Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Rahul Gandhi's poverty-tour in Bangladesh

MOHAMMAD ZAINAL ABEDIN

THE RECENT maiden private tour of Rahul Gandhi, the son of Congress President Sonia Gandhi and slain Prime Minister Rajib Gandhi, grandson of slain Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and great grandson of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, to Bangladesh irked confusion and debate among the political observers and analysts, with a question mark what prompted him to make such a tour. They found little logic behind the tour of Rahul, a member of Indian Parliament and one of the secretaries of Indian Congress who reached Dhaka on August 1, (2008) on a 5-day tour amid high profile tight security umbrella. Other than Bangladeshi law enforcers, 10 personnel of Indian SPG (Special Protection Group) reached Dhaka earlier to oversee and conduct his security arrangements. Bangladeshi Nobel peace laureate and Grameen Bank managing director Prof. Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the host of Rahul, claimed that it was his (Rahul) educational visit that attracted huge coverage in Bangladeshi and Indian media. It was outwardly said that he would use the visit to take first-hand knowledge of the activities of BRAC in various sectors and micro-finance projects of Grameen Bank. Other than visiting Grameen Bank and BARC projects, he also held talks with the officials of CDP (Centre for Policy Dialogue), a research cell infamous for its pro-India tilt.

But media did not miss to uncover one of the major reasons of his visit. Rahul was quoted as saying that he came to Bangladesh to see its poverty in person. Sightseeing tour is vogue around the world. But Rahul Gandhi, the youngest heir of Nehru-Indira dynasty, through his visit to Bangladesh seems to add a new term — poverty-seeing — as if, he did not see the curse of poverty before in his life and it does not exist in India or elsewhere in the world that prompted him to select Bangladesh to quench his thirst. What a strange and cruel cock and bull story it is! Such an intention is really an insult to and unfortunate for Bangladesh. Rahul Gandhi was born in one of the major poverty-stricken countries of the world and its name is India whom Rahul's (i.e. Indian policymakers) now strive to brand as ‘shinning’’ or ‘supper’ India. As the Indian policymakers are no longer ready to identify India as a poor country, (though it is really poor till date), for this reason, perhaps, Rahul failed to discover poverty among the Indians. So he opted to see poverty in Bangladesh. But Bangladeshis are not poorer than the Indians. India’s strive for attaining superpower status blinded its policymakers that failed them to see and comprehend their poverty, though India is one of the poorest countries in the world. If Rahul was knowledgeable enough about India he would not have selected Bangladesh to see poverty. So for his kind information I think it wise to reproduce some statistics so that he gets minimum information about India’s poverty.

On the occasion of India’s 60th founding anniversary, ‘The Guardian’ a prestigious daily of Great Britain uncovered the following facts on India. Over 50% of Urban India has no access to sanitation. Many deadly diseases and others that afflict India can be traced to the same source: drinking water contaminated by human waste, says ‘The Washington Post’. Infected water causes an estimated 80 percent of disease in India, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), making poor sanitation and inadequate sewage disposal the nation's biggest public health problems. In rural areas, where more than 70 percent of Indians live, fewer than 10 percent of homes have toilets.

According to ‘The Guardian’ 100 million Indians live in the slums. 100 millions Indians are unemployed. India has 50-million child labours. 60% of country is still employed in Agriculture which contributes only 22% to GDP. 33% of all illiterates of world live in India. In china this figure is just 11%. There are 200 millions children in India and 50 millions don’t go to School. 80,000 Schools are without Blackboard. 1, 44,000 Schools have just one teacher. 26% of Indian population still lives below official poverty line. In rural area of Orissa (an Indian State) poverty rate is 43% while in Bihar it is 41%. 45% of Indian Children under five are malnourished.

‘The Christian Science Monitor’, (February 10, 2004 edition) says more than three quarters of the Indians live without access to a simple toilet. Nearly 89 percent of all Indians either defecate in the open, or use temporary latrines or substandard community toilets. Nearly 600,000 Indian children die each year of ailments linked to poor sanitation. The UN's World Development Report of 1993 ranked India slightly above sub-Saharan Africa in terms of infectious diseases.

India ranks 127th among 175 countries of the world. India's under-five mortality rate per 1,000 live births is 93, that is, one in eleven children dies before the age of five. Its maternal mortality ratio per 100,000 live births is 540, compared to 56 for China and 380 for even Bangladesh. The official National Sample Survey of 2000 revealed that three-fourths of India's rural population and half the urban population did not get the minimum recommended calories.

"There is already a sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) within India – half of our rural population or over 350 million people are below the average food energy intake of SSA countries." (Utsa Patnaik, "It is time for Kumbhakarna to wake up", Hindu, August 5, 20/05)

Official data tell that 42 per cent of children enrolled drop out before completing primary education (I-V) Another 19 per cent, according to official data, drop out before completing upper primary education (VI-VIII). These data in fact understate the problem. Survey-based data, which are more reliable, put the figure of drop-outs at the primary level at around 50 per cent. (Business Standard, November 2, 2005). And according to Census data, 43.5 per cent of the children between the ages of five and nine are not in school The 2001 Census data show that of 128.3 million children between the ages of five and nine, only 72.5 million are attending school.

Moreover, the quality of education imparted in government schools is so dismal that "half the children in Class IV in government schools in Mumbai cannot do the arithmetic calculations required of a Class I student. When put to the test, 18 per cent of students attending Classes II to V in Andhra Pradesh couldn't do single-digit additions while only 12 per cent managed single-digit subtractions. In a spot-the-object quiz, only 54 per cent got the results right." (Praful Bidwai, "The Great Indian Education Bazar", www.prafulbidwai.net/archives/20050905). The above statistics are enough to justify the poverty of India. In brief, I should say, India will not be able to eradicate its poverty in see able future.

Rahul Gandhi was surely frustrated, as there was no trace of poverty on the face of those Bangladeshis whomever he saw during his visit in BANGLADESH. He did not see any cottage or hut, (what is abundant in India) on his way to and from Gazipur Sadar, Kapasia, Rajendrapur, Singhair, etc. Bangladeshis are poor, but not as poor as the Indians. Their living standard and buying capacity are higher than the Indians.

Bangladesh could prosper more and reach the rank of Malaysia or Singapore if Bangladesh could remain free from India’s overt and covert designs. Indians are envious of Bangladesh and its people. So the Indian leaders and policymakers should change their mindset against Bangladesh and shun their big-brotherly attitude and their tendency of undermining Bangladesh. #

Mohammad Zainal Abedin is a Bangladeshi researcher & journalist and writes from USA