|the-south-asian.com AUGUST 2001|
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SOCIETY & CULTURE
societies - Wisdom and Challenges
SOUTH ASIAN FEATURE
and origin of Modern Art
Bengal's last roar?
Page 2 of 5
by Mira Kamdar
A succession of state-directed five-year-plans for development, the injection of billions of dollars of foreign aid and loans, and the dramatic improvement in agricultural production following the green revolution did have positive effects. Despite a tripling of its population, India has been able to reduce the total percentage of the poor from 50 to 35 percent; to nearly halve illiteracy, reducing it from 81.7 percent in 1950 to 48 percent today; to reduce the birthrate from 40 per thousand to 26 per thousand and to increase life expectancy from 32 years to a little over 62 years.
India can be proud of its many successful domestic industries in manufacturing, information technology, textiles and many other sectors. For all that, India remains a "developing" country. With one-sixth of all humanity living within its borders, India is still playing catch-up to the world’s great economic and political powers. During this time, it has seen countries in Southeast and East Asia no better off than India was after World War II achieve phenomenal improvements in their economies and for their people. And India has watched China transform itself into one of the biggest global economies.
Time and time again, whether in those heady days following independence in the 1950s or in the euphoria following economic liberalization in the early 1990s, India’s aspirations to overcome mass poverty and create opportunities for all its people to realize their potential have gone tragically unfulfilled. Three generations after independence, India’s poor are still waiting for their lives to improve. Their patience is wearing thin, especially in a world where they can now easily see on television what others have, how others live.
The Imperative for a New Development Paradigm
It is clear that for India to make real gains in alleviating poverty a radical solution must be found. The development paradigms of the post-war 20 th century worked some wonders but failed, overall, to solve the problem of mass poverty in India. In fact, the digital revolution has made the imperative for dealing with mass poverty in India--and elsewhere in the developing world--a critical priority demanding immediate action. Indeed, there may be no issue facing humanity at the beginning of the 21 st century of greater importance than finding solutions to the yawning divide between the world’s rich and poor.
The new millennium has brought with it a new geoeconomic reality. The forces of globalization, propelled by rapid advances in information, communications and bio-technologies, are deepening divides between haves and have-nots, creating, on the one hand, a transnational class of people who move competently in a knowledge-driven economy and, on the other hand, masses of people with no knowledge of, no access to, and no skills to exploit this new economy. Fortunately, these very same forces offer unprecedented opportunities for creating entirely new approaches to alleviating world poverty and closing the inequality gap.
The rage being focused against such institutions of world order as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and the attendant backlash against globalization arises from feelings that a market-driven global economy is being deliberately directed in favor of transnational corporate interests; interests that are perceived to be inimical to the interests of individuals, local organizations, and even national governments and to their control over the planet’s resources and economic opportunities. Corporate interests are perceived to be particularly adverse to the needs of the poor. Indeed, they are seen to be the direct cause of the growing gap between haves and have-nots.
Globalization, however, is not a process that can simply be turned off no more than the new information, communications and bio- technologies can be made to "go away." And, it is quite true that the market as it exists has little incentive to take into consideration any factors beyond its own short-term profitability. At the same time, the ability of nation-states--much less local organizations or individuals--to control global market forces is increasingly limited. The world’s poor must also face a general state of "donor fatigue" in the rich industrialized world that has reduced international aid to historically low levels, aid which, in any case, has largely failed the world’s poor.
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