Lagging behind

India is unlikely to meet MDG targets.

The Millennium Development Goals Report 2012 has given India a thumbs-up for reducing poverty and enhancing access to drinking water. Between 1990 and 2008, the proportion of population living below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day fell from 51 per cent to 37 per cent, while that with access to improved water sources has grown from 68 per cent in 1992-93 to 91.4 per cent in 2008-2009. However, India is lagging behind with regard to improving sanitation, food security, maternal mortality and gender equity. The MDG report warns that India is unlikely to meet the targets before the 2015 deadline. In fact, it is India’s lethargic performance on several indicators that is inhibiting the world from meeting the MDG targets. India’s reluctance to tackle head on lack of sanitation and gender equity is inhibiting its performance on an array of indicators. The MDG report says that 49.2 per cent of Indian households do not have toilets of any kind, with scheduled castes and tribes the worst off. This explains why public health in India, especially that of SCs and STs is so poor. Open toilets and public drains, and poor sewage disposal are among the main reasons for cholera and malaria.

India’s half-hearted approach to narrowing gender disparities too has had a multiplier effect. Girls are discriminated against with regard to accessing nutrition, medical treatment and education. This has contributed in turn to India’s high maternal mortality rate. Deeply patriarchical attitudes denying women access to better health and opportunities exist not just in remote villages but in the uppermost echelons of our polity and society. The MDG report draws attention to the abysmally low representation of women in India’s legislatures. While globally, the 1995-2012 period saw a 75 per cent increase in the number of women parliamentarians, in India this has grown from 9.7 per cent in 1991 to 10.96 per cent in 2012.  

Low representation of women in elected bodies lays bare not just the patriarchical mindset of our politicians – legislation providing for 33 per cent representation for women in legislatures is yet to be enacted – but also, the hollowness of our claims to be a representative democracy. More importantly, it denies women a role in shaping legislation. India is unlikely to meet the 2015 MDG targets. However, it could enact legislation in this period to improve women’s representation in legislatures. This will send out a strong signal of India’s commitment to the accepted goals.  

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