V. M. Rao
Eradication of poverty poses two challenges. First, the ongoing programmes need to be continually monitored and evaluated to make them more effective and synergic and also to extend their reach. The second, and a more formidable challenge, is to bring into the mainstream those who have been left out of the processes of growth and development.
Poverty can be alleviated by well-conceived programmes. But removing ‘exclusion' — a factor that severely impairs any development effort by creating an island of discontent — requires societal reforms that are far more difficult to implement. Given the increasing attention the objective of ‘inclusive growth' has been getting in recent times, India's policy perspective related to poverty alleviation must go beyond the ‘poverty line' and extend to structures and processes underlying ‘exclusion'.
The two books under review provide a wealth of ground level data on the excluded groups and they are presented under the conventional groupings — the Scheduled Castes; the Scheduled Tribes; and women. For obvious reasons, there is some overlapping between the two, and this review is based chiefly on the first book, Poverty and Social Exclusion in India .
To highlight some of the distinctive features of the broad picture that emerges, the forest-dwelling Scheduled Tribes suffer exclusion, both in the geographical and physical senses. They are victims of the ‘out-of-sight-out-of-mind' syndrome afflicting policymakers. “Excess mortality among tribal children continues to be the starkest marker of tribal disadvantage…The low participation in decision-making and their elimination from land and forests are central to the continued exclusion of tribals from progress and development.”
As for the Scheduled Castes, they are treated by other communities as unclean and as groups that should be kept at a distance and away from economic and social activities. They are not isolated from the mainstream, as the STs are, and have the advantage of being familiar with the mainstream community and its activities and institutions. The book, Poverty and Social Exclusion , notes: “There has been some convergence in education outcomes, particularly in post-primary education between Dalit and non-SC/ST men… the advance has been impressive, [but] the Dalits still lag behind because of their low starting points.” The Dalits face discrimination in labour market and find it hard to move from casual labour to non-farm occupations.
An interesting observation about women is that the gender bias operates in the mainstream as well as the excluded categories. “Female disadvantage in India persists despite high rates of economic growth. Women are dying unnecessarily both in infancy and motherhood; the outcomes are poorer among the Dalits and Adivasis.”
The studies find that “traditional hierarchies have remained stubborn against growth.” While the Indian Constitution has set the stage for “unparalleled affirmative action and other forms of positive actions,” the result has been patchy affecting some groups more than others and with none securely accommodated in the mainstream. The lesson for the future is that “inclusion is not just about changing outcomes, but crucially about changing processes that produce and reproduce exclusionary outcomes.”
Going by some of the more recent developments and trends, it seems the next couple of decades may bring major changes in the attitude and condition of excluded groups. For example, the agitations by farmers and tribals have compelled the government to amend the laws related to land acquisition and alienation so as to protect their interests better. Women are slowly but steadily getting into Panchayats and may soon get a statutory share of seats in Parliament and the State Legislatures. The minorities could well add thrust to the movement for ‘inclusion.
Public response to Anna Hazare's movement is a clear indication that Indian society is getting impatient with undelivered promises on equitable growth and development. While it is obvious that more effective implementation of conventional anti-poverty programmes is essential for tackling the problem of exclusion, it would not suffice. The obstacles to inclusion will have to be removed.
The policymakers would do well to bear in mind two things. One, the urban environment softens the tyranny of caste hierarchy that prevails in rural communities. And two, increasing non-farm employment in urban as well as rural areas will enable the marginalised sections in agriculture to move out.
The other book under review, Perspectives of poverty in India , with its focus on these two points, discusses in detail their implications for development strategy and policy framework.