By Dr. Gyan Pathak
The Scheduled Tribes (ST) constituted 9.4 per cent of the population of India and are the poorest, with 65 million of the 129 million people living in multidimensional poverty, and among all multidimensional poor five out of six are from lower tribes or castes. This revelation by the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2021, Unmasking disparities by ethnicity, caste, and gender, by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) is indeed shocking.
The report is relevant because castes and tribes are still a more prevalent line of social stratification in the country, and has come at a time when several political parties and intellectuals are demanding caste census with specials reference to Other Backword Class (OBC), and the grievances of the STs and Scheduled Castes (SCs) are yet unaddressed that the successive governments have been doing politics in their name but in reality doing a little.
While talking about STs, the report stated that they have the highest incidence of multidimensional poverty which is 50.6 percent and intensity 45.9 percent. The Scheduled Caste group follows with 33.3 percent — 94 million of 283 million people—living in multidimensional poverty. Among OBCs the multidimensional poverty is 27.2 percent — ie 160 million of 588 million people, showing a lower incidence but a similar intensity compared with the Scheduled Caste group. Overall, five out of six multidimensionally poor people in India live in households whose head is from a Scheduled Tribe, a Scheduled Caste or Other Backward Class.
Among the 1.3 billion multidimensionally poor people in the world, almost two-thirds – 836 million – live in households in which no female member has completed at least six year of schooling. This exclusion of women from education has far-reaching impacts on societies. Among these 836 million, around 350 million are living in South Asia, a region, where 29 per cent of the global poor live. About half of the multidimensioally poor, ie 644 million, are children under age 18, and nearly 85 percent live in Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia. More than 67 percent live in middle-income countries.
It is further disheartening that these 836 million people live only in two reasons, ie in South Asia (350 million) and Sub-Saharan Africa (363 million). Country wise, only seven countries have more than 500 million such people, and India alone houses 227 million of them. The other six countries are Pakistan (71 million), Ethiopia (59 million), Nigeria (54 million), China (32 million), Bangladesh (30 million) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (27 million).
In nine specific ethnic group surveyed, the report has found that more than 90 per cent of the population is trapped in poverty. Disparities across the regions are stark. Besides income, the Index measured poverty using various indicators, including poor health, insufficient education, and low standard of living, and hence is called multidimensional poverty. Living in multidimensionally poverty can mean very different things. Around 1 billion people, for example, are exposed to health risks due to solid cooking fuels, another billion live with inadequate sanitation, and another billion have substandard housing. Around 788 million live in a household with at least one undernourished person, and about 568 million lack improved drinking water within a 30-minute roundtrip walk.
The survey was conducted across 109 countries covering 5.9 billion people, and presents an ethnicity and race digression for 41 nations. Since India is the only nation where caste is still a factor, the report presented the result on caste line.
On average 81.8 per cent of the population – 3.7 billion people – in the world reported living in male-headed households, while 18.2 per cent – 819 million – live in female-headed households. In India, closed to 12 per cent of the population – 162 million – live in female-headed households.
One in six multidimensionally poor people – 207 million – across 108 countries live in female-headed households, and nearly a quarter of them live in India. Sub-Saharan Africa (115 million) and South Asia (65 million) are home to 87 per cent of the multidimensionally poor people living in female-headed households.
The report mentions that when Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were launched in 2015, the goal of eliminating poverty seemed ambitious but possible. However, five year later, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the cracks in social protection systems, health, education and workers’ guarantees and widened inequalities. While everyone has felt the impact of the pandemic, disastrous effects have appeared along the faultlines of ethnicity, race and gender, among others.
The findings are a call to action for policymakers everywhere. India must give priority to eradicating multidimensional poverty and caste faultlines must be given due consideration on the ground level. The political parties must not play only caste politics to consolidate their vote banks, but do really something concrete to eradicate this blot on India. Modi government must take advantage of the this report that provides a comprehensive picture of acute multidimensional poverty to build a more just future for the poor belonging to all castes, with special emphasis to STs, SCs, and OBCs. Structural inequalities that oppress and hinder progress must be fixed as soon as possible. (IPA Service)