Fighting Multiple Poverties Demand Multi-Sectoral Approach Back

April, 2016

Lifting India out of poverty could be best done only by Indians, and that too only when they collectively make a resolve. But unfortunately there are many in our country who continue to be blissfully unaware of the challenge of poverty or rather the complexity of the same. And as it happens, there are many, who do not know that they do not know. Hence, realisation of poverty, recognition of poverty, and desire to come out of its as a society on our own becomes very important. Unless these factors are effectively taken care of, mere policy changes and reforms in implementation infrastructure may not help us end poverty.

Romanticizing Poverty 

In this context, I remember a story once told by one of my schoolteachers. The story goes like this -

Once, there was a king known for being very humble, very duty-conscious and truly dedicated to the welfare of his subjects. One fine morning, a learned rishi, a monk or hermit entered his palace and met him. The hermit was a learned person, very old and widely respected and widely considered as personification of sacrifice. Seeing him, the king got up and offered him a seat and expressed his desire to wash his feet as a mark of his respect and gratitude. While the king was about to get up, the old hermit stopped him and told that instead he himself wants to wash the King's feet. Astonished, the king wondered as to how could this happen? "You are an ascetic, Sir. I am enjoying all those worldly pleasures; you have turned your back to. It is you who deserve felicitation and hence I must offer you a Pooja. Therefore, allow me to wash your feet!" Not surprised but still with firmness the hermit explained the King, "Rajan, first of all tell me which kind of joy, or what kind of pleasure is of supreme importance?"      

Perplexed, the king replied." Without doubt, the most supreme pleasure is the one that you derive out of sacrifice. The pleasure of sacrificing something is the supreme bliss"

A beaming hermit then said: " If that is really so, King; then I am enjoying the supreme joy to its fullest. While I am enjoying this satisfaction, you seem to have sacrificed that supreme joy in totality. Hence, Rajan; not me but you are the embodiment of sacrifice. Hence, I need to wash your feet and not the other way. "

The moral of the story is that the establishment has always indulged in glorification of poverty. Instead of working towards removing poverty, our efforts remained somewhere close to romanticising poverty. We seem to have developed a habit to find virtue in almost some kind of perpetuation of poverty. As a consequence their efforts for most these years have remained confined to milking poverty rather than removing it.  Indulgence in socialism mostly inspired by competitive populism had always come handy for the rulers in the past to defend their subsidy-centric policies and dole oriented welfare programmes.

Socialism and Populism

Both as a society and also as an economy, outdated ideas of socialism and populism have played a key role in institutionalisation of deprivation in India. The hangover of colonial rule still haunts us. Playing victim hood and blaming others for the state of affairs has become a favourite pastime for many of us. This has seriously hampered our ability to-

A. believe in ourselves,

B. walk all that we talk and

C. motivate others while remaining steadfastly self-motivated.

All these factors have hugely added the inertia that has gathered both within and around us over a period of time and has seriously affected our work culture.

Societal Poverties

Add to this a quadruplet of major societal poverties that we find ourselves in the tight grip of! These are four distinct crises. The first of these four crises is the Poverty of the sense of Purpose. First as an individual and later as a society we keep doing hundreds of things with almost zero sense of purpose. Events happen without a substance, programmes and schemes are implemented without any resoluteness for achieving the goals. We are at the threshold of the Robotic Era. But even before the advancement of that age, many of us have become mere machines. In our public life, many of us keep doing everything, mostly mechanically. This crisis of purpose has made us hollow from within, thoroughly de-motivated and perennially sceptical about each thing and every thing around.

Poverty of authenticity

The second most serious poverties is the poverty of authenticity and mutual trust. Undoubtedly, the ability to question is not just important but perhaps central to the history of Human Civilisational progress. But even while questioning, one has to believe in the process, in the given system. Bereft of this, most of us have become non-believers notwithstanding the growth of certain spiritual brands. There has been such a huge amount of dishonesty and hoodwinking around for several years, that even authentic and genuine individuals, activities or theories and doctrines continuously face a barrage of doubts coupled with scepticism. A huge backlog of societal trust building is now everywhere to see. 

Since trust has remained in short supply, as a society we are facing a poverty of relationships as well. Breakdown of relationships- starting from families to businesses and organisations to institutions -- like God has become omnipresent. Communication is central to any kind of relationship. However, ironically even with a plethora of gadgets and platforms to communicate, communication gap is continues to be difficult to fill. 

And this has led us to the last but the most serious crisis as a society, and perhaps as a nation too, which is the poverty of a sense of ownership. Cities, public places, institutions everything wherever there is this concept of collective responsibility, the crisis of ownership has crept in. Do we really own the area in which we live? Do we have a sense of ownership towards at least the housing society that we stay? If yes, do we share some responsibility? More often, true responses to these questions are in the negative.

Empowerment for entitlement

Happily, under the Nrendra Modi dispensation, things have started changing. First of all, there is a major shift in the approach from empowerment via entitlement to entitlement through empowerment. Empowerment of farmers, youths and women has been given top priority. Systemic measures to mitigate risks in farming for empowering the farmers has been central to the new Crop Insurance infrastructure unveiled by this govt. Similarly, skilling of youths to overcome the challenge of un-employability has been given top priority. In so far as women are concerned, empowering them through multiple measures for their basic healthcare on the one hand and economic self reliance on the other has received due importance under this Govt. Instead of the routine, traditional and populist Right based Approach where an illusion of empowerment could be created simply because there is a new right in the constitution, has now been effectively replaced by an Infrastructure based approach that empowers the deprived sections naturally leading to entitlement.

Politics of Performance

This approach has effectively discarded the politics of populism, which is being replaced by politics of performance. Not only is this Govt aware but it has also made people conscious of the fact that subsidies always have to be short term measures with an essential inbuilt sunset clause. Subsides, doles and free lunches have a limited purpose and therefore a limited life too.

However, mere governmental efforts will have their own limitations. To overcome them, what is supremely important is Social Mentoring of the disadvantaged sections. This can happen only via greater social sensitisation.  If those who are less less-fortunate fail in appreciating their Citizens Social Responsibility - a CSR of a different kind-- our agenda for national development itself will remain poor in performance. And in the presence of a person who is working on a brilliant idea of Poverty Laboratory, I need not explain as to how poverty of performance proves to be the costliest of all the things. 

Challenge of poverty, therefore cannot be effectively faced through economic measures alone. Multiple poverties demand a muti-sectoral approach, a comprehensive strategy and a foolproof implementation infrastructure. If we refuse to pay attention to these demands of the situation, I am afraid even after 10 years in 2026, we may will have to organise a lecture on pretty much the same subject. Let’s resolve to not to let that happen!