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Updated: March 31, 2012 21:17 IST

Persistent paradoxes

Nissim Mannathukkaren
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Balancing act: The underprivileged, for once, gets to walk higher... Photo: A. Shaikmohideen
Balancing act: The underprivileged, for once, gets to walk higher... Photo: A. Shaikmohideen

Does economic growth relate to human development? If so, why the discord between different aspects of human wellbeing?

On July 30, 2011, in Kanpur, Sikandar Khan was mauled to death by a pack of stray dogs which then went on to partially eat his body. Khan, unbelievably, was lodged in the emergency ward of a government hospital. Such an occurrence would have raised a public outcry in any decent society, but such bizarre tragedies are not out of the ordinary in the second fastest growing, and the fourth largest economy in the world.

If a single feature could encapsulate India since 1991, it is this paradox: The dissonance between different aspects of human wellbeing. Thus, is it surprising that while 63 per cent of households have telephones, only 47 percent have toilets? While the concept “development” itself has become a buzzword, its meaning, like many who are subject to it, has become malnourished: It merely means economic growth and has nothing to do with human development.

But after 20 years of spectacular economic growth, India's Human Development Index — HDI (2011) — is marginally below, not China, which is far ahead, but, that of South Asia! In the health category, Nepal and Bangladesh are better than India, while Pakistan is at the same level. All (except Afghanistan) do better than India in gender equality.

Women face it more

In our perception, these nations, especially Bangladesh and Pakistan, are of course, far inferior, especially in the treatment of women. In the humorous look at stereotypes — “The World According to India” — popular across social media networks, Pakistan stands for “terrorists trained here”, and Bangladesh for “immigrants”. But as Sen and Dreze note: “Overall, India had the best social indicators in South Asia in 1990, next to Sri Lanka, but now looks second-worst, ahead of only Pakistan. “Remarkably, as they show, Bangladesh, with less than half of India's per capita income, has surpassed India in child survival, life expectancy, fertilization rates, immunization, etc. This is a telling commentary on the nation which has abandoned the poverty of 40 years of “socialism” for the supposed prosperity of unbridled capitalism.

Unless development is rescued from its equation with economic growth and expansion of markets, the present scenario will continue. A revolution in social consciousness is needed to understand the multifaceted nature of human wellbeing. To understand that development is not only the proliferation of material goods, but, is, ultimately, in Amartya Sen's famous formulation, development as freedom: “Advancing the richness of human life, rather than the richness of the economy in which human beings live, which is only a part of it.” To understand that economic growth, while very important, is not enough for the best realisation of human capabilities. After all, for example, it is not starvation — caused by economic poverty — alone that hinders human functioning but also obesity — an effect of economic prosperity (in North America, the additional burden imposed on health-care expenditure by obesity was a staggering $ 127 billion last year).

And more importantly, there are so many aspects of human life that cannot/ should not be commodified, or are beyond the ken of economic language, but are still vital to human wellbeing.

To understand development thus is to realise that vital areas of that wellbeing like health and education, the environment (crucial not only for us, humans) and many others have to be dissociated, at least substantially, from the profit motive or the market. Instead, what has happened, since the opening up of the markets, is the opposite. These have been sold to the highest bidder, and when there have been no takers, they have been left to the depredations of an avaricious and incompetent state.

That is why there are many government schools in the country which are used to house buffaloes, while five-star food is served in some private schools. That is why Sikandar Khan is eaten by dogs in a government hospital, while Americans fly to “world class” private medical facilities for a hip replacement which comes with a free tour to the Taj. And that is why 80 per cent of spending in health in our country is in the private sector, while it is above 80 per cent in the public sector in Cuba (a socialist country), and Norway (a capitalist country!).

Economic costs

The dissonances and paradoxes thus continue. That India is the second fastest growing economy in the world is known by every school child while the fact that India has, shockingly, the highest proportion of underweight children in the world, or that it is ranked 171 out of 175 countries in public spending on health would not be taught. This is a classic case of development sans people, or at least a majority of them.

And we move from being a market economy to what the philosopher Michel Sandel calls a market society, where markets and market values completely penetrate “spheres of life traditionally governed by nonmarket norm.” So social programs like NRHM, MGNREGA, and food security are merely “economic costs” (or bones thrown at starving dogs) which can be tampered with anytime to protect the sacred Sensex. They are not a part of an overall paradigm shift which sees the healthy and employed poor as human beings and as an end in itself.

But a shift to development as freedom is not easy as policy climate and public consciousness is stacked against it. We have influential free market voices like the economist Jagdish Bhagwati for whom HDI is a scientifically “nonsensical index.” But GDP and GNP are not! Thus, for him, economic reforms have lifted 200 million people out of poverty. But the fundamental questions that are not being asked are: Why is it that poorer nations with much poorer economic growth rates than India have done better in many aspects of the same HDI? What does it mean to be lifted out of poverty when the urban poverty line is Rs. 28 per day? And what does it say about the economic growth which has produced increasing concentration of wealth and double the levels of inequality in earnings since 1990 (India being the worst case among emerging economies)?

To move to development as freedom, and development with people, we need to abandon seeing market logic as the only logic, to realise that providing sanitation to almost 600 million Indians is not only about saving the economy $ 54 billion every year, but also about ending the horrific degradation of 13 lakh manual scavengers; the 200 children who die every hour, many due to diarrhoea, is not terrible happenstance; innovation is not only what a Steve Jobs does, but also what a Bindeshwar Pathak does, and the fact that one billion citizens will have cellphones by 2015 is not necessarily the pinnacle of Indian civilisation.

Dr. Nissim Mannathukkaren is Acting Chair, International Development Studies, Dalhousie University (


Fresh look at poverty line plannedApril 7, 2012

My friends all of us see these situations & realise also these, but we
dont want to accept them in the innermost corner of our hearts.

Other wise we would be taking steps to solve these issues - we dont
have the courage to walk these steps. Let the issue be even at our
home we dont have the courage - we look for short cut solutions which
would address the pain / panic today & forget it later till it beocmes

We are all self centered & become self protecting only. We dont want
to take responsibility that WE OWE TO OTHERS TO WHAT WE ARE TODAY.
From birth we are dependent on others to make us what we are today.
From the milk man to cobbler, from the grocer to the dhobi - from our
parents to the Teachers - we owe them all. But when the time comes
for contribution from our side to the society - WE ALL SHY AWAY WHY??

Please answer these from your heart - You will get the WAY FOR SOLVING

We forget that we get back what we give to others - so give whole

from:  Venkatramani
Posted on: Apr 2, 2012 at 17:06 IST

Remarkable write-up.

from:  Jain Raghvendra
Posted on: Apr 1, 2012 at 19:45 IST

Remarkable write-up. Economic reforms aimed at opening up of market and attracting FDIs will only result in increasing Indian dependency in foreign money and products. IT is high time to reject protectionist arms through bold economic policies. A political will for the same is in high demand.

from:  Sophy K Joseph
Posted on: Apr 1, 2012 at 16:50 IST

Congrats. The author has articulated 'WHAT IS DEVELOPMENT' in true sense. Principles of Socialism is the best known way of ensuring human development. People often confuse socialism with communist ideology. In fact, true socialism has never been tried in India. Nehurvian socialism is not true socialism. We need to wake up to realities. Neo-Liberal economics has failed. We need to move on.

from:  Dr.Himanshu
Posted on: Apr 1, 2012 at 16:05 IST

Congratulations to Dr.Mannathukkaren and the Hindu for this article PUBLISHED.We have been enamoured by the slogans and sugared speeches in parliament by the Finance Minister and the P.M.Dr.Singh recently expressed his sorrow that 65%of Indian Children are under nourished.He has not mentioned the Pregnant Women,feeding mothers,toddlers etc who are starved of FOOD and Nutrition.In the oft repeated Mantra 'INCLUSIVE GROWTH' 'Averages'are taken and highlighted to show that our phenominal 'Economic'growth 'INCLUDE' the care for the poorest of the poor.The sadistic statement that Rs.30 and below is the bench mark for poverty definition (400gm atta and 100gm chana dhal) describe the pathetic mindset of our Ruling Elite.This is the case of India destined to rule by itself -after 65 years.The Statisticians and planners console us saying that poverty has come down by 1.2% and ONLY about 33% of Indians are Below the Poverty Line and give out further optimism that this will go down by another 1.5%.

from:  ajithkumar
Posted on: Apr 1, 2012 at 14:29 IST

Very Accurate depiction of the current state and probably the thought of hundreds put exactly into words!

from:  Satish Mardur
Posted on: Apr 1, 2012 at 11:58 IST

This line sums it all "innovation is not only what a Steve Jobs does, but also what a Bindeshwar Pathak does".It is the penetration of the market forces in all areas of life and governance and conciousness that is to be blamed.

from:  Veerabhadram
Posted on: Apr 1, 2012 at 11:41 IST

As a first step to ending the paradox , enlightened social scientists and intellectuals like Mannathukaren should return to India and begin to make a contribution hands on.... Unfortunately for poor India, there are any number of experts who sit ensconced in distant universities and lecture us on what is good for us while looking out of the comforts of their confines.

from:  Oommen Joseph
Posted on: Apr 1, 2012 at 11:40 IST

well written article pointing finger on neo liberal policies of government which dispite of eradicating the poverty in the society , just assisting capitalist class to accumulate more wealth.

from:  muzammil.
Posted on: Apr 1, 2012 at 09:44 IST

India's growth really starts when the basic amenities are provided.what
is necessary? what is luxury? a common man can not identify it.he is
carried away by the rich.Unless the government urges to improve the
needs of the poor,no miracles will happen.

from:  thangam
Posted on: Apr 1, 2012 at 09:31 IST

Very well articulated. But still the question remains how many of us
realise this? Bizarre,They are not willing to even read such
articles. The whole country talks about health tourism but nobody
wants to talk about the infant/child mortality or maternal mortality.
The irony is that the whole country debates about Rs.28/- or 32/- but
not about the issue behind such an estimation. How to make the
country realise and work towards.....

from:  Blossom
Posted on: Apr 1, 2012 at 07:25 IST

Education system is also to be blamed. It has been used as a tool to get job. But not as an awareness. Even the parents don't want their kids to know what is bad and lacking in India. And the teachers are there to see through that the kids get good grades. Every one want their child to be in US but not bring US(life) to India. Quality is deteriorating and people are more tolerant to bad roads but not tolerant when sharing it with others. More pitiful to beggars than the people who work under them. More tolerant to help other person but try to loot the govt policies that favor the poor people!!! With overcrowding it makes me wonder--Are we going to a point of no return?

from:  Marudah
Posted on: Apr 1, 2012 at 04:29 IST

I don't understand where this so-called suspicion of socialism comes from, especially in this country where the entire middle and upper middle-class who tout the virtues of capitalism have benefited from socialist institutions like the IITs and and the IIMs and other other such socialist measures that Nehru introduced in the 50s-60s. If socialism is a "one-track ideology," what about capitalism? It is an even more pernicious one-track ideology as this article clearly shows.

from:  Arun Iyer
Posted on: Apr 1, 2012 at 03:26 IST

I can not agree more with the author. The whole drive is towards GDP,
growth in certain sectors (Software, manufacturing & exports) & less
about universal welfare. When the Press in the west (and India) have
screaming headlines like "Shining India", "Booming economy". We have turned a blind eye to the deep divide in classes, wealth, & how all the new found wealth makes no difference to the poorest and the middle class. There are more cellphones than toilets in "Shining India". Issues like mass poverty, hunger deaths, human trafficking, child prostitution,universal access to education & healthcare etc. are conveniently ignored - because people in power (or society) have decided to give up on them, or simply don't care. To resolve these issues, society has to change - to learn shared
sacrifice. People in power have to look beyond amassing wealth, & become accountable to people who voted for them. Unless this is done, we can keep dreaming of "shining India" - which will stay a dream.

from:  S. T. Narayanan
Posted on: Apr 1, 2012 at 01:05 IST

I don't know why people still thinks socialist policy is the solution for Indias problems.We have seen how poor the India was when we practised the so called Nehruvian socialist policy. Almost every one of us were poor except Nehru family and corrupted inefficient govt. officials.Now India has around 50% of them can afford for their food. Diabetes was not that much heard befor 1991 but now it is projected that 40% of Indians will be diabetics by 2020.Because of wealth creation and high tax collection we are able to provide 100 days employment for all rural folks, 25 kg of free rice and primary education for all of our poor, which we can't even dream befor 1991.We are giving health insurance for all the poor which you can't deliver before.I have no doubt that the liberal economic policy with no govt. role in any sector apart from law and order is the only way forward for our nations growth, all other thing will only help corruption abd hinders the country in achieving the HDI

from:  R.Manivarmane
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 22:51 IST

It is not surprising that while 63 per cent of households have telephones, only 47 percent have toilets? Our culture is the culprit. Even the rich in the villages build a single toilet for a large joint family, far away from the main building.

Human Development is not possible in a country where even today untouchability is practiced in every nook and corner of the country. Inequality of condition and inequality of opportunity cannot improve Human Development.

In American political discourse, a distinction is often made between inequality of condition and inequality of opportunity. The former involves the distribution of valued rewards in society, while the latter has to do with access to these rewards. In terms of scientific work, much more progress has been made on the study of inequality of condition than on the study of inequality of opportunity.

from:  Rajrathnam V P
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 20:31 IST

Very well put -- the article is thought-provoking. The solution to the
ills is definitely NOT "socialism" (with its one-track ideology), but
strong empathy for the poor and a proactive sense of duty towards fellow
human beings (as a way of life, regardless of party affiliations). There
is an ugly side too -- the "secular/socialist" leaders and parties
glorify murderers like Stalin and Mao, but never acknowledge Bindeshwar
Pathak and his "Sulabh" solution only because he is a Brahmin.

from:  Jay Ravi
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 20:25 IST

the last line says it all.....all too vividly. its no use saying india is shining will all its swanky malls, the IT, the famous cars et al when you can't even feed half of your population. and did you say, we have quite a number of indians in the world's top 100 billionaire club! what a irony!

from:  suresh
Posted on: Mar 31, 2012 at 18:57 IST
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