Poverty In South Asia

South Asia used to be considered a golden bird throughout history, and had a trade surplus with the rest of the world till 1750s. However, lack of advances in science and technology, a couple of centuries of colonial exploitation, relentless population growth and political instability and corruption have resulted in massive poverty in this region.
Poverty in South Asia
Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADharavi_slum%2C_Mumbai%2C_India_-_20081220.jpg)

It is one of the greatest ironies of modern times that South Asia, which has always been prosperous and self contended, is mired today in poverty, ignorance and social chaos of dissatisfaction and confusion. It is time, the South Asians empower themselves again with knowledge and skills, inculcate the necessary social values and rise to take the humanity to the next level.

 

A Modern Showcase of Poverty

More than anything else, South Asia has been known for its poverty, during the last century or so.

Perhaps, the only other region that fares worse in poverty and hunger compared to this region is Sub-Saharan

Africa. However, unlike its African counterpart, the region has shown a promising rate of economic growth since the nineties, thereby creating tremendous enthusiasm and aspirations among not only the people of this region, but also the rest of the world, about is future prospects. Unfortunately, this upliftment of fortunes so far has not been even, with the smaller urban communities carving the major share of economic growth for themselves, while the worst off continue to survive at a somewhat subhuman subsistence level.

Almost three fourth of the population in the region survives on an amount equivalent to less than two dollars per person per day. This statement can be challenged by saying that the purchasing power parity needs to be considered to realize the true perspective - a cheap meal in a rural area in South Asia would cost even less than half a dollar. However, having said that, there is no denying the fact that people live in conditions that are, to say the least, degrading for human dignity. In this regard, the living conditions of urban poor are even worse, yet people continue to migrate from rural to urban areas in search of employment, since the opportunities for making a livelihood just do not exist in the rural areas.

A Reversal of Thousands of Years of History

It is amazing as to how the region, which had a trade surplus with the mighty British empire, as late as mid eighteenth century, even when the East India Company had become a dominant political force, has become such an economic mess today. One also need not forget that most sea routes around the world were discovered to find trading routes to India in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. One cannot cease to wonder as to how things have come to such a pathetic situation in a course of a few hundred years.

How did South Asia Become Mired in Poverty

The history of poverty in South Asia is marked by three major developments. First, of course, was the renaissance of Europe and its industrialization, which created the modern urban civilization. In the wake of industrialization - the second wave - as Elwin Toffler called it, the life style and way of


living took a major leap forward, for which the Indian subcontinent was not prepared. The advent of guns and the development of nation state actually lead to the annexation of political power in India by better organized and equipped British forces, not just in military terms, but also in terms of political organization.

The second major event was the colonization of India by the British, and its subsequent economic exploitation, which virtually destroyed all enterprises in the region except agriculture, mineral extraction, and clerical employment. The exploitation was largely in terms of disruption of the existing indigenous eco-system which the local manual skilled personnel were accustomed to. The economy depended upon the patronage of the rich and royal class for buying their manually crafted works, and more prosperous individuals generously employed those from the poorer families, allowing all to survive. Advent of pure market forces in all spheres of life suddenly disrupted this eco-system. As power came to be concentrated in British, the fruits of royal patronage were lost. Taxes grew relentlessly, while conditions were modified against local artisans and producers, and favoured British products, which gradually killed all semi-urban and rural entrepreneurs.

The last straw was the 'epidemiological shift', in 1920 - the year of the great divide, after which, the death rate continued to fall due to the advances in better medical facilities that came with developments of science, and the population grew at an exponential rate, to rise from around 300 million then, to over 1.5 billion today.

Promise of a Better Future

Since the nineties, the region has shown promising changes. Led by India, which has accelerated its growth rate to 6-7 % per annum in the nineties, and further to around 8 % in this century, the whole region has shown improvements. Better prospects of peace after the US initiated its war on terror has also helped.

However, everything is still not well. Afghanistan situation has worsened during the last three decades, and will take a lot to change. Pakistan, while showing recent improvement in economic growth, has had political instabilities. Sri Lanka, which boasted a per capita GDP that was higher than Japan in 1953, has been badly affected by civil conflict, but s now recovering fast.

While the service economy has changed the lives of millions in urban areas, the life of people in most backward rural areas has not changed much. The only good sign there is a fall in population growth rates. But that may still not be enough to improve things.



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