India once controlled an area three times the size of France. But now, its economy is worth three times more than the third largest economy in the world. A quarter of a billion people in India now rely on agriculture for their livelihood. Most suffer from malnutrition. The population of the country could double by 2050. Poorer India has a history of preserving old ways even when they fail to provide a livelihood. But now, many are surviving on daily handouts. Change is happening in India and it has come, in part, through the pressure of poverty. But change is slow. There are obstacles. Some – like caste and sex – need to be broken. But most people believe that action can be taken. “I would vote for poverty alleviation, if such a programme was created,” says Babu. “Many people do think that, but if you compare it with how much poverty is going to be eradicated in another 10 or 20 years, then of course it is useless. “But at least it gives me some hope that once the problem is there, it can be solved,” he says. Caste system in India is a rigid classification system that runs through families. About 1.1 billion people in India have a Brahmin caste which sits between the fifth and seventh largest in the world. They are descendants of Sikh kings or the ‘four legged apes’, as they were known. Other types of caste belong to the castes below it. The consequences of the caste system in India are dire. They are not only believed to be responsible for the high levels of poverty, illness and illiteracy in this country, but they are also said to have built the motivation necessary for violence. Health specialist Shivani Dhaspal examines a patient every day. “There is a great discontent among people regarding the government’s level of investment in health. “The system ensures that even our poorest patients will die,” she says. She says the current system condemns people to die of treatable diseases. Many people believe the only way of eradicating this problem is through social investment in health care services. Schools need improvement But for some, the caste system is not the problem. They, too, are suffering – but in different ways. Devi says her husband has to send her and her daughters to school because he is against paying fees. Every day, her daughters have to move up a new floor level as there is no other way to get through the village. “They are coming under the provisions of non-Muslim employers,” says Devi. “The eldest daughter, Sharmin, has to be a nurse. “By calling a nurse, you are calling a Dalit child. The woman needs to be charged such a great amount of money that the family cannot afford it,” she says. ‘I’m going to die’ A man from Chakdra village in north-western Jharkhand is forced to go to work every day, until his body breaks down. He says he must take his job, even though he says he is not willing to pay for anything. “It is not easy to live like this,” he says. “But what else can I do? “My son-in-law has to earn money for me, my husband has to earn money for my family. “My mother-in-law has to earn money to eat food. If they don’t earn anything, I will die soon.” As India improves, it needs to come together. There are gaps and, as the government is always talking about, some things need to be changed. By 2050, the numbers of people living in poverty could more than double from around 12% to 25%. None of the political parties are speaking about eradicating poverty in their election manifestos. And poverty eradication is an issue that does not seem to be on any one voter’s mind, particularly in the villages. Politicians often talk about improving the country’s education system and health care – but little about destitution. They talk about the problems of the middle classes, but not about its lower classes. That is because people – even those in the villages – believe that the system is working. About 600 million people live in poverty – and most, perhaps, have given up on politics and politics’s answer to these problems.
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