The India Inconsistency

The issue of staggering poverty in India in the face of escalating economic development in its sectors is best depicted by the 2008 film, “Slumdog Millionaire”; the director Danny Boyle captures the plight of people in a continent rank with the profitability of a booming market.

This problem has grown large enough to capture the mainstream media’s attention – if only attention ignited action and action induced social progress.

India still lingers behind China and Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of numbers of impoverished peoples. Their unexpected economic boom places them on a high rung of the world’s ladder, accompanied by the sobering fact that their region still maintains unfathomable amounts of unemployed, illiterate citizens plagued by the unsanitary slums they inhabit.

Three-fourths of those living under the poverty line in South Asia reside in India. “Poor” has the fixed definition of a daily income less that $1.25, with most families of that income bracket living in the slums that have long defined India. The total amount of people defined as “poor” has risen from 420 million to 455 million in a span of thirty years, and yet this issue seems to go unnoticed by Ejaz Ghani, Economic Advisor at the World Bank. This paradox appears to be so astoundingly morbid and overwhelming that it is continually left for future successors, governments, activists and generations to fix, perpetuating the problem.

According to CNN, “half of India’s population is still without a toilet,” where openly defecating in the absence of sanitation is a communal event.

In contrast, over half of the population owns a mobile phone, has access to amenities like television and the Internet and owns refrigerators and other appliances where electricity is readily available. It has been dubbed “the irony of India’s development.”
This is blatantly demonstrated in Boyle’s film with the contrast between the extravagance and the indigence that exists between neighbors in this paradoxical continent. The main characters, brothers Jamal and Salim, know little about life aside from panhandling and larceny, but are well-acquainted with popular culture, mainstream television, the widespread use of cellular devices and satellites and the nation’s idolization of contestants on India’s “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?,” upon which the movie is based.

This issue of public defecation is artfully addressed with the brothers in Boyle’s movie when a man at the commencement is willing to pay to use a toilet that is blocked from the public’s sight. The lack of sanitation or private toilets is unhealthy for the population and is developmentally ironic.

However, in the midst of oppressive poverty, the influence of technological wealth and the promise of advancement are increasingly pervasive.

Toward the conclusion of the film, heavy emphasis is placed on the slums of Mumbai and its many uneducated, unemployed or illiterate residents tuned in to their televisions to watch the finale of “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” This is a perfect example of the lack of proper education, housing, jobs and sanitation that exist, juxtaposed with the plethora of technology available to the public. I recently attended a presentation on political economics by Dr. Ranjeeta Basu, whose focus of study is in the slums of Mumbai. “Slumdog Millionaire” closely mimics the accounts given in her presentations about the accessibility to these amenities, but the scarcity of fundamental facilities.

The problem comes into question about the region’s manner of prioritization. Sanitation is not widely accessible due to the cost of building and maintaining sewage pipes and plants, and the profitability and promise of technology causes it to claim the continent’s greater attention. However, the nation can “only be as strong as its weakest link” if this problem of fundamentals is not addressed and acted upon.

In a region that has seemingly remodeled its image through means of the prosperous Dubai United Arab Emirates, the full-fledged advancement and epitome of a First World city ripe with promise, it seems that there is nothing left for the rest of India. Dubai has made its name with its business ventures, innovative architecture, thriving real estate and tourism and financial services. The city is a model of progress and has thus begun confronting the issues facing its South Asian counterparts. But what is really being done? How can these two polar economic and social environments exist in the same region, both so different?

This issue has been raised time and time again, but its importance is continually undermined in the presence of a flourishing economy.

I believe that India’s progress will never be achieved if it is not sought after in all spheres – economic, political and social. The region’s economic success would still be fledgling at best if it were not for its people – why not make the concerted effort to provide one’s people with the fundamentals?

These necessities are required to maintain a thriving labor force, political climate and economic atmosphere. If these became the utmost importance, India’s future would be as bright as the sun on the Dubai Towers.

Sarah Gray Isenberg is a third-year comparative literature and literary journalism double major. She can be reached at sisenber@uci.edu.