LCI Learning

Share on Facebook

Share on Twitter

Share on LinkedIn

Share on Email

Share More

Roshni B.. (For justice and dignity)     08 December 2010

India......a superpower??


Questions we did not ask





Even as we arrive as a super power, are we leaving other Indias behind?





“T ell me, this man, the American President who is here, will his visit help us in India?” asked Srinivas, a driver in a private taxi service in Mumbai.

Srinivas once worked in a paint factory. He had a steady job. In 2003, the factory closed. He was laid off. The compensation offered was unacceptable. For the last seven years, he and 105 others have been fighting in court for their dues. In the meantime, he drives a taxi, at half the salary he earned in the paint factory. What did the recent visit of President Barack Obama mean to people like him?

Srinivas asked this question on the first day of the American President's visit to India. Would he have felt satisfied by the third day when Mr. Obama confirmed that India has “arrived” and is now a “global power”? Or would he still have asked the same question?

Deluding ourselves?


In the afterglow of that affirmation by the world's most powerful man, it is easy for us in India to build around us a world of delusion. An Incredible India. Where there is impressive economic growth. Where there is a burgeoning middle class representing a market that rich countries like America are running after to kick start their own faltering economies. Where we are being sought out and invited to join the top table of powerful nations in the world.

Wonderful as that sounds, there is another India we have to remember, and it is not so incredible. Indeed, even as Air Force One took off from Indian soil carrying President Obama and his wife to Indonesia and other countries, the ugly face of Corrupt India was visible on the floor of the very Parliament where he had spoken the night before. The sheen of Incredible India is considerably dulled in the face of such open corruption. And those who pay the real price for these deals that are now being exposed are the millions rendered invisible by all this talk of India, the Powerful and India, the Incredible.

It is interesting that Michelle Obama, who charmed people with her informality and her genuine way of connecting with people of all ages, made a special point of meeting girls as well as children from disadvantaged homes. Although the headlines caught her dancing with children, in fact she has a more serious interest. As The Washington Post reported, “But the first lady arrived in India with a message that goes beyond dancing. She has made education and women's empowerment the focus of her domestic agenda. The message is particularly powerful in India, where many rural women struggle to be educated and where there are enormous obstacles even for a baby girl to be born.” Yet the Indian media was so fixated on whether the US President would use the “P” word, Pakistan, and condemn it for acts of terror, that we barely noticed that Michelle Obama was making a more relevant statement that applies to the other India, one that did not fit into the main agenda of terror and trade.

The other India is known to the world even if we prefer not to acknowledge it. A day before Air Force One landed in Mumbai, the United Nations Development Programme's 2010 Human Development Report revealed how despite a high economic growth rate, India's position in human development terms remained virtually the same over the last five years, improving only marginally. India is ranked a low 119 out of 148 countries.

An important factor pulling it down is its low Gender Inequality Index. And within that, it was the high rate of maternal mortality that contributed the most to its inability to improve. In other words, the real reason for India's low rank in the human development index is because too many women continue to die while giving birth.

But coming back to the Obama visit, within a day of his arrival, after a meeting with some of the most powerful businessmen from both countries, he announced the $10 billion in business deals that would create over 50,000 jobs in the US. This was clearly catering to his constituency at home which has turned ultra-critical of every move he makes. This is what he said:

“From medical equipment and helicopters to turbines and mining equipment, American companies stand ready to support India's growing economy, the needs of your people, and your ability to defend this nation.  And today's deals will lead to more than 50,000 jobs in the United States — 50,000 jobs.  Everything from high-tech jobs in Southern California to manufacturing jobs in Ohio.” 

But what about jobs for Indians, for men like Srinivas? Will American investment in India create jobs here? Srinivas could not understand why an American President should come to India promoting American business. When he lost his job, a local politician told him that this was the outcome of globalisation. So how will more global capital coming into India help people like him, he wanted to know.

Hard questions


In fact, if you scroll down the list of the business deals, there is precious little in it that represents additional employment opportunities for Indian workers. On the other hand, one of the areas where the US is pushing hard for India to open up to foreign direct investment is the retail business to facilitate the entry of some of its large retail giants like Walmart. Will this not kill the small businesses in the informal sector that survive on tiny margins but make the difference between survival and starvation for millions of Indians? Should we not be asking these questions?

In a few days, the Obama visit will be off the front pages. In fact, it already is. But the problems of poverty, of our pathetic gender inequality index, of our unemployment, of our iniquitous growth remain. During those three hectic days, when the media reported every word, murmur and move of the US President and his wife, these stories found no place on the table. Yet, India will not “arrive” until these stories are told, until these problems are addressed, with or without the help of other nations.






Email the writer:


 1 Replies

Bhartiya No. 1 (Nationalist)     08 December 2010

Hard reality. BUt few takers. The reason for which India is getting attention is it's market and workforce which in turn due to huge population.  But the problems life givers are facing is un-addressed, Below is the article reflects the situation.


The Other half: Dying of indifference



Every eight minutes a woman dies in our country due to pregnancy-related complications. Why aren't we able to devise an accessible healthcare system?

“She gave birth, died. Delhi walked by”. This was the headline of a six column news item on the top of an inside page in Hindustan Times (August 29, 2010). Illustrated with four telling photographs, the story was about a pregnant destitute woman, who lay on the footpath of Delhi's busy and well-frequented Shankar Market, which is adjacent to the iconic Connaught Place. Thousands of people must have passed her, but no one spared a glance at what appeared a bundle of rags covered in a red cloth.

On July 26, this woman gave birth, unaided by anyone. The cries of the newborn infant caught the attention of some of the shopkeepers and one of them, the owner of a garment shop, picked up the baby. The mother apparently refused help and died on that same spot where she had given birth, four days later. The police came and removed her body and took the child, who had been in the care of the Good Samaritan until then, to a foster home.

This is an item that should have been on the front page of all our newspapers because it illustrates two things. One, the increasing indifference of people who live in our metro cities, who are so absorbed with their own lives that they don't even look around to see how other people survive or die. We have lost our ability to see, to feel. No one wants to get involved. There is a fear that you might be asked to commit more of your time, your resources, your emotions than you are willing to do. So our eyes glaze over, we look the other way and we walk away.

And two, it brings home the reality of maternal mortality in this country where even as we boast of becoming an economic super power and the media celebrates the few Indians who are joining the list of the richest in the world, millions of our women are dying in the process of giving birth to a child.

Of course the story of this woman, whose name we do not know, is one extreme. But it should remind us that this is the reality that we have to address in this country.

Countless more

One can just imagine with rains and the floods that have taken place in the last months how many more such nameless women there must be on the streets of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, a part of the thousands who have no shelter, who have to sleep out in the open. All our cities, particularly Delhi but other cities too, are in the midst of a huge construction boom. This is bringing in thousands upon thousands of people from the surrounding areas. Those who have a skill and find regular work in these construction sites are possibly provided temporary shelter by the contractors. But many more do causal work, as and when it is available. The rest of the time they do what they can to earn a few rupees everyday, sometimes send their children out to beg and find whatever place they can to sleep.

In Mumbai, for instance, the fancy new skywalks that have been built connecting railway stations to business hubs have become temporary homes for these homeless people. It is an eerie spectacle to see these bodies laid out in a row, all ages, men, women and children, some sleeping under mosquito nets strung to the side of the skywalk, somehow catching a few hours rest under the relentless yellow light that shines all night. By morning the skywalk reverts to being what it is meant to be, a pedestrian walkway. No one can complain or say anything because there is no solution. But what happens to the children, especially the small babies, what happens to the women, some of them fairly young who become pregnant and have no recourse to any healthcare?

For the other side of this tragic story from a busy street in our national capital is that one woman dies every eight minutes due to complications arising due to pregnancy such as sepsis, haemorrhage or obstructed labour. These deaths could be avoided if there is timely medical intervention. But such help is hard to come by if you live in a remote area or if you are poor woman in city or village. Even if you get some help, it is often too late to make a difference between life and death.

India's current Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) is 254 in 100,000 live births. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), half of all maternal deaths in South Asia occur in five Indian states — Rajasthan, MP, UP, Bihar and Orissa. We have committed ourselves as part of the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to bring the MMR down to 109 by 2015, in just five years. Is that possible?

The central government has launched the Janani Suraksha Yojana (JSY) to specifically address the problem. It provides cash incentives to women who choose institutional delivery in the belief that this will reduce maternal mortality. If we believe official data, then it would appear that many poor women are benefitting from the scheme. For instance, according to one report, two months before the destitute died in Delhi's Shankar Market, another poor woman living in an open park near the Nizamuddin Dargah was lucky enough to be found by an NGO that helped her get the benefits under this scheme. As a result, the baby girl she delivered in the park has a chance to live, she has a birth certificate unlike others like her, and the mother too is receiving healthcare.

Different reality

Sadly, just as the exception in the case of the woman who died on the street does not make the rule, neither does the woman who survived in the park. Cash incentives in this country have usually led to corruption and fudging of data. This is already evident from reports from Bihar and Jharkhand. Also, the media often remains content with reporting official figures without investing in investigating what is actually happening on the ground. The few investigative stories that do appear on healthcare — on websites like or — tell a very different story. They inform us of the struggle poor women face to reach a hospital, how they are either turned away or have to wait as there are no trained personnel around. As a result, regardless of new schemes or incentives, they are either too weak to survive childbirth or die because the promised help never turns up.

Maternal mortality means women are dying of causes not related to diseases or epidemics. Their ability to survive something like childbirth is inextricably linked to poverty, malnutrition and the absence of basic healthcare. We can set ourselves all kinds of targets but a realistic plan to improve the survival chances of millions of Indian women is to ensure that our systems of healthcare actually cater to those at the bottom of the economic pyramid, women like that poor, nameless destitute in Delhi.

Email the writer:

Leave a reply

Your are not logged in . Please login to post replies

Click here to Login / Register  

Popular Discussion

view more »

Post a Suggestion for LCI Team
Post a Legal Query