Poverty truths

Poverty is driving people to resort to desperate measures. Residents of Palugu Tanda, a tribal hamlet in Andhra Pradesh’s Medak district have asked the state government and the Human Rights Commission for permission to sell their children as they do not have work and hence no money to take care of their families. Such desperation is, of course, not new. Severe indebtedness has driven thousands of farmers over the past decade to take their lives. Innumerable instances of tribals, compelled by terrible poverty to sell their children to adoption agencies for a few hundred rupees, have come to light. And then there are the cases of people selling their kidnies for a couple of thousand rupees to be able to pay for the medical treatment of a parent or education for a child. These are but a few examples of people from different parts of the country united in their desperation and decision to opt for extreme measures to deal with hunger and poverty.
Stories of such desperation are emerging from rural India with worrying frequency. This is blamed on the failure of the monsoon and the consequent drought. Indeed, the situation of the tribals in Palagu Tanda, fragile at the best of times, seems to have worsened with the drought, pushing them to make frantic appeals to draw the government’s attention to their plight. But their wretchedness is not because of the drought alone, which is at best only the proximate cause for the unfolding rural despair. The root cause lies in structural inequalities, the concentration of land ownership in the hands of a few and economic reforms that have devastated Indian agriculture.

The residents of Palugu Tanda have been promised jobs by the Andhra government. This is a welcome gesture if actually implemented. But the problem is not one that is Palugu Tanda’s alone. Crippling poverty is a predicament that millions of families, especially in rural India, are struggling with. Handing out a few jobs in one or even a hundred hamlets is not enough. The appeal made by the Palagu Tanda tribals is a damning indictment of the country’s poverty alleviation programmes, which have failed to address poverty. It is time the government moved beyond its symptomatic treatment of rural poverty through a few socio-economic programmes, handouts and empty promises and acted instead to tackle systematically the underlying structural issues through land reform.

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