Poverty is real, acknowledge it
It needs to be understood that the growing number of billionaires and the expanding urban middle class in the country do not in any way prove that India has been able to combat poverty. On the contrary, these are signs of flaws in redistribution of income and expose the prevalent economic inequality in the country
Despite being close to marking 70 years of Independence, India remains far behind with regard to poverty eradication. Poverty continues to maintain its grip on a considerable number of Indians, depriving them of basic necessities such as food, shelter, drinking water, power, sanitation, health care, education, and social security. Many of us, however, find it difficult to accept this ugly reality, and when confronted with it, either conveniently point to the achievements of those Indians who feature on the Forbes list of the world's billionaires or highlight the country's rapidly expanding urban middle class and its growing economic power. The objective is to shift focus away from the issue considered unpleasant and perceived as detrimental to the country's image.
Most urban middle-class Indians would rather not even acknowledge that poverty exists in the country. Instead, they get highly defensive if someone calls India poor and make every effort to stray from the discussion. Take, for instance, the recent Snapchat controversy. The Los Angeles-based social media company and its CEO Evan Spiegel had to face the wrath of Indian users, and also many non-users after media reports quoted a lawsuit filed against the company by one of its former employees in the Superior Court of California for the County of Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles-based social media company and its CEO Evan Spiegel had to face the wrath of Indian users, and also many non-users after media reports quoted a lawsuit filed against the company by one of its former employees in the Superior Court of California for the County of Los Angeles.
Back in 2015, it was alleged that at a company's meeting to discuss growth Spiegel had commented that the multimedia mobile app Snapchat was meant only for rich people and he did not want to expand into poor countries like Spain and India. It further alleged that Snapchat, which went public in March this year, had exaggerated user data and the company's top executives were misinformed about key metrics.
Immediately after the media reports, Snapchat issued a statement denying the allegations made in the lawsuit but by then many Indian users on social media, in a show of misplaced patriotism and ignorance, had gone on the overdrive, uninstalling the company's app and asking other users to do the same. Some even went to the extent of uninstalling the app of an Indian e-commerce company having a partially similar name.
The emotional and immature outburst against Snapchat on social media brings to the fore three essential questions. First, don't companies have the legitimate right to choose their target markets? Second, even if a company considers India to be a poor country, is it right to call for a boycott of its products and services? Third, shouldn't social media users exercise restraint when embarking on a campaign against an individual or an organisation without verifying facts?
It can be said without an iota of doubt that the outburst on social media against Snapchat was a knee-jerk reaction, and also unfair and irresponsible, causing more harm than good to India's image. For those that indulged in it, or even supported the attack, a 2016 World Bank report titled 'Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality' can be an enlightening resource.
According to the report, India is among the top ten countries in the world in terms of the number of poor people. It also has the largest number of people (224 million) living under the international $ 1.90-a-day poverty line, more than 2.5 times more than the 86 million in Nigeria, the country with the second largest population of the poor worldwide. While Sub-Saharan Africa has one in two of the poor worldwide, India accounts for one in three. The report points out that 30 per cent of the world's poorest children live in India.
It needs to be understood that the growing number of billionaires and the expanding urban middle class in the country do not in any way prove that India has been able to combat poverty. On the contrary, these are signs of flaws in redistribution of income and expose the prevalent economic inequality in the country. The International Monetary Fund has already expressed concern over the growing inequality in Asia, particularly in India and China. Between 1990 and 2013, the rise in inequality in India was one of the highest in the world.
For a country such as India, having a population of more than 1.2 billion, fighting poverty poses a humongous challenge. It requires long-term strategies and policy interventions by the government coupled with strong support from political parties, social organisations, economists, and other experts in the field. To make the fight effective, we must first acknowledge that poverty exists in the country and then accept it as a major challenge. When we claim that India is not a poor country, we actually deny the very existence of those millions of lives that have limited or no access to essentials. Social media can certainly play a significant role in India's fight against poverty, but that role must not be overplayed.
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