How Can We Fight Poverty in India?

We all agree that poverty is the biggest curse faced by humanity. We all want to fight it and eradicate it. However, longer we see it around us the more we tend to get immunized to it. It is not uncommon in India to see opulent palatial buildings rising out of slum dwellings around them. People living in them eventually view and accept poverty as a part of life.

To fight poverty it is important that we first acknowledge it. We must accept the fact that as a nation and as affluent citizens we have not met our social and ethical obligations. We simply cannot blame the poor for their own demise and wash our hands. This step is critical to dispel this “immunity” toward poverty and begin the internal awakening to do something about it.

Simple things such as basic food, clothing and shelter to survive are akin to our birth right just as the right to breathe air and drink water. They simply cannot be denied without dire consequences. This does not suggest that we are obligated to provide handouts to the poor. This is typically the first reaction and it has repeatedly failed to deal with the poverty whenever and wherever tried. In most developing countries this approach leads to formation of special “groups” privileged to handouts to make up for the social injustice they suffered in the past. Nobody denies the existence of such injustice and inequalities in our society and the urgent need to solve them. But the solution is not “handouts” of various sorts to them. Before too long these privileges become perceived as entitlements and grow in demand without regards to social and national responsibilities. This problem is further exasperated by political exploitation. We end up injecting the virus of the poverty infrastructure into the social and national infrastructure at large, exactly the opposite of what we set out to do! Now we have a country infected with its own virus of poverty – poverty of thought.

We have to empower the poor to breakout from the bondage of poverty. They have to take ownership in their own liberation, however assisted, and eventually become responsible participants in the growth of the nation just like everyone else.

How do we empower the impoverished?

To do that we have to first understand the infrastructure of the poverty itself? What makes one poor? Why is it so difficult for poor to break out of this chain? What are their major handicaps? How are they victimized? How does the “food chain” of the poverty infrastructure function? Who are the people “benefiting” from poverty?

Then, we can begin to devise a systematic approach to fight it on all fronts in a coordinated manner.

Human excellence is the key here. Human Excellence is the ability to discriminate between wrong and right and the courage to adhere with the right.  It is a process and a journey.  It requires continuous introspection, improvement and implementation of our value systems in the daily life. It requires understanding of us as individuals and our role in the society. Intellectual & material excellence are significant enablers but only stepping stones toward Human Excellence. It is the driving force to mobilize our internal & external resources to make ourselves and the world better. I submit that the number one cause of all our problems, including poverty, is the lack of human excellence more so than lack of financial and natural resources.
There are scores of studies done under the auspices of the United Nations and the World Bank linking poverty and corruption in the developing countries.

How do we inject the human excellence into the poverty infrastructure and replicate it from within? It is only through human excellence that we can make efficient use of the precious resources to fight poverty. Those within and immediately around the poverty infrastructure are (willing or unwilling) victims of structural deterioration of their ethical values and thus become immunized to it. This is why programs devised in bureaucratic planning process and charitable institution headquarters typically fail to eradicate poverty. What we suffer here is the poverty of thought void of experiencing firsthand the poverty infrastructure at work.

I would like to hear your comments and suggestions on how do we institutionalize Human Excellence in our DNA?


More by :  Dr. Gopal Singh

Top | Opinion

Views: 3408      Comments: 13

Comment Poverty is a major problem in the country and solution is that we have to prison corrrupt ministers.

Bharati Shringi
21-Nov-2011 10:46 AM

Comment Keep your chin up Siddhartha! Lend it others what is burning inside you!

15-Aug-2011 20:02 PM

Comment Most of the communities in the entire Indian sub-continent(such as Bengali) succumbed in ‘Culture of Poverty'(Oscar Lewis), irrespective of class or economic strata, lives in pavement or apartment. Nobody is at all feel regret ed or ashamed of the deep-rooted corruption, decaying general quality of life, worst Politico-administrative system, weak mother language, continuous absorption of common social space (mental as well as physical, both). We are becoming fathers & mothers only by self-procreation, mindlessly & blindfold(supported by some lame excuses). Simply depriving their(the children) fundamental rights of a decent, caring society, fearless & dignified living. Do not ever look for any other positive alternative behaviour(values) to perform human way of parenthood, i.e. deliberately co-parenting children those are born out of ignorance, extreme poverty, need to strike hard at fundamental point. It seems that all of us are being driven only by the very animal instinct. If the Bengali people ever be able to bring that genuine freedom (from vicious cycle of ‘poverty’) in their own life/attitude, involve themselves in ‘Production of (social) Space’ (Henri Lefebvre), initiate a movement by heart, decent & dedicated Politics will definitely come up. – Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay, 16/4, Girish Banerjee Lane, Howrah-711101.

15-Aug-2011 13:47 PM

Comment Dear rdashby ji,

I appreciate that the I am using this sentence of institutionalizing Human Excellence iin our DNA in a metaphorical sense. I agree with you that it has to be cultivated. We are not born with it.

We live in this world. We have to deal with it. Even in our attempt to realize the Ultimate from within we have to deal with the world since it is the very manifestation of the same. That is why Loksangraha is stressed in everyday life.

In any event, if you feel that the poor are better off on their own and we should leave them alone, I respect your view. I just don't agree with it.

Thank you.

10-Nov-2010 10:56 AM

Comment In any event, this discussion is getting away from my original question: How do we institutionalize human excellence in our DNA? Please spend some time pondering on it and give us your views. Thanks. (Gopal Singh)

I think you are playing a language game here. The concept of 'institutionalising human excellence in our DNA' is either Lamarckian (false) or metaphorical, the latter usage being somewhat overdone to suggest literalness. The fact is we cannot institutionalise human excellence in our DNA. Only evolutionary change through natural selection can do that, in the modern understanding of how species evolve, reflecting non-volitional mutations in DNA. Human excellence is not in the gene pool, but is something aspired to, as you rightly through contunal personal effort, much as is the virtuous life.

10-Nov-2010 08:20 AM

Comment Dear Vivek ji,

You made some excellent points. Your story about the hotel employees is a good one. At least in this sitution the Hotel and its employees are applying Human Excellence and turning a bad experience into an opportunity for improvement. How does the Hotel (essentially all its emloyees) instill this in its system of operation? How can it be adopted by others?

Your personal family example is also a good one. Needless to state parents (grand parents, family members) can play a vital role in institutionalizing the Human Excellence in their children. How can we take it further? How can we extend it so the teachers and society in general can reinforce the same? What are we missing here?

Innovators and people with intellectual excellence who create wealth are great enablers for themselves and the society and the country in general. More power to them. But we are talking about going one step further - using this enabler to ascend to Human Excellence. We can't stop after promoting our cause and hoping its trickle down effect will benefit the society including the unempowered (poor). We have to go a step further. We have to take some of our time, intellectual and material resources and apply it genuinely to help the poor empower themselves.

Your first point about shaming the poor to get them out of their self impovershing behavior is not clear to me. I think the poor suffer with plenty of shame and lack of self respect. Their apparent indifference to society in general and attitude of resentment is an expression of that bottled in complex. We do not need to add to that burden. It is one thing to scold a child and shame him to action (though that has its own problems) because deep down the child knows that the parents are doing it out of intese concern and care for him. It is quite another situation for an "outsider - however caring" to try the same. May be I am not understanding what you meant.

In any event, the basic question still remains: Is lack of Human Excellence the primary cause our inability to fight poverty (roughly 40% of the population is below Indian defined BPL)? If so, how can we awaken it in our system?

Gopal Singh

09-Nov-2010 13:12 PM

Comment Dear Rama ji,

I read the article on the URL you suggested. Thanks for the info.

I am not promoting U.N. or World Bank or any other institution as such. There are some thought provoking studies sponsored by them. We can learn from some of them. It serves no purpose to find those who have done ineffective job fighting poverty. I don't have to go that far. All I have to do is look in the mirror.

Please give more thought on the question raised in the last sentence of my posting. Let us stay focused on that. Thanks.

Gopal Singh

09-Nov-2010 12:01 PM

Comment Dear Shiela ji,

Your comment about microfinance panacea is a good one. There is nothing wrong about the idea itself, but when applied without genuine understanding of the infrastructure in and around the poverty domain, it can be largely ineffective.

Please expand on your two comments:

1. Lack of agency within an internalzied ethical frame-work.
2. Ethics is really about diminishing the range of exchange that occurs through the market.

Quality and quantity are both important. The product of the two leads to excellence. Exclusive emphasis on one will yield no results. It just turns out easier for most of us to deal with issues to promote quantity. Quality is more subtle and requires genuine innovation to promote. We need a working qualitative model before we apply the quantitative approach.

Is there a way for Love & Care (essential elements of Human Excellence) to be institutionalzed? Obviously this is not an easy question. Give some more thought on it. Thanks.

Gopal Singh

09-Nov-2010 11:53 AM

Comment Dear rdashby ji,

Thank you for your response. I agree that happiness and comfort are two different things. One can buy comfort but not happiness. I agree that poor can live happily within their limited means. But stating this and washing our hands from the problem is denying the obvious.

Material excellence, intellectual excellence and spiritual excellence are not mutually exclusive. Human excellence combines all three in a homogenius one.

A slum dweller watching his wife, son or daughter slowly die without proper medical care does wonder about the root cause of his problems and does spend time thinking about how to get out of it. He/she may be compelled to give up dreaming at times due to seemingly insurmountable odds but the dreams do not completely die. How can he empower himself to get out of his poverty? Better yet, how can we all help him empower himself? A person who is drowning does need a helping hand - not a condenscending one but one born out human bondage.

In any event, this discussion is getting away from my original question: How do we institutionalize human excellence in our DNA? Please spend some time pondering on it and give us your views. Thanks.

Gopal Singh

09-Nov-2010 11:29 AM

Comment Let me say from the outset that I find your views on poverty in India those of someone looking in from the outside, not the views of a poor person, who never is consulted. When one, meaning someone from the affluent section of an Indian city, as you refer to it in your first para, views the large slum sprawling around, one is struck by the sustainability of life there. Slum life goes on from day to day. It is a life, and to interfere with it using subjective judgments from an affluent perspective is to cause a breakdown of harmony.

From the point of view of the poor person living in a slum, his requirements are few and almost certainly met, which explains why slum life is sustainable. When a slum dweller looks at someone living the affluent life-style he is curiiously not resentful or envious, because he notices this person rarely smiles; for the very possession of house and car and job he is burdened by responsibilities the slum dweller is free from. The slum dweller merely has to fulfil his immediate needs, living from day to day, engendering a trust in God. And in that trust, experiencing a joy and freedom the affluent are denied in terms of their self-reliance.

09-Nov-2010 08:26 AM

Comment 'Those within and immediately around the poverty infrastructure are (willing or unwilling) victims of structural deterioration of their ethical values and thus become immunized to it. This is why programs devised in bureaucratic planning process and charitable institution headquarters typically fail to eradicate poverty. What we suffer here is the poverty of thought void of experiencing firsthand the poverty infrastructure at work.'

Typically, in remoter districts, Poverty affects the mind-set not through what is termed relative deprivation but lack of agency within an internalzied ethical frame-work.
A foolish solution was the Microfinance panacea of turning every woman into an entrepreneur by means of a small loan. This ends up empowering the agent, the intermediary- not the target community.
Ethics is really about diminishing the range of exchange that occurs through the market. It means strengthening family and social ties so as to permit more co-operative means of production and exchange. In practice this means ditching quantitative measures of success and focusing on real people and real stories. There is nothing human about statistics- not in this context.
Love and care are things rewarding in themselves. They won't get you a celebrity status or a million dollar I.P.O pay-off- but at least they are already in your DNA if you are involved in this field.

08-Nov-2010 14:14 PM

Comment Good one sir, and here's just my opinion on poverty... Read the link below,
that says that the IMF and World Bank are two evil that have affected the global poverty to deepen....


08-Nov-2010 02:34 AM

Comment How to end poverty? Broadly there are 2 methods
1) stop people from doing things that will make them poorer and leave them no alternative but to do something that will make them better off. Here the concept of shame is relevant. People can be shamed out of sticking with self-impoverishing behavior.
2) let people do things with assets that they own in any case which will make them better off- indeed much better off than we could if we were making decisions for them. Here, praise and honor can motivate people. They begin to see that in finding more productive ways to use assets they are not mere slaves to greed but rational agents whom others can learn from.

Striving for human excellence (or maximizing life-chances) falls under heading 2. However, relatively smarter people can get ahead by gaming the system already.
So, in a country like India, the main focus should be on option 1.
Those of us reading this on our computer screens, are enabled to do so because either we ourselves, or someone we are descended from, was forced to stop doing something that was making us poorer and compelled us in a draconian manner to do something that made us better off.
I recall a story my great-grandmother told me about her father having gone to the Mission School bare-chested because his only shirt was still wet. The cruel school-master ridiculed the Brahmin boy and told him to go back to sweeping his idol-house. These monkeys can't even wear a shirt- and they think they can learn English!
That young boy there and then determined that one day he would own a finer carriage than the European School Inspector. He worked hard and his dream came true. He disciplined his children with the stick and, lo! and behold!, they earned good marks and rose up in the world by their own efforts. Yet, their descendants don't want to give the same opportunity to those who got left behind. Some years ago, I got angry about something and shouted at a hotel employee. He came to see me with a bunch of his caste-fellows. They didn't want to beat me up but to find out how to do their job properly to earn bigger tips. I explained a little and they got the idea soon enough. The main thing is confidence and desire to come up. There is a new spirit in India. Some few people have 'Human Excellence' to be genuine innovators. The majority are people like me who need sharp words when we are going down the wrong path and truthful advise about the way things actually are- not how they should be in an ideal society.

True, some readers of this may be descended from people who were able to get ahead either by their own exceptional qualities or some species of unjust enrichment- but in the main people become better off because, like my fore-father, they received a sharp 'reality-check'.

08-Nov-2010 00:49 AM

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