A son of India on the sins of India …
Posted on July 19th, 2013

Nimal Fernando

 Among the many illustrious sons and daughters of India is Amartya Sen, who has spent over five decades writing on  human development. As Madeleine Bunting of Britain’s Guardian, who interviewed Sen on July 16, reports, few intellectuals have combined academic respect and comparable influence on global policy. Few have garnered quite such an extensive harvest of accolades: in addition to his Nobel prize and more than 100 honorary degrees, last year he became the first non-US citizen to be awarded the National Medal for the Humanities.This interview, however, has to do with Sen expressing outrage in the most reasonable possible terms. The outraged Sen wants to know where more than 600 million Indians go to defecate …

“Half of all Indians have no toilet. In Delhi, when you build a new condominium, there are lots of planning requirements but none relating to the servants having toilets. It’s a combination of class, caste and gender
discrimination. It’s absolutely shocking. Poor people have to use their ingenuity and for women that can mean only being able to relieve themselves after dark with all the safety issues that entails,” says Sen, adding that
Bangladesh is much poorer than India and yet only 8% don’t have access to a toilet. “This is India’s defective development.”
Other parts of the report says that despite all the comfort and prestige of his status in the UK and the US “”…” he teaches at Harvard “”…” Sen hasn’t forgotten the urgency of the plight of India’s poor, which he first witnessed as a small child in the midst of the Bengal famine of 1943. His new book, An Uncertain Glory, co-written with his long-time colleague Jean DrƒÆ’†’¨ze, is seen as a quietly excoriating critique of India’s boom.
Sen and DrƒÆ’†’¨ze refer to the 50% figure which “”…” shockingly “”…” keeps recurring. Fifty per cent of children in India are stunted, the vast majority due to undernourishment. Fifty per cent of women have anaemia for the same reason. In one survey, there was no evidence of any teaching activity in 50% of schools in seven big northern states, which explains terrible academic underachievement.
Despite considerable economic growth and increasing self-confidence as a major global player, modern India is a disaster zone in which millions of lives are wrecked by hunger and by pitiable investment in health and education services. Pockets of California amid sub-Saharan Africa, sum up Sen and DrĮՠլze.

Other impoverished neighbours such as Nepal have made great strides, while even Sri Lanka has kept well ahead of India on key indicators despite a bitter civil war for much of the last 30 years (emphasis mine). Sen and DrƒÆ’†’¨ze  conclude that India has “some of the worst human development indicators in the world” and features in the bottom 15 countries, along with Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan. Seven of the poorest Indian states account for the biggest concentration of deprivation on the globe.

We have news for the much-respected Sen. He’s not the only one who is outraged. Many Sri Lankans are in a similar frame of mind, though for a very different reason. While sympathising with India’s poor — who are compelled to defecate al fresco — we also have an outraged question: we want to know why India finds it necessary to lecture Sri Lanka about issues concerning its Tamil minority; and even interfere with its sovereign Constitution, when it has such a sorry record of caring for its own underprivileged, marginalised people.

Surely, is it unreasonable to suggest that, compared to the misery of those Indian millions, the so-called grievances of the Tamils in Sri Lanka is but a walk in the park?

Two more subsidiary questions: how many of those 600 million defecate-challenged Indians are from Tamil Nadu? And is that why some of them prefer to sneak across the Palk Strait to Sri Lanka?

What has not escaped the notice of many observant people over the years, in South Asia generally, is a somewhat misplaced arrogance on the part of some Indians, especially some foreign office mandarins, about India’s exalted position in Asia and the world at large.

It will be interesting to see how much play this interview gets in Amartya Sen’s motherland.

2 Responses to “A son of India on the sins of India …”

  1. aloy Says:

    Your second para, the quotation from Sen is shocking indeed. This must be a fact, if not he would not have come out with it so strongly. And these are the people who are telling us the tamils should be allowed to live a dignified life in SL. Is there anything like that happening in anywhere in the north or east?.

  2. Senevirath Says:

    Bloody Indians are trying to use Sinhale as a toilet

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