Love for the nation is love for its people

We Indians do certain things in ‘uniquely Indian’ style. For example, it is typical of us to keep the plastic cover from newly purchased car seats intact or dry clothes out in the balcony. Add water to empty shampoo bottle or cut toothpaste cover to get the last bit out, that’s us.

One such typical thing we do is brilliantly cover all the dirty and messy parts of our house or function hall during celebrations with a piece of colourful cloth. Just thinking about it brings up so many mental images, right?

As we celebrate this Independence Day, I am attempting to do just the opposite: uncover our mess. Instead of harping on the country’s successes, may I draw your focus on some of the problems we have? Together, let’s have a look at the real issues that both political leaders and citizens must address with an equal sense of responsibility. I believe, accepting aspects that we are not so proud of will help us shine a light on them and collectively desire for a better reality.

Emerging as a middle-income country (an upgrade from a developing country)

When India received full independence in 1947, half the population of India lived below the poverty line, and over 80 percent of the people were illiterate. The country was famine-ridden and life expectancy was around 30 years. The per capita income, the agricultural output, and the food grains output had all been continuously shrinking for the previous three decades.

In the last seventy years, India has made tremendous progress in socio-economic development. India’s growth is significant considering the state and mess it was in at the time of gaining freedom. “With a fast-growing economy, global stature, and its unique experience of lifting the highest number of poor out of poverty in the past decades, India is well-positioned to become a high middle-income country by 2030,” said Hartwig Schafer, World Bank South Asia vice president. However, India has a fair share of challenges at hand.

Problems that are weighing our country down

The 2018 Global Hunger Index (GHI) positioned India at 103 among 119 nations, a drop from the 100th position the previous year. Greater the rank greater the severity of the hunger issue. Our neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar ranked better. The under-five mortality rate has fallen by more than half since 1990, however, a massive 9.8 lakh children under-five are still dying as per the IGME Report 2018. We cannot afford to fail our children, can we?

The poverty rate in the country has nearly halved from 45 percent to 21 percent from 2005/06 to 2015/16. We still have 27 crore people living below the national poverty line. The data is based on the Suresh Tendulkar panel’s recommendations in 2011-12, where the poverty line was defined as those spending less than Rs. 27 a day in rural areas and Rs. 33 in urban areas. As it is apparent, the amount is not enough to even buy one single meal. If we were to redefine the national poverty line by increasing the single day spending by slightest, we will have an increased number of people living below the national poverty line. In short, a staggering number of people are barely surviving and are disadvantaged from accessing basic living standards.

On the other hand, India has 131 billionaires, and several of them are among the world’s richest list. According to a report released by Oxfam International, top 1 percent of the population holds 73 percent of the wealth while 67 crore citizens, comprising the country’s poorest half, saw their wealth rise by just 1 percent.[1] This in itself is the greatest tragedy. If the wealth distribution is so skewed we cannot expect a balanced and just development in our society.

In addition to acute poverty and hunger, the public health crisis caused by HIV, TB and malaria is our biggest challenge. While we have made significant progress, we still represent a large percentage of the global burden for these diseases. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs)–such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder–were responsible for 61.8% of deaths in India in 2016, up from 37.9% deaths in 1990, as IndiaSpend reported in November 2017. Adding to this grim picture is India’s public health spending. India currently spends a little over 1% of GDP on health. India is among the countries with the least public health spending. Singapore expended 2.2 per cent of its GDP, South Korea expended 4.2 per cent and the United States expended 8.5 per cent. India will have to increase the percentage in public health funding for the next 4-5 consecutive years to meet the country’s health challenges.

Creating an equal and just society for all

If only we could make problems disappear by simply covering it with beautiful speeches. They will neither get resolved by shifting blames. The problems will not go away unless we do something about them. As the world’s biggest democracy, we have the power to create a healthier and just society where everyone, despite their caste or religion, can enjoy equal opportunity to prosper and thrive. You and I have a voice, let’s use it to advocate for real issues and for those who are socially disadvantaged.

If a 14-year-old Sunaina from a small village in Uttar Pradesh, who has dreams of becoming a doctor so she can treat her fellow villagers at a low cost, doesn’t have to worry how her father is going to fund her education, doesn’t have to spend hours working in the field instead of studying, doesn’t have to doubt if her dreams are too big to be real, is not forced to abandon her dreams to be married against her will – then she stands a chance to fulfil her dreams and bring change in her community.

We are all proud of to be Indians and we are proud of our nation. Nation is not only what’s outlined geographically but it is also the people like Sunaina living in it. As we celebrate this Independence Day, let’s pledge to leave no one behind.

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