GUWAHATI, Sept 3 - “Never in the history of India as an independent nation has inequality been so cynically constructed, so systematically engineered as it has been in the past 25-30 years,” Ramon Magsaysay Award winning journalist P Sainath’s above observations were categorically substantiated during the 13th Brajamohan Sarma Memorial Lecture delivered today at the Vivekananda Kendra here.
This time, the topic of the annual lecture series, organised by Brajamohan Sarma Memorial Trust, was ‘Inequality and what it does to India.’
Citing the data of Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Book, the acclaimed journalist asserted that economic inequality has grown faster in India compared to any major nation of the world in the past 16-20 years.
“The concentration of wealth has occurred much faster in the hands of the top one per cent, compared to anywhere else in the planet. The data further suggest that the bottom 30 per cent of the country practically own nothing,” he said.
When the top one per cent of a country owns three times more than the rest 90 per cent, there is no way they will treat others as equal. If fact, there is no way a democracy can stick to its basics in such a situation, he observed.
Replete with National Sample Survey data and other survey reports on inequality of wealth, Sainath said that the inequality in its biggest form exists in the water sector having a direct bearing on the farmers.
“As per NSS data, the income of a farming family from all sources is on an average Rs 6,426 per month, which is Rs 1,300 per capita income and the income of the main breadwinner in 75 per cent of rural families is Rs 5,000 or less per month. On the other hand, the percentage of crorepati MPs has gone up to 82 currently, from 32 per cent in 2004, as per their self-declaration of wealth in affidavits. Thus, the biggest growth sector in India today is the inequality sector,” he said.
The former Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu also gave a detailed account of the perceptions and reality in the agrarian sector, where the interests of the farmers come at the deep bottom in the priorities of the policies meant for them. “We associate drought as failure of rainfall, a meteorological failure. But the nation has been having a hydrological drought, a severe ground water crisis and uneven distribution of water between rural and urban India, which does not attract our attention.
“In the same country, we have women queuing up for hours in front of public water supply pumps and we have residential complexes planned with personal swimming pools for each dwelling unit. In drought-prone Marathwada in Maharashtra, a poor woman has to pay between 45 paise to Re 1 per litre of water, whereas beer manufacturing companies get millions of litres of water per day at 4 paise per litre.” Sainath also mentioned the inequality prevailing in the education sector, caste-driven differences and an alarming trend of accepting it as ‘normal.’
“The social regression this country is facing today is the fallout of its course of action in the past 20-25 years. As a result, we have started accepting blatant cruelty as normal. When dissent is criminalised and rationalists are murdered, the Constitution, the fundamental rights and the directive principles are grossly undermined,” he rued.