Can We Make India More Inclusive ?

India More Inclusive

Henry Paulson, the 74th Secretary of the Treasury of the United States of America, once said, “India is a vibrant nation whose strength lies in its commitment to equal rights and to speech, religious and economic freedoms that enrich the lives of all citizens; a secular, pluralistic society committed to inclusive growth.”

However, we must ask ourselves as to how inclusive India truly is. Paulson talked about India’s “commitments” almost a decade ago. All these years later, when we claim that India is inclusive, we continue to fail to justify it, since hardly four years after Paulson’s statements, there was an estimated 300 million below the poverty line, with literacy at an appalling low, with 273 million illiterates in 2011, making it the country with the largest illiterate population on earth. Even on the health front, the numbers don’t look good: India was home to 40 per cent of the world’s undernourished children with one-fourth of the world’s childbirth deaths and one-fifth of its infant deaths taking place in India.

Does this truly sound like an ‘India for Everyone?’

India is a boiling pot of cultures, ethnicities and practices. We are a nation begging for unity, asking to walk hand-in-hand as the nation looks to move forward. For decades, India has been head-strong in the race for superiority; to become a superpower. But, blinded by its race for urban growth and development, and the fight for power and glory, this nation of twenty two different languages has somehow forgotten about its ‘children of the mud’. The rural areas of India seem to have been ‘excluded’ from its millennium plan. And the statistics are appalling. While one in five Indians is poor, 80% of these poor people live in our rural areas. Only 6% of these poor have access to tap water, 21% have access to latrines and only 61% have access to electricity.

Now, the argument that could develop is that these statistics have been an improvement over the previous century. So, is India not doing well enough to help its children? While India has been growing well from a GDP front, to clear an air of doubt, it must be understood that an inclusive society as per the United Nations is a society that over-rides differences of race, gender, class, generation, and geography, and ensures inclusion, equality of opportunity as well as equal growth for all.

Now let us look at the statistics again. 6% of the poor have access to tap water, while 33% of the non-poor get tap water. 21% of the poor have access to latrines, while 62% of the non-poor have them. 61% of the poor have access to electricity while 85% of the non-poor have access to it. These World Bank statistics prove that India doesn’t seem to fulfil the United Nation’s conditions of an inclusive society.

But, moving away from the pessimistic tone, reiterating what Baba Kalyani, the chairman and managing director of Bharat Forge once said, “I have no doubts that every Indian and every Indian political leadership would like to see this country get to a much better level. We would all like to see inclusive growth.”

One of the greatest steps towards an inclusive India was the ‘Digital India’ program by the government of India. It is focused on building digital infrastructure, governance and services on demand, and digital empowerment of citizens. Giving a digital edge to critical focus areas like broadband highways, internet access for all, IT for jobs, electronics manufacturing, e-governance, healthcare and agriculture, the government aims to engage key sectors and industries (India and abroad) to bring in administrative transparency, expediency, and accountability. This will help digitally connect all Indians. This initiative could help boost India’s GDP by $550-billion to $1-trillion by 2025. Through cutting transaction costs, the program can enable more creative and service-oriented businesses and is estimated to create 17 million employment opportunities for all citizens in every sector. In addition, the government will be able to dedicate a part of its resources into facilitating an atmosphere where urban or rural population both can retrieve and consume information in a similar way. In this way, an inclusive India can be created in through the digital sector.

The government has also created specifically allocated funds with one such example being the National Innovation Council’s proposal to establish the India Inclusive Innovation Fund in 2010. The Inclusive Innovation Fund was built on the principle that innovative enterprise could profitably, and competitively engage citizens at the bottom of the economic pyramid: and, in doing so, provide goods and services that will transform their lives for the better. The Fund proposed to invest in a new generation of Indian entrepreneurs who would build world class enterprises that focused on the problems of the poor, without compromising on economic success. In doing so, the Fund would help create a new Indian model of innovation: one that bridges growth and equitability. The Fund helped create a chain reaction wherein, by dealing with the problems at the bottom of the pyramid, i.e. the poor, economic disparity could be tackled to ensure that while the entrepreneurs can continue generating at the top to propel the economy, the poor will receive job opportunities and better goods and services. This helped include all sectors of society in economic growth.

The next issue to be dealt with is that there isn’t only an economic disparity amongst the Indians. People who are disabled, or are socially discriminated due to caste, religion or sexuality also seem to be excluded from the agenda. The concerned citizens of society do not shy away from this blatant truth. And we should truly respect and support people who stand for others in need, in an attempt to make them people of society, not just forgotten outcasts.

One of the most prominent meetings that deal with the inclusion of the disabled into Indian society is the ‘India Inclusion Summit’ which acts as an inspirational platform to raise awareness and drive action on ground towards inclusion of people with disabilities at Corporates, Schools, Policy making bodies, NGO’s and Parent Associations. This summit beautifully aims to make India a world class community by identify the roles which corporate could play to support people with disabilities and drive inclusivity, sharing innovations and success stories in the field of disabilities and inclusion, supporting projects that lead to education, employment and livelihoods for people with disabilities. But the largest of all goals is to reach 10 million people by 2020. While this seems to only be a theoretical attempt, it must be understood that when every citizen stands up to support each other, one day, hopefully by 2020, every section of society will be part of the movement towards growth.

Having talked about so many positive initiatives and programs targeted towards an Inclusive India, we must acknowledge that, somewhere along the way, lost sight of many sections of society with most of them not being ‘included’ in the plans and policies of growth and development. India has been ranked 60th among 79 developing economies, below neighbouring China and Pakistan, in the Inclusive Development Index, according to a WEF report of 2017.

With funds, summits, campaigns, and national drives, the nation has a dream- the dream to see India at the top of the list where the nation will provide a positive multidimensional assessment of living standards where every section of society is included in the growth of a nation. Inclusive India will soon, not only be a dream, but a reality where Henry Paulson’s words come true in a realistic sense.

– Contributed by Dylan Sharma

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