiming — that foodgrain is being diverted to the black market and may even be smuggled into Bangladesh.

A back of the envelope calculation shows the economic dimensions of the PDS fiddle. If the entitlement to 35kg of foodgrain, comprising wheat and rice, for every family under PDS is taken into account, the ghost cards can represent a potential diversion of 966 crore tonnes of foodgrain each year.

There is a very real fallout of the ghost cards despite the NCAER report, even in the face of its own findings, claiming the system is working “quite satisfactorily”. The finance minister, for one, certainly does not agree. On Wednesday, Chidambaram told the National Development Council that PDS “could become an albatross around our neck and an opportunity for rent seekers to enrich themselves… about 58% of subsidised grain does not reach the target group, of which a little over 36% is siphoned off the supply chain”.

Various other reports, commissioned by the Supreme Court and government, seem to have been validated by the recent NCAER data. The study looks to make things a little less bleak by not accounting for the ghost cards when calculating the extent of diversion. But the 2.3 crore figure cannot be wished away. Uttar Pradesh has issued 1.11 crore more cards than it should have, NCAER feels. Rajasthan has an excess 24 lakh cards and Gujarat and Haryana have more than 10 lakh ghost cards each. A ghost card can be used either by an undeserving beneficiary to buy cheap grain or just be diverted. In either case, the purpose of PDS to provide nutritional security to the poor is defeated.

The report found that the rich had been given the lowest income group ration cards — AAY cards — in 70% of the cases in the Northeast and in 30-35% of the cases in other states.

Even people who got their PDS supply of wheat and rice did not pay the stipulated price. In the six states that NCAER surveyed, not once in the six months of the study’s duration did people purchase grain at the fixed rate. In Rajasthan, the people paid at times 35% more than the prescribed rate for wheat, the staple diet in the state.

This is a sign of not only rampant corruption but also puts the cheap foodgrain out of reach of those who need it as some people complained that they couldn’t afford the rations even at subsidized rates. The “premium” introduced by unscrupulous Fair Price Shop owners is bound to make the really poor more vulnerable.

Of the six states surveyed, the study found Bihar to be worst off. Almost 90% households in case of rice and 70% in case of wheat complained of impurity, insect-infested supply and broken grain.

22 Dec 2007, Nitin Sethi,TNN

In 2007, India let its children down : UNICEF Report

December 12, 2007

New Delhi: Exactly a year ago, the chopped remains of some children of daily wage earners and migrants were recovered from a drain in Nithari, a village on the outskirts of the Indian capital.

For a country with a child population of over 445 million, of whom 126 million are less than five years old, the unearthing of 20 dismembered bodies of missing kids at the fag end of 2006 was a shocking revelation of how India neglects its children. Most of children had been sexually abused and mutilated.

One year later, India continues to be among the worst performers in the world in terms of ensuring that children have the basic right to survive, even though policies and processes for their protection and development are in place.

As per Unicef’s Progress for Children report released in December 2007, an estimated 2.1 million children in India died before their fifth birthday in one year. Of these, one million deaths were of neonates, or less than 29-day-old infants, from preventable causes. Globally, this means a quarter of all neo-natal deaths in the world occurred in India.

Among the surviving infants, 8.3 million infants were low weight babies (less than 2,500 grams), who got a disadvantaged start in life. Nearly 50 per cent of these low weight babies died before their fifth birthday. In fact, about one-third of less-than-five-year-old underweight children in the world are in India.

The country has made significant advances towards eradication of polio but the programme suffered setbacks in 2007 with the virus continuing to circulate and resurface in some states like Bihar.

Quoting from the report, a Unicef advocacy and partnership official, said: “India has the largest number of children in the world who have not been vaccinated.”

The country, however, is doing well with respect to providing safe drinking water, the key factor in ensuring child survival. It is estimated that 84.5 per cent rural and 95 per cent urban populations have sustainable access to safe drinking water.

But poor hygiene leading to diarrhoea and other diseases continues to take its toll on India’s children. In 2004, an estimated 700 million people in India were not using improved sanitation facilities. According to the National Family Health Survey data (2005-06), only 45 per cent of households in the country had access to improved sanitation.

On the education front, the news is mixed. Globally, the number of dropouts has declined significantly – from 115 million in 2002 to 93 million in 2005-06. Considering that six to 10 is the primary school age in India, 84 per cent of children are attending school.

Gender parity in education is a challenge for India. For 100 boys in primary school, there are 96 girls and for 100 boys in secondary school, there are only 80 girls. Nearly all children out of school are engaged in different forms of labour.

It is estimated that while globally 158 million children aged between 5 and 14 work as labourers, India accounts for 18 percent of the world’s burden – approximately 29 million.

Said a Unicef spokesperson: “Much like the public outcry that ensued following the discovery of children’s remains in Nithari, a similar alacrity is needed to ensure that India’s children get their due. To make India fit for children, a social movement is the need of the hour.”

The Nithari case is still in court while the accused – Moninder Singh Pandher and his domestic help Surinder Koli – are in police custody.

How RSS exported terror to Malaysia?

December 9, 2007

A Malaysian Hindu devotee shows the Kavadi on his face during the annual festival of Thaipusam in Penang Island, Malyasia, Friday. The Hindus carry kavadi, spiking their tongues or cheeks to purify themselves and ask for blessings. — AP/PTIIn 2006, Malaysia offered VOA (Visa on Arrivals) to Indian and Chinese passport holders to boost tourism and thus its economy. In the same year, Malaysian immigration records found that 2,789 Indian tourists had overstayed followed by 355 from China after they introduced VOA to both nations. Alarmed by the influx from Chennai, Malaysian Home Affairs Ministry later declared VOA would no longer be issued to those from Chennai as too many of them had over stayed from that particular region. But the Tamil aspirants reached Malaysia through another ports of India.

Hindutva terror groups in India should have misused “Visa on Arrival” offered by Malaysia to export its trainers and train dissatisfied Hindu youths or gangsters. RSS use charity foundations, Non Resident Indian Associations, research centers and media personnel around the globe to propagate its Hindutva goals. To any investigation agency, it is hard to distinguish Hindutva organizations from its name.

Malaysia Hindu Sangam is the local collaborator of RSS in Malaysia, which closely work with rich hindutva expatriate work force in Singapore, Australia and New Zealand . By planting Hindutva bigots in its branches RSS has transformed the Dravidian festivals to accommodate more of its Aryan deities like Ganesha. For long time, festivals and celebrations has been misused by RSS to promote its political agenda of intolerance. For a scientific study on the issue, Please Read this Article, Hindutva Consolidation and Conscription in Tamil Nadu Through Celebrations by the dalit scholar, Meena Kandasamy.

RSS usually recruit and export “pracharak” for PR and “Shishak (trainer)” for physical terror. RSS constitution bar them from being married. Former PM of India, AB Vajpayee known to be a bachelor. But most of the new generation trainers are gangsters turned gurus who are addicted to sex, liquor and drug. “Boudhik Pramukh” is the real player in RSS. While physical operations are left for lower caste Hindus, this intellectual position will be hold by a crooked Brahmin. It is like American troops hire more blacks for field operations. Now, the home ministry of Malaysia should trace any illegals who is having links to Hindutva and Tamil terror groups. This will assure peaceful life to migrant Indian community and Malaysian society. Our Indian nationals account for 19.6 per cent of the total expatriate work force in Malaysia . By falsely alleging of “Ethnic Cleansing” Hindu Right Action Force leaders are risking the life of thousands of Tamils who want to find a job in Malaysia.

The folly of India’s ‘ Athidhi Devo Bhava! (Where the guest is treated as God)

Unlike Malaysia, Indian immigration doesn’t welcome foreigners to visit India. VOA facilities are not available to anyone. Easier entry to India is virtually limited to countries with considerable Hindu population. For eg, Nepal, Mauritius, etc. India is very much a closed country than China. The Hindu elite leaders of the country always concerned about its physical boundaries and national security rather than the life of its 85 % downtrodden poor people. Even though India is blessed with beautiful nature than Malaysia, its share in world tourism map, was hovering between 0.38% to 0.39% for number of years. Irrespective of its huge area, the foreign exchange earned from tourism in India was merely $2.61 billion (2006).

Indian Embassies are rated as the worst service providers around the globe. They are notorious for ‘red tapes‘ and ‘ corruption friendly service‘ by Non Resident Indians itself. Don’t believe me. Step in to any Indian diplomatic mission near to you and you will feel the difference. This flickr foto shows the Long line outside the Indian High Commission, UK.

Baseless allegations and fake statistics are the fundamental strategy of Hindutva zealots in India. Often critics call them as Rumor Spreading Society. Their ability to create rumors and to spread them instantly are the main cause of communal riots over India’s minorities. Many inquiry commissions on communal riots in India, surprised by RSS ability to spark communal tension with rumours.

Since HINDRAF is trained by the Hindutva hooligans in India, they will use same tactics of RSS. SMS messaging, E-mails, Internet Forums, Blogs are widely used by Hindutva militia to spread hatred messages against their targets. According to these Hindutva bigots, minorities in India should be stoned to death but Hindus should live like the majority community everywhere they go including Malaysia. This is a plain case of hypocrisy in action.

Recently, a national report on the employment situation in India has warned that nearly 30 percent of the country’s 716 million-strong workforce will be without jobs by 2020. When Indians are fleeing around the world to find a job, how can this hindutva idiots can claim on “National Pride of India”? Hindutva Idiots, Your false pride and actions make our life miserable.

Government of India doesn’t have the resources or political will to find jobs for such a large population. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Overseas Indians should not endorse the HINDRAF bigots as the sole representative of Malaysian Indians. So far, Ms. Sonia Gandhi, President of India’s ruling party (Indian National Congress ) did n’t met those Malaysian Hinduva Bigots. That is a good message from Government of India to the immigrant Indian community around the globe.

utube.pngWatch how Hindutva Mafia executed Mass Killings of Muslims in Gujarat

Global Hindutva in support of Gujarat’s super hindu leader

December 3, 2007

A large number of Gujarati NRIs have landed in their native state to lend support to political parties they are backing in the upcoming assembly election, due on December 11 and 16.

Many are supporters of incumbent Narendra Modi, who feel the state has developed under the stewardship of the BJP leader. Opposing them are a considerable number of Congress
supporters, who say Modi has divided the state.

Although they cannot vote in the state assembly polls, the NRIs who have come from places like the UK and US are pumping in huge amounts of money in campaigning, besides trying to woo voters for the party of their choice.

”Though I can’t vote, still I would like to see to it that the right people are voted to power. Even if I can’t vote I would like to make sure that other 100 people at least go and vote. It’s very important,” says 42-year-old Rajen Patel from London, an ardent supporter of Modi.

Patel, who claims he campaigned for former US vice president Al Gore when he was in the presidential race, says about 100 like-minded NRIs in the UK have decided to come to Gujarat to support Modi as they believe he is ushering in growth and development.

”We would like to invest in Gujarat as things have improved a lot here. There is less of corruption now and action is taken on complaints made even over phones,” he says.

Rejecting the claims of development under Modi’s government are Congress supporters, who have also come together based on their political affiliation.

”What development are they talking about? Everything is a hogwash. No state can develop where people are divided. And that’s what BJP has done here,” says Deepak Amin, who has come all the way from Seattle (US) to support Congress.

”To be number one you have to be united first. When you talk about Hindu rastra, you ignore the rest of the people in the country. What about them?” Amin laments.

He says he is in touch with at least 15 other like-minded NRIs from various countries.

”We have held several rounds of meetings in Seattle, New York, New Jersey etc to discuss our agenda before coming to India. We will be reaching out to people to pass on our message,” Amin says.

He said his ‘group’ was opposed to the way BJP is bragging about development in Gujarat, adding ”It’s just like their ‘India Shining’ campaign”.

But the Modi camp would like to differ. ”There’s discipline, peace and harmony now unlike earlier,” says Patel.

On his group’s strategy, Patel says, ”We will place ourselves in different regions of the state. Like five-six people in Vadodara, 10 in Ahmedabad and four in Surat, while one of us will be travelling to meet people and help the party in the electoral process.”

He claims Modi has many fans in the UK and US who want to know what can they do to help their state.

Only 8 % of Indians go for higher education

November 29, 2007

Only eight percent of Indian students finishing school go for higher education – compared to 20 per cent in China – and the country needs 1,500 new universities in the next seven years to bridge the shortfall of skilled workers, India’s Knowledge Commission has said.

The 82nd annual conference of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) that came to an end here Wednesday saw some such hard truths being spoken about universities in India.

The three-day meet at the Anna University campus discussed the content of the Knowledge Commission policy and the various higher education policies being implemented in India at present.

‘Higher education sets the standards for development,’ said Y.C. Simhadri, AIU president.

A Knowledge Commission report has said that India would need 1,500 new universities in the next seven years.

It also says that only eight percent of Indian students finishing school go for higher education. In China, the figure is 20 percent while in developed countries, as much as 70 percent students leaving school go to college.

Nasscom chairman and Cognizant chief N. Lakshmi Narayanan said India may face a shortfall of half a million skilled workers by 2010 if universities do not churn out well-trained students.

‘If India wants to be a knowledge economy, it will need 2.3 million professionals in three years time,’ he added.

‘The need of the hour is to create more research parks in the country and encourage innovation by students,’ he said. He advocated that a statutory body should be given the task of enforcing regulation.

‘A major cause of concern about higher education in India is the regulatory system.’

Pitching for self-regulation, he said: ‘This may well be the time for the country’s academic leaders to evolve a new self-regulatory regime that puts the onus of maintaining standards on the collective wisdom of academicians.’

He also advocated the need to look at opening up the education sector to foreign universities to ensure a steady flow of globalised talent.

Narayanan said that Nasscom is planning to introduce a National Assessment of Competence-Technical (NAC-Tech) that would test the skills of technical graduates from higher education institutions across the country.

Tamil Nadu Minister for Higher Education K. Ponmudi, in his opening address, said in many Indian universities, especially the private ones,today ‘we have a situation where the father is the chancellor of the deemed university, one son is the pro-chancellor and another is the vice-chancellor.’

‘Where is the space for scholarly academicians to lead such institutions into latest and relevant research and produce brilliant students?’ he asked.

‘Most vice chancellors give more importance to administrationthan academics,’ the minister charged.

‘You should concentrate more on academics because that alone can help improve the quality of institutions,’ he told the gathering of 150 vice chancellors from Indian universities and delegates from 20 foreign universities, including France and the Netherlands.

‘We only have vice chancellors, whereas we need wise chancellors!’ was his parting shot.

INDIAENEWS.COM From correspondents in Tamil Nadu, India,  Nov 29, 2007

India drops down 2 places in HDI, ranks 128th

November 28, 2007

India growing? It’s not showing, Country unable to break out of class of laggards in UN assessment

The world’s second highest economic growth rate has not yet helped India hoist itself away from its customary position in the global development report card.

The Human Development Report for 2007-08 released by the UNDP today ranked India 128 out of 177 countries, working it out through measures of life expectancy, education and income.

India’s human development index (HDI) of 0.619 puts it just below Equatorial Guinea (0.642) and Solomon Islands (0.602). India’s life expectancy of 63.7 years is sandwiched between Comoros (64.1) and Mauritania (63.2), while Malawi and Rwanda have higher adult literacy than India.

The report found that India’s GDP per capita (purchasing power parity) is $3,452, far below China’s $6,757.

Iceland is at the top with Norway, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Japan, France, the US, the UK, Israel, and Singapore among the top 25 nations in the development chart.

India was ranked 126 by the HDR 2006, a rung higher than the previous year’s 127. This year, it continues to be dubbed a country at medium level of human development.

An economist said he was not surprised that the country’s impressive economic growth rate — only China’s growth surpasses India’s 9 per cent — was not reflected in the human development report.

“Our growth has been lopsided, and has not yet percolated to the masses,” Shyama Prasad Gupta, an economist and a former member of the Planning Commission, said,

India’s richest 20 per cent account for about 31 per cent of the share of income or expenditure, while the poorest 20 per cent account for around 8 per cent, the report said.

“We have two countries in one,” said Abhay Shukla, senior programme coordinator with Sathi-Cehat, a non-government organisation engaged in health and development issues.

The report has ranked India 62 among 108 developing countries in its human poverty index which measures severe deprivation in health in people who are not expected to survive age 40.

“We’re witnessing something called development polarisation. About 20 per cent of the population is showing low mortality and low fertility, key features associated with development, but in the rest of the population we don’t see this change in any significant way,” Shukla said.

The UNDP report suggests that India’s commitment to education measured through public spending dropped from 12 per cent of total government expenditure in 1991 to 10 per cent in 2005.

India’s public spending on health is only 0.9 per cent of its GDP, a fraction of 8.3 per cent in Iceland, 6.9 per cent in the US, 7 per cent in the UK, and lower than China’s 1.8 per cent.

Full report is here http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/

India, Where paradoxes reign supreme

November 26, 2007

It has become a cliché to speak of India as a land of paradoxes. The old joke about our country is that anything you say about India, the opposite is also true. We like to think of ourselves as an ancient civilisation but we are also a young republic; our IT experts stride confidently into the 21st century but much of our population seems to live in each of the other 20 centuries. Quite often the opposites co-exist quite cheerfully.

One of my favourite images of India is from the last Kumbha mela, of a naked sadhu, with matted hair, ash-smeared forehead and scraggly beard, for all the world a picture of timeless other-worldliness, chatting away on a cellphone. I even suggested it to the publishers of my newest book of essays on India as a perfect cover image, but they assured me it was so well-known that it had become a cliché in itself.

And yet, clichés are clichés because they are true, and the paradoxes of India say something painfully real about our society.

How does one come to terms with a country whose population is still nearly 40% illiterate but which has educated the world’s second-largest pool of trained scientists and engineers, many of whom are making a flourishing living in Silicon Valley? How does one explain a land where peasant organisations and suspicious officials once attempted to close down Kentucky Fried Chicken as a threat to the nation, where a former prime minister bitterly criticised the sale of Pepsi-Cola since 250 million of our countrymen and women don’t have access to clean drinking water, and which yet invents more sophisticated software for the world’s computer manufacturers than any other country on the planet? A place where bullock carts are still an indispensable mode of transportation for millions, but whose rocket and satellite programmes are amongst the most advanced on earth?

The paradoxes go well beyond the nature of our entry into the 21st century. Our teeming cities overflow while two out of three Indians still scratch a living from the soil. We have been recognised, for all practical purposes, as a leading nuclear power, but 600 million Indians still have no access to electricity and there are daily power cuts even in the nation’s capital.

Ours is a culture which elevated non-violence to an effective moral principle, but whose freedom was born in blood and whose independence still soaks in it. We are the world’s leading manufacturers of generic medication for illnesses such as AIDS, but we have three million of our own citizens without access to AIDS medication, another two million with TB, and tens of millions with no health centre or clinic within 10 kilometres of their places of residence.

Bollywood makes four times as many movies as Hollywood, but 150 million Indians cannot see them, because they are blind. India holds the world record for the number of cellphones sold (8.5 million last month), but also for the number of farmer suicides (4000 in the Vidarbha district of Maharashtra alone last year).

This month, in mid-November, the prestigious Forbes magazine list of the world’s top billionaires made room for 10 new Indian names. The four richest Indians in the world are collectively worth a staggering $180 billion, greater than the GDP of a majority of member states of the United Nations. Indian papers have reported with undisguised glee that these four (Lakshmi Mittal, the two Ambani brothers, and DLF chief K P Singh) are worth more than the 40 richest Chinese combined.

We seem to find less space in our papers to note that though we have more dollar billionaires than in any country in Asia – even more than Japan, which has been richer longer – we also have 260 million people living below the poverty line. And it’s not the World Bank’s poverty line of $1 a day, but the Indian poverty line of Rs 360 a month, or 30 cents a day – in other words, a line that’s been drawn just this side of the funeral pyre.

Last month, the Bombay Stock Exchange’s Sensex crossed 20,000, just 20 months after it had first hit 10,000; but on the same day, some 25,000 landless people marched to Parliament, clamouring for land reform and justice. We have trained world-class scientists and engineers, but 400 million of our compatriots are illiterate, and we also have more children who have not seen the inside of a school than any other country in the world does.

We have a great demographic advantage in 540 million young people under 25 (which means we should have a dynamic, youthful and productive workforce for the next 40 years when the rest of the world, including China, is ageing) but we also have 60 million child labourers, and 72% of the children in our government schools drop out by the eighth standard. We celebrate India’s IT triumphs, but information technology has employed a grand total of 1 million people in the last five years, while 10 million are entering the workforce each year and we don’t have jobs for them.

Many of our urban youth rightly say with confidence that their future will be better than their parents’ past, but there are Maoist insurgencies violently disturbing the peace in 165 of India’s 602 districts, and these are largely made up of unemployed young men.

So yes, we are a land of paradoxes, and amongst those paradoxes is that so many of us speak about India as a great power of the 21st century when we are not yet able to feed, educate and employ our people. And yet, India is more than the sum of its contradictions. It may be a country rife with despair and disrepair, but it nonetheless moved a Mughal Emperor to declaim, ‘‘if on earth there be paradise of bliss, it is this, it is this, it is this…’’ We just have a lot more to do before it can be anything like paradise for the vast majority of our fellow citizens.

25 Nov 2007, 0000 hrs IST,Shashi Tharoor, Times of India

94 Million smokers in India, 14 million with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseas

November 15, 2007

PUDUCHERRY: The habit of smoking is on the rise in India, even as the trend is registering a steady decline in the Western countries, an expert has said.

World Health Organisation has estimated that there were around 94 million smokers in India, Dr K H Kisku, Head of the Department of Pulmonary Medicine at the Pondicherry Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), said in Puducherry on Tuesday.

“While the incidence of smoking is drastically coming down in the West, it is on the rise in India,” he said.

Among these 94 million smokers in India, 14 million were suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), he said, on the eve of World COPD day.

Smoking is the prime cause of COPD and the disease had been found to be the fourth leading cause of deaths, he added.

Asserting that COPD was curable, he however, said that one should quit smoking immediately and undergo treatment for getting better results.

Kisku said that sometimes even non-smokers would suffer from the COPD due to passive smoking. Constant exposure to fumes from cooking stoves and polluted air could also lead to the disease.

The percentage of damage suffered by the lungs could be ascertained with the help of spirometer, he said.

The PIMS is conducting a free spirometry test till November 16.

17 million children in India work out of compulsion

November 14, 2007

Children’s Day under the shadow of the rape of childhood

We observe November 14, the birthday of the first Prime Minister of India, Chacha Nehru as Children’s Day. But a look at the condition of children in India makes one question the significance of November 14?  Do we really cherish our future citizens?

THE DEFINITION OF a ‘child’ in the Indian legal and policy framework is someone below 18 years. Our laws are neither child friendly nor child oriented. Here are few figures:

* Less than half of India’s children between the age of six and 14 go to school.
* Only 38 per cent of children below two years are immunized.
* Over 50 per cent children are malnourished.
* One out of every six girls does not live to see her 15th birthday.
* Of 12 million girls born, one million do not see their first birthday.
* Females are victimized far more than males in their childhood.
* 53 per cent of girls in the age group of five to nine years are illiterate.
* There are two million child commercial sex workers between the age of five and 15 years.
* 17 million children in India work out of compulsion, not out of choice.

The child is the future of a nation. But children are a neglected lot in India, which is evident from the distressing statistics of infant mortality, child morbidity, child malnutrition, childhood disability, child abuse, child labour, child prostitution, street children, child beggary, child marriage, juvenile delinquency, drug addiction and illiteracy.

Trafficking in humans, including children, is a violation of the fundamental rights of human beings. International estimates indicate that at least 1.2 million children are trafficked each year, many of them subjected to prostitution, forced into marriage or unpaid labour, or are recruited into armed groups. Child labour is, generally speaking, work undertaken by children that harm them or exploit them in some way (physically, mentally, morally, or by blocking access to education). 40 per cent of India’s population is below 18 years of age. At 400 million, we have the world’s largest child population. At 17 million, we have the ‘distinction’ of being home to world’s largest population of child labourers. These are official figures; activists say that the real number is even larger.

Constitutions of most countries, including India, have provisions forbidding child labour. Its elimination is one of the millennium development goals adopted unanimously by the United Nations.

Children should not have to work for a living. Childhood is when a person needs nurturing, schooling, time to play and explore, and opportunity to grow, both emotionally and physically. When a child is forced to work, it hampers his growth, stunts his psychological and intellectual development, and prevents him from realising his full potential.

Child labour is an unmitigated evil and any society that suffers from it should be grossly ashamed of that fact. Child labour, trafficking are symptoms, not the problem. The problem lies elsewhere and unless the problem itself is addressed, merely addressing the symptoms makes the situation immensely worse for the victim children.

In India, children’s vulnerabilities and exposure to violations of their protection rights remains spread and multiple in nature. There are a wide range of issues that adversely impact on children in India, making them especially vulnerable. With such future citizens in large numbers, the future of our country is bleak.

Rishabh Srivastava, MeriNews.COM, 13 November 2007, Tuesday