The 26th of January is celebrated as Republic Day to mark the date on which Independent India’s Constitution came into effect.
The Indian Constitution is a remarkable articulation of a post-colonial dream – to reshape the very matrix of socio-political interactions in a country enslaved by the inequities of caste and class stratification, religious strife, foreign occupation, and endemic poverty.
Its awe-inspiring PREAMBLE leaves no one in doubt of these intentions:
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation …
And to be fair, successive Indian governments have made numerous inclusive laws, implemented social justice schemes, and formulated multiple programmes and projects to ensure that Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity prevail.
However, in recent years, the emergence of right-wing governments across the globe with their concomitant Neocon free market economic policies, and the growth of individual innovators in technology has seen unprecedented growth in the wealth of a few at the cost of the many – and India is no exception.
As the India Supplement 2022 of the Oxfam Report INEQUALITY KILLS reveals:
- Despite it being the worst year yet for India during the pandemic, the number of Indian billionaires grew from 102 in 2020, to 142 in 2021. This was also the year when the share of the bottom 50% of the population in national wealth was a mere 6%.
- The combined wealth of the richest hundred Indians on the Forbes list stands at more than half a trillion US$.
- In 2020, India’s top 10% held close to 45% of the country’s total national wealth.
- The richest 98 Indian billionaires had the same wealth (USD 657 billion) as the poorest 555,000,000 people in India, who also constitute the poorest 40%.
- India is home to a quarter of all undernourished people worldwide. The 2021 FAO report on The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World states that there are over 200 million undernourished people in India.
- Daily wage workers topped the categories of people who died of suicide in 2020, followed by self-employed and unemployed individuals.
These inequalities have been exacerbated by indifference, inaction and even deliberate pro-rich biases of the present regime:
- The chronic neglect of the healthcare system in India is clear when one looks at the poor budgetary allocations to the sector made by successive governments. Other middle-income countries (MICs) like Brazil (9.51), China (5.35), Russia (5.32) and South Africa (8.25) have allocations much higher than India (3.54). This consistently poor spending on health has also created gross inequalities in the healthcare system: for example, the life expectancy of a Dalit woman is approximately 15 years less than that of an upper caste woman.
- Despite a recognition of the value of spending on education, India’s governmental expenditure on education has stagnated, remaining around 3% of GDP between 2014-15 to 2018-19, against the historic target of 6% of GDP. Other MICs like Brazil (6.1), Russia (4.7), and South Africa (6.8) allocate far more in comparison. A bad situation was made infinitely worse by the COVID 19 Pandemic, when only 4% of rural SC/ST students were able to study online on a regular basis.
- The pandemic also saw many children pushed out of school and into child labour. (A study by Aide et Action found that 50% of migrant children were engaged in work to help their parents, and 67% accompany their parents on worksites.)
- Between June and October 2020, child marriages reportedly increased by more than 33%.
- Awareness of PDS among respondents was at 66%, but one-third of the respondents with a ration card were unable to buy ration at a PDS outlet.
- Only 8% had heard of Ayushman Bharat and just 1% had a health card.
- Additionally, the awareness of labour codes was close to zero.
Inadequate expenditure on health, education and social security go hand-in-hand with the rise in privatisation of the provision of essential goods and services, thus increasing inequality in the country.
The proportion of India’s children attending a government school has now declined to 45% – this number is 85% in the USA, 90% in England, and 95% in Japan. Sending a child to a private school is approximately NINE times the cost of a government school.
The growing inequality in the country with the wealthiest 10% amassing 45% of the national wealth, while the poor struggle for access to health, education and social security, calls for specific policy responses to tackle the issue.
The Oxfam Report makes the following suggestions to address this growing inequality:
- Redistribute India’s wealth from the super-rich to generate resources for the majority: A 4% wealth tax on the 98 richest families in India can take care of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for more than 2 years, the Mid-Day-Meal programme of the country for 17 years OR the Samagra Siksha Abhiyan for 6 years. Similarly, estimates suggest that a 1% wealth tax on 98 richest billionaire families can finance the Ayushman Bharat scheme for more than SEVEN years OR the Department of School Education and Literacy of the Government of India for one year.
- Generate revenue to invest in the education and health of future generations: A temporary 1% surcharge on the richest 10% population could help raise an additional INR 8.7 lakh crore, which could be utilised to increase the education and health budget.
- Enact and Enforce Statutory Social Security Provisions for Informal Sector Workers: While the government is recognising gig economy workers, it also needs to focus on laying the legal groundwork of basic social sector protections for 93% percent of India’s workforce. It is time to reverse privatisation and commercialisation of public services, address jobless growth and bring back stronger social protection measures for India’s informal sector workers.
Who can argue with that!