Reflections On The Understanding Of Poverty


poverty

Malathy Madathilezham tries to decipher the real definition and the measures of poverty and more importantly tries finding ways to get rid of the malaise. 

Poverty is a much-debated topic. We all have at some or the other point discussed on some issue related to poverty. The ‘poverty line’ is a recurrent topic that comes into picture during these discussions. How do we define and measure this complex’’ phenomenon? More importantly how do we get ‘rid’ of it?? These discussions are never ending and inconclusive, there is no right answer.

During the major part of my life I had not been exposed to the abject levels of poverty that exist in India (and many other parts of the world!) What I knew was from what I read and heard or what was shown in the media. Even more appalling was my inadequate knowledge on caste (Yes, there WAS discrimination! That’s what I knew and actually thought it was not relevant in these ‘modern ’times!) It is safe to say thus that most of my arguments related to poverty were quite superficial and mostly hearsay!

What has changed now? In short, I can say a better (a long way to go still!) understanding of the theoretical aspects of poverty, some experience from interacting, living with the poor and a stronger conviction that the solution is not simple and neither is it going to be easy to work out.

There are success stories. Those glorified poster picks from various organisation on how so and so person has overcome poverty due to such and such project and his/her own will. Thank god for the fact that there atleast these success stories to take inspiration from! But we also have to look at the kind of society that we are living in. The levels of disparity that exists and that are overlooked by us daily.

Yesterday evening, I saw a group of 5 children, 3 girls and 2 boys sitting outside the apartment that I have taken for rent. They were basically searching for dry wood, plastics and other materials in the dump. They seemed to be from a nomadic tribe. Unfortunately I could not understand their language. But here they were, all children of school going age right in front of the house of a principal, scavenging!! How do we ensure that these children and many more like them have a better future ahead and not just in terms of an education?

We need to work on identifying the reasons why generations after generations, families continue to live in extreme poverty, with little or no improvement in the quality of life. This is in spite of the various agencies which include the government having different kinds of schemes, projects and programmes aimed solely at poverty alleviation/eradication/elimination! There is also a need to introspect about so many kinds of inequality and inequity that we have accepted as part of life and may be even consider it right!

It is still a wonder for me that just by the virtue of my birth in a particular kind of family I have a set of options and choices about the kind of life I can aspire for. Yes if I am one of the few persevering and determined kind of people that exist in this world, I can may be, reach the uppermost echelons of success. But largely our choices and options are governed by where we are born, who are our parents, our caste (a sad reality for many even today!) etc. It is important to realise that most people in our country do not even have any options to make a choice! They lead the same kind of lives that their parents, their grandparents lead… TV, mobile, bike and a formal education hasn’t done much to change their lives in a profound manner!

So what makes this happen? Does the society perpetuate one or the other kind of inequity and inequality?  Is it the poverty that leads to inequity and inequality or vice versa? What can an individual do to bring about change at one or the other level without being cynical about everything? These are some questions I am pondering on….

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