Frequently I write articles for newspapers and magazines on poverty, and I thought more people will get to read them if they are available as blogs.
Since 1995, I have been engaged in social work through The George Foundation to help alleviate poverty in India, focusing mainly in areas of income generation, education, healthcare, community development and social justice.
Your comments and thoughts are appreciated.
In a New York Times article of October 30, 2011 entitled Protests Awaken a Goliath in India, it is pointed out that recent anti-corruption protests have stirred India's middle class which has benefited most from growth, but remained disengaged from the political system. While this could be interpreted as a favorable development if indeed millions of them join the Hazare movement or take steps to protest against corruption at all levels.
The middle class often bribes government officials to get their needs met, whether it is for admission to a government college, obtain a license, or transact a real estate deal without heavy tax burden. They cannot, however, afford to pay big bribes as the rich and the companies do to win bids and get special favors. After all, politicians and senior government officials have raised their price for bribes from lakhs of rupees to crores, and even hundreds of crores.
Are the poor troubled by the deep rooted corruption in India? Most poor people cannot afford to pay bribes, and even if they somehow manage to do, it is usually for their small entitlements such as ration card or caste certificate. I suppose low level bureaucrats involved in corrupt practices are kinder not to demand more than a few hundred rupees. It appears that poor people are indifferent to corruption in India and are often fatalistic about it.
I recall reading a quote in a newspaper several years ago from a poor man on the street when he was asked to give his reaction to the arrest of a senior official for allegedly taking tens of lakhs of rupees in bribe and subsequently being caught. The poor man said, “He must have done something good in his last life to make so much money.” After all, everyone usually expected the government official to go free after a superficial investigation and filing of low level charges.
In India, what usually counts is the opinion and influence of the rich and the powerful. But now, it appears that the middle class is slowly waking up. The poor continues to sleep long.
The rich and the powerful also may not care much about corruption. They have the money to make money, even if that involves dishing out large sums in bribes. They are in an exclusive club, and there is no need for them to complain. Greed, arrogance and denial are matched only by self-interest and hypocrisy.
How many people in India are in the rich and middle classes? According to an April 2010 McKinsey Global Institute report, 30 million households, or around 150 million people in India belong to the middle class. By 2030, this number is expected to increase to 600 million, if economic growth continues at the present 6-9% rate.
The rich – those who can afford considerable luxuries such as good cars, modern apartments and vacations -- are presently estimated to be around 10-20 million people. This number could reach 50 million by 2030. The super rich are in the thousands.
India’s population of 1.2 billion is expected to cross 1.6 billion by 2030. That would then leave over 1 billion people in the poor to lower middle class category. If the past is any indication of future behavior, these masses can be expected to remain silent about corruption in India. As some of those presently in the middle-class move up, they too are likely to become part of the “silent class.”
So much for the anti-corruption movement in India! When we measure economic success in terms of GDP growth and the increasing size of the middle class, who cares about corruption and equitable progress?
It seems many people are trying to find innovative solutions to improving the quality of education in rural areas, especially among the poor. Since most rural children study at government-run schools, the focus of any effort to improve quality and performance must be on those institutions. Without waiting for the state government to act, NGOs can directly interact with the administrators of those schools, especially the headmasters, and village leaders to implement measures that can yield positive results. That is precisely what The George Foundation has been doing since 2004 in the 17 villages surrounding its own school, Shanti Bhavan.
Three years ago our foundation initiated a community development plan that included working with government-run schools in our area. Deverapalli Government School was the first one we took on, and within two years of starting the program, it was judged as the “best” in the district by the educational authorities. Based on this project and our Shanti Bha…
am frequently asked by visitors to Shanti Bhavan from America whether our
educational model would work in the West.
They are curious to know how caste and class prejudices experienced in
India can be overcome by our graduates when they enter the workplace. These are
complicated questions, and they need a broad explanation that cannot be fully
covered in this blog. The
landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case Brown v. Board of Education was meant to rectify the unequal status
of racially separate schools. Now, even after several decades of desegregation measures,
including busing children from some affluent families to poor neighborhood
schools, their impact on the academic progress of minorities is being
questioned. Many factors contribute to reducing the achievement gap in
American schools, and racial integration may not necessarily be a solution to
the difficulties faced in lifting the educational levels of minority students. As
an Asian immigrant who came to America fif…
It has been quite a while since I wrote my last blog. For some reason, I had concluded that there wasn’t enough readership interest in my personal notes and critiques of the country’s system. But recently, a friend of mine who stumbled upon my earlier blogs urged me to continue. Moreover, I had promised in my last blog to write about my experiences as an artillery officer along India’s western border with Pakistan, but I hadn’t kept my word. So finally I made up my mind to venture into writing blogs once again. My medical leave following the dynamite explosion in which I was injured while at Se La Pass was to last six weeks. I had returned home to Trivandrum sufficiently frost bitten to have my large ear lobes and nose turn dark, and skin pealing like a snake’s scales. It was a central topic in several hilarious conversations with guests when they visited our home, and I had a lot of stories to tell about my adventures in the snow-covered mountains of the Himalayas. Everyone wanted to …