Nita and Vinod raised the question, are the poor in America worse off than India’s poor ? One can realistically only talk about the urban poor, simply because rural India is very different from America in many important ways that make comparisons difficult. For example, income in rural India depends heavily on timely and adequate monsoon rains, no such factors affect the poor in America in general.
So let us restrict ourselves to the urban poor in India. The very mention of urban poverty brings to mind slums, open sewers and general neglect. Indeed, India’s poor increasingly face both a neglectful and a repressive state, alongwith a middle class that both exploits them economically while tacitly approving the state’s violence. Nowwhere is this more evident than in the very heart of Indian democracy, the capital of the largest ‘free’ nation on earth, where the poor are being kicked out of both homes and livelihoods to make way for the ‘world class’ capital that India’s middle class so desperately craves.
Do the poor in America face such repression ? I am no expert on this matter, but I feel that a lot of the violence that America’s middle class inflicts on the poor and marginalized, is more psychological than physical. The city I live in, Austin, seemingly one of the most progressive and ‘multi-cultural’ in America is still divided along class/racial lines. East Austin, being populated by the underclass where most on the other side will not venture after dark. Certainly it is ‘better’ than the violence and absolute poverty of urban India, but the worrying thing is that this is how things have been for decades now. When people judge their lives, their benchmarks are often the lives of their parents and their general surroundings, and in this respect the poor in America must consider themselves extremely unlucky.
America seems to have reached an unequal equilibrium.
India on the other hand is undergoing a hasty transformation towards an even more unequal equilibrium than the semi-equlibrium it was in. Economic inequalities are accentuated by a return of the psychological violence that India’s elite have engaged in for centuries. Even the acquisition of material goods by the urban poor means little when their general quality of life is constantly being degraded by increasing pollution, overcrowding and crime, when their lives are themselves threatened by an authoritarian state and ethnic/religious extremism.
Indeed if India’s poor can manage to laugh and smile in middle of all their bad luck, then they are luckier than their counterparts in America; who for some reason are supposed to be lucky that they are poor in America, not somewhere else.