Statistics and Rural India

Statistics are to be interpreted with the right eyes to make some meaningful sense. We earlier saw the story of two India’s — the India shining and the tottering India; the India of credit cards and the India of farmer suicides; the thriving business India and the collapsing agrarian India. To really understand the problems of India from a statistical viewpoint, particularly of rural India, one needs to look beyond narrow definitions, and look at holistic pictures.

Human Development is measured by the eponymous index Human Development Index (HDI) and is annually reported by UNDP’s Human Development Report. HDI goes beyond GDP and calculates human development as a measure of three chief charactersitics (the last of which is the GDP per capita).

  • living a long and healthy life (measured by life expectancy),
  • being educated (measured by adult literacy and enrollment at the primary, secondary and tertiary level), and
  • having a decent standard of living (measured by purchasing power parity, PPP, income).

According to the UNDP website,

The index is not in any sense a comprehensive measure of human development. It does not, for example, include important indicators such as gender or income inequality and more difficult to measure indicators like respect for human rights and political freedoms. What it does provide is a broadened prism for viewing human progress and the complex relationship between income and well-being.

Under this (slightly more) comprehensive measurement (than just GDP), where does India rank?

  1. India ranks 128 (out of 177) countries in overall HDI, just below Morocco and Equatorial Guinea. Sierra Leone is bottom at 177.
  2. Life expectancy at birth: India ranks 125, just below Pakistan and Comoros.
  3. Adult literacy rate (ages 15+): India ranks 114, just below Rwanda and Malawi.
  4. Combined primary/secondary/tertiary education enrollment: India ranks 122, just below Namibia and Vietnam.
  5. GDP per capita (PPP US$): India ranks 114, just below Syria and Nicaragua.

In all these categories, India seems to be ranked well below sub-Saharan Africa. (This is not to generalize a stereotype of sub-Saharan Africa. India deserves to be ranked at what she has been. And, many sub-Saharan African countries have really been improving over the years. However, due to governmental policies, and gains for the elite of powerful countries, India, in all forms of press, is portrayed as an emerging super-power, whereas, the other countries ranked around us are treated with much disdain on their development curves in the same media.) The much talked about 9% growth rate of GDP is just that, a growth rate, indicating the growth of the elite in India. By absolute numbers per capita, even by GDP count India ranks in the bottom third of all countries in the world, even below war ravaged Nicaragua. None of these countries that are around our rank are “potential super powers”, or “software power houses”, or “next-gen nuclear power”. So who in India is benefited by this 9% growth?

  1. India is 4th in the list of most US$ billionaires in the country (behind US, Germany, Russia).
  2. 50 countries on either side (together) of us on the HDI rating put together have lesser US$ billionaires than us.
  3. According to Times of India, in a period of 3 months between July and Oct in 2007, the collective wealth of the top 10 billionaires of India increased by 27% — which translates to collectively Rs.2 crores per minute.

Now, think about rural india and the farmer. The farmer has not had a Rs 20 increase in wage in that whole period, forget about per minute.

That portrays a rather grim and bleak picture of rural India. Where then is the hope? At this crucial juncture in our political history when every elected people’s representative is wondering about what will happen to the Indo-US Nuclear deal, Asha for Education and Work an Hour 2008 have chosen to run a campaign focusing on rural India and are showcasing 15 such hopes. These projects are all over India, and each in their own way are addressing the problems leading to the appalling statistics we just recounted. Do read about them, donate, and discuss means and methods to mitigate these problems here on this post and in the comments section.

P.Sainath said it right after this March’s Union Budget:

“As Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate, said, ‘Faster growth rate is essential for faster reduction in poverty. There is no other trick to it’.” So said P. Chidambaram in his budget speech. Drawing on his words must have seemed a politically correct thing to do. Mr. Chidambaram might want to add another quote to his cupboard. This one from the late Edward Abbey, environmental activist and writer. “Growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

Few things grow as relentlessly as a cancer cell. Its up to us to demand for change; to demand for justice, equality and fraternity, promised by the preamble of the constitution; and to demand that we stop marginalizing our rural brethren and to stop making self-indulgent and thoroughly meaningless attempts grown out of a guilty conscience to ameliorate the lot of the under-privileged, and instead build an egalitarian future where dignity of the individual is honored above his/her net economic worth.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.” — MLK.

[1] UNDP’s HDR report on Human Development Index, India Fact Sheet.
[2] Sainath’s article in India Together after P.Chidambaram’s Union Budget of March 2008. “Growth Idealogy of the Cancer Cell”.
[3] Sainath’s article based on the HDI fact sheet for India. “India 2007: High growth, low development”.
[4] UNDP’s Human Development Report’s Statistics page.