Destroying Kashmiri Culture – The Pakistan Way

The peaceful Sufi culture of Kashmir has been under assault since 1989 by ultra-radical Wahhabi fundamentalists trained and supported by Pakistan. Pak wants Kashmiri Muslims to follow radical Islam so that it can Islamisize the Kashmir issue.

If Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, the faith could not keep the country intact beyond 1971 when it broke into two pieces. It was also a failure of its democracy because a recently held general election gave majority to East Pakistan based Awami League, but the leadership of the politically dominating West Pakistan did not honor people’s verdict. Democracy – which allows people of differing opinions to coexist in peace – always has hard time when people want a monolithic cult imposed by force. So it is not surprising that Pakistan repeatedly fell for military rule since its communal birth. Anyway, unrest spread throughout East Pakistan and the Pak army was deployed to crush the movement; it led to a full-fledged civil war. Indian intervention to stop refugee influx led to surrender of 93,000 Pak troops and East Pakistan became “Bangladesh.”

Pakistan turning Wahhabistan!

brick4sIn the 1980s, Pak Dictator Zia ul Haq decided to change the “color” of Islam. Lured by the charm of petro-dollars and to get into the fold of Gulf Islamic powers, he fell for the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia. Wahhab was a 18th century philosopher and contemporary of the first Saudi monarch, Ibn Saud. His philosophy is also labelled “Literalist Islam” – for its literal and context-less interpretation of Islam. It is utterly authoritarian; any dissent can be called un-Islamic and dissenters doomed as an apostate, disbeliever or idolater. They are like: ONLY what I say or do is Islamic; you must agree with me to survive. Thus, along with non-Muslims it also considers Shias and Sufis worthy of decimation in the name of Jehad.

Saudi Arabia poured millions of dollars into Pakistani madrasas where this “hate all” philosophy was drilled into young tender minds, partly as its global plan to check its arch rival Shia Iran. These madarasas prepared “right human resource” for its Jehadi factories – the al Qaeda and the Taliban are two well known early Wahhabi products.

The first application of this Islamic extremism was demonstrated in Afghanistan against the Soviet army that came in 1979. Actively aided and funded by the Americans, Pakistan set up training camps to produce Jehadi fighters against the communist occupiers. After realizing that Afghanistan might turn into their “Vietnam” the Russians withdrew in early 1989 – and Jehadis won.

It was a novel US-Pak joint experiment of cold war to use religious fanaticism against the opponent in an organized fashion. And it worked! But once the Russians were gone, the Jehadi fighters became jobless. It gave Pakistan an idea: why not divert them into Kashmir and turn the Kashmiri into a Hindu-Muslim conflict – kind of Muslims wanting Azaadi from Hindu dominance. It is precisely the way Pakistan was born. And since 1947, Pak love for Kashmir has been only “Islamic”; it is blind to 40% non-Muslims in J&K and the distinct Kashmiri identity of people of Kashmir. That’s why Kashmiris never trusted Pakistan. Even in 1947, they fought along with Indian troops to drive away Pak invaders.

Islamization of Kashmir Issue

After noting that the local groups like Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) have their own independent agenda and don’t subscribe to Pakistani game plan, it decided to marginalize them and propped up the Hizbul Mujahideen, the armed wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami in early 1990s. Pakistan did not want Kashmiris to set their own political agenda. It wanted to Islamisize and globalize the issue and then unleash a proxy war against India using the jobless Afghan Jehadis as puppets.

Pakistan is also the chief patron of many other Kashmir centric militant groups such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), Hizbul Muzahideen (HM), Harket-ul-Jehadi Islami (HUJI), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), Al-Bader and so on apart from the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).

Pakistan Distaste for Kashmiri Culture

Sufism promotes peace and harmonyBut infiltrated foreigners alone wouldn’t succeed without local support and it was a problem because Kashmiris. Including Kashmiri Muslims think differently. They subscribe to their own local culture that defines their Kashmir identity – their Kashmiriyat. Their peaceful culture evolved in Kashmir over centuries, shaped largely by the Sufi Islamic saints who started arriving in the 14th century – many of them came to avoid persecution in their own “Muslim” societies.

Sufis are, in fact, the true torch bearers of “spiritual” Islam – they had absorbed the “essence” of Prophet’s teachings in their conduct to lead a life of simplicity, purity and piety. [Of course, you need any label to practice personal growth and spirituality.] But that also made them suspect for those using Prophet’s teachings as mere “Political” tool for power and dominance. They saw the Sufis as threats and frequently labelled them as non-Muslims and harrassed.

But the Himalayan Kashmir – an ancient abode of ascetics, monks, Rishis and Munis – offered them a conducive environment to thrive. Of course, Sufi saints could travel safely in the whole Bharat of that time – people respected them naturally for their simple unassuming lifestyle and profound spiritual knowledge. Like ancient indigenous philosophies, Sufis also preached unity of human race disregarding social and religious divides.

Thus, for centuries Hindus and Muslims in Kashmir lived in peace practicing their distinct religious ideologies for personal growth and sought solace at Sufi shrines. For hundreds of years, both Hindus and Muslims have been seeking solace at numerous shrines, not just in Kashmir but across whole India and Pakistan. In fact, Sufi saints have graced the whole sub continent. The Mughal emperors also saw them as benefactors of humanity, and never a threat for people or society.

Sufi saints undertake years of disciplined efforts to absorb the “essence” of Islam and only then they tell others what to do in simple language. Their only agenda is spiritual growth of all people in an atmosphere of love, peace and harmony. In stark contrast, the stereotype Islamic “preachers” use their eloquence and merely quote Quran to impress people only to “convert” them. Their tools are coercion and threat. And for radicals, like the Wahhabis, anyone in disagreement with their views is a potential threat – which must be forced to comply or eliminated. Clearly, they couldn’t tolerate Sufis or their messages of love and harmony.

Thus, Pakistan needed to destroy the Hindu-Muslim harmony. The success of Pakistan’s “Islamic” agenda in Kashmir crucially depends upon giving the issue a Hindu-against-Islam color. Thus, it started destroying Sufism and Sufi Shrines and promoting Wahhabism in order to win favors from its role models in the Middle East.

Jehadis Attacked Sufi Shrines

Thus, Pak aimed its well trained Jehadis at all symbols of peace, harmony and humanity in Kashmir that had evolved in the past 6 centuries. They targeted the annual Urs celebrations at various Sufi shrines – for example, in Batmol and Aishmuqam – which attract people of all faith, and tried to destroy the Shrines – for example, at Baba Rishi near Tangmarg..

In October 1993, a group of insurgents seized the Hazratbal shrine which houses a hair of the Prophet. But the issue was resolved through negotiations. Two years later, in March 1995 Hizbul Muzahideen commander Mast Gul (of Afghan origin) along with dozens of militants seized the famous Chrar-e-Sharif shrine. The security forces cordoned off the town and the standoff continued for about 2 months. But the shrine got burned down by the militants in an effort to escape. Later, there were failed attempts by the jihadists to burn down the 700 year old shrine of Baba Naqashband Sahib in Srinagar.

In 2012, several shrines were burnt in “mysterious fires”; the most dominant was the Dastageer Sahib in Srinagar. The Wahhabis proudly declared on facebook these acts as the “divine acts of God.”

Data Darbar in Lahore

Data Darbar in Lahore

The hate-filled Wahhabis discovered targets in Pakistan also. The Pak Taliban, which has been busy targeting the Shias and other minorities, turned its attention on Sufi shrines in Pakistan. They did not spare even the Data Darbar in Lahore and the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi, the patron saint of Karachi. Both attacks invited widespread condemnation.

While such acts against humanity routinely invite widespread criticism, the thousands of madrassas continue to drill Wahhabism in young tender minds. That ominously points both to the future society of Pakistan and the sub continent turning into a dangerous place to live.

Wahhabism: The Ideological Force Behind Islamic Extremism

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Wahhabism – The Ideological Force Behind Islamic Extremism

When people wonder: why Islam gets connected with violence so easily, they need to learn about the entry of Wahhabism into Islam in the 18th Century. Pious Muslims watch helplessly the decline of spiritual Islam (which purifies mind and heart) as it is increasingly used for political dominance through violence. 

Submission through terror is part of Wahhabism

Submission through terror is part of Wahhabism

All manners of Islamic extremism that the world has started witnessing in the past decades can be traced back to an Islamic ideology that developed in the 18th and 19th centuries in Bedouin tribal areas of the eastern Arabian Peninsula. It has sidelined all spiritual practices for personal growth and bypasses the “essence” behind Prophet’s words in favor of ‘literal’ interpretation of what he preached. It originated in the thinking of a scholar named Muhammad ibn Abd-al Wahhab (1703 – 1792), hence the name “Wahhabism.” If spiritual Islam unites people through purification of conduct and spreads the message of peace and harmony, Wahhabism seeks dominance through hate and violence.

Wahhab preached that over the centuries Islam has got corrupted by various traditional interpretation of Islam by Islamic scholars and preachers – whether Sunnis or Shias. He also vehemently criticised all traditional practices that had evolved among people of the area – various established acts of worship, reverence of pious saints in Islam, pilgrimages to tombs and so on. He accused Sufis and Shias of committing Shirk (polytheism or associating God with people) – the most abominable sin in Islam, and therefore declared them apostates. For him there was only one interpretation, his own and demanded absolute submission – if you follow me you are a “true Muslim”, else you are doomed as an apostate, disbeliever or idolater.

brick3sFor all practical purposes, Wahhab’s movement was like throwing out the baby with the bath water. While attacking the superstitious practices of Najdi tribes, he also declared an all out war on Muslims and non-Muslims unless they submit to his doctrines. Thousands of innocent traditional Muslims – both Shias and Sunnis – were massacred, their villages burnt down and terrified Muslims fled from the marauding Wahhabis. All the traditional writings of past twelve centuries were burnt. But in reality, he only ended up legitimizing the tribal culture of that period – killing opponents, confiscation of their wealth and violation of their female folks – in the name of holy Jehad. He did won followers, but his father and son were not among them.

His best known follower was the first Saudi Arabia monarch Ibn Saud – who was then just one tribal leader amongst many in Bedouin tribes who perennially squabble with each other in the hot and hostile desert of the Nejd region. In 1744, Ibn Saud declared that he would create a state based on Wahhab’s Islamic philosophy. Coming from the Sunni branch of Islam, the hatred for the Shia Muslims was natural for the Wahhabis. Their earliest acts of killings and destructions were carried out in Karbala in 1801, after Wahhab’s death in 1792. It was followed by the looting and wrecking of the tomb of Prophet’s grandson, Hussain, who was killed in 680 in Karbala (located in today’s Iraq).

Non-Muslims may know that the Shia-Sunni rivalry is rooted in the succession struggle for Prophet’s teachings. Shias come from the faction that believed that blood descendents of the Prophet form the natural order and they should inherit his legacy; they are opposed by the Sunnis who follow the sunna (Arabic for “way” or tradition) of Muhammad. Today, 87 – 90% Muslims are Sunnis and the rest are Shias. While Iran is the global power center of Shias, the Saudi Arabia dictates the Sunni world through its Wahhabi ideology. This rivalry shapes the politics of the Gulf region.

The rise of the Wahhabis and their expansion alarmed the staunchly orthodox Ottoman Empire in Turkey and it started taking measures to contain them. For Wahhabis, the Ottoman Caliphs were non-Muslims because they practiced Sufism. In the ensuing confrontation, the Ottoman regime drove them back to the Arab deserts where they remained confined for almost a century until the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the WWI. However, detailed accounts of their atrocities were recorded by Ottoman officials and generals.

In the 1920s, the politically astute Abd-al Aziz ibn Saud very successfully re-established his supremacy in the Arabian Desert and planted the Wahhabi Islam as the state religion. The discovery of oil in the 1930s and enormous reservoir of the ‘black gold’ underneath the ground gave Saudi Arabia and the entire Gulf region extraordinary strategic importance in the WW2 and thereafter. It transformed the virtually destitute tribals into money lords of the world but their ideological fissures and mutual mistrust remained intact. Keeping the promise of the first Suadi monarch to propagate the Wahhabi faith, the Saudis have been exporting their intolerant brand of Islam across the world, particularly to the poor countries, through the network of Madarasas and charitable organizations. Experts estimate that since 1970s, Saudis have spent billions of dollars on this venture. As a result, all other milder Islamic versions developed in various countries are now at the risk of extinction.

Influence of Wahhabism Today

Attacks on Shiites kill at least 18 in IraqBeing extremely flexible in justifying any form of hatred or greed led violence, as holy Jehad, post-WW2 various Islamic groups have routinely labelled their political struggle as Jehad. It also inspired growth of various Islamic extremist groups and their Jehadi terror tactics. Perhaps the latest example in the recent chain of events comes from Afghanistan. In the 1980s, Afghan Islamic fundamentalist outfits used it successfully to drive out the Russians from their land. Of course, they were funded liberally, armed and trained by Pakistanis along with the US.

Since the departure of Russians from Afghanistan in 1989, Pakistan started diverting these trained Jehadis towards Kashmir. But since the Kashmiri Muslims practice Sufi Islam which promotes peaceful co-existence, Pak efforts have been largely sustained through infiltration of Islamic extremists brainwashed with Wahhabi principles of hate killing in Pak established terror factories. Osama Bin Laden learned the basic tenets as a Saudi and showed how it works through Al Queda. Boko Haram, Al Shabab and their clones are doing the same thing elsewhere.

Afghan Taliban’s large scale destruction of Buddhist shrines in the 1990s and currently, if the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) in the Middle East is destroying shrines, it is only following the foot-steps of Saudi Wahhabis who in 1920s demolished 1,400-year-old tombs in the Jannat ul Baqi cemetery in Medina. In fact, ISIS appears to be a better copy of the original produced by the Saudis!

While learned scholars can’t imagine, even in their wildest dream, the Prophet behaving the Wahhabi way and can cite instances of him urging compassion for the weak and non-believers, but they are marginalized because many Muslims see the current Islamic fundamentalist groups as standing against the hegemony and unjust myopic policies of the wealthy West.

When leaders claim that violence perpetrated by Islamic groups has nothing to do with Islam, they only show their ignorance of the Gulf history of past two centuries – clearly stamped by Muhammad Ibn Abd-al Wahhab in collaboration with Ibn Saud.

Today, if rise of the ISIS is worrying Saudi regime, it must be only reminding its dumping of the ‘Ikhwan’ in 1920s to win over international legitimacy.

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Poverty is Cancer not Flu ! – Mahbub Ul Haq

The Man Who wanted Development, Beyond GPD!

Late Dr-Mahbub-ul-Haq of Pakistan

Late Dr-Mahbub-ul-Haq of Pakistan

Pakistani Economist Mahbub Ul Haq (1934 – 1998) is generally credited for leading efforts to create the human development index (HDI) of the UN’s Development Program, published annually since 1990 as part of the human development reports (HDRs). It was the first attempt to measure progress in terms other than economic (GDP) growth or per capita. The HDI combines country’s GDP with two basic dimensions of human life: education, as seen from adult literacy and school-enrolment data, and health, based on life expectancy statistics. In these efforts, he collaborated with Amartya Sen and used concepts of his capabilities theory of development. The two geniuses were friends since their Cambridge University student days. The subject of development kept them in close contact until Haq died in 1998. Both were sceptics of the popular use of GDP as a measure of national progress.

Sen-Bhagwati Debate

Sen-Bhagwati Debate

In last five years, we have seen the Sen-Bhagwati debate in India which many people erroneously see as development-vs-growth debate. If Professor Sen wants the government to focus more on development programs, Professor Bhagwati first wants to spur economic growth and then spend money on people development. Interestingly, Sen finds support from the left leaning people, perhaps because he advocates capacity building of people and Bhagwati gets favor from the followers of the capitalist textbooks. The pragmatic ideas of Mahbub Ul Haq become relevant here as a healthy bridge between the illusory Sen-Bhagwati divide!

Haq served as the World Bank’s Director of Policy Planning from 1970 to 1982 and left his marks in the Bank’s developmental policies. He next served as Pakistan’s Finance Minister from 1982 – 1988 when he launched several poverty alleviation programs and deregulated the economy and brought tax reforms. Then he became Special Advisor to the UNDP from 1989 to 1996 when he quit to establish the Human Development Centre in Islamabad. After his death in July 1998, it was renamed as the Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Centre and the UNDP instituted an Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Development in his honor.

World’s most Poor Live in India

Sending daughter to school

Sending daughter to school

If latest official poverty line of Rangarajan Committee estimates 29.5% poverty; it was 22% until May 2014 using Tendulkar’s methodology. So, you can always change the number of poor – it is a great number game! The multidimensional poverty analysis finds that about 54% (650 million) of India’s population lives in poverty – being deprived of at least 33% of its 10 indicators. 16% (190 million) people are vulnerable to poverty. Taken together, 70% Indians are either poor or in close range. Among the poor 29% are in severe poverty. Talking in numbers, they imply 363 million to 650 million poor Indians. These are huge numbers by any standard and go well beyond the US population of around 320 million.

If we talk in terms of World Bank’s poverty lines, on the $1.25-a-day benchmark 42% people are poor and the $2-a-day makes 76% Indians poor. Summing up, leaving aside top 25 – 30% or around 300 – 360 million people rest of the Indians don’t have any respectful living standard.

If poverty has persisted even after six decades of sovereign rule there is only one conclusion. We have been fooling ourselves with the symptoms of poverty rather than attacking its root cause. When poverty is seen through the lens of some expert created monetary poverty line as we have been doing all these years, and as the World Bank also does with its $1.25-a-day threshold for extreme poverty, then the only obvious solution remains is to concentrate on economic growth. This is also the standard prescription given by the global money lenders.

However, by now we all know that such monetary approach to poverty is grossly inadequate. The moment we put on the goggles of income poverty the policymaking heads in the wrong direction. We get busy applying band-aids on the symptoms. This is what we have been doing for all these decades.

The more accurate way is to look at poverty of opportunity, not poverty of income. Income poverty is the result; poverty of opportunity is the real cause. Poverty of opportunity is a multi-dimensional concept embracing lack of education and health, lack of economic assets, social exclusion and political marginalization. It is only through a full understanding of the poverty of opportunity that we can begin to understand why people remain stuck in poverty.

Our concepts, measures and analyses must deal with poverty of opportunity. This means taking a multidimensional view of poverty as a situation of several deprivations, often one feeding another. This has been adopted in the multidimensional poverty index (MPI) which is a wonderful tool to uncover things the poor are actually deprived of, and what to do to change their situation. This tells that development should necessarily be a multidimensional process designed to remove hurdle that reduce people’s capabilities, particularly the basic capabilities needed for survival.

It is time to say goodbye to single-dimensional income (or consumption) measure of poverty, forever.

Poverty is a Cancer, Not Flu!

We can’t go on blissfully with a model of development that produces persistent poverty and hope that we can take care of it downstream through welfare programs or poverty reduction schemes. Poverty cannot be treated as a mere flu; it is more like cancer.

If the poor (people) lack critical assets (say land or housing), if they lack credit because banks and other lenders don’t consider them credit worthy, or if they are socially excluded and politically marginalized then a few State programs can’t change their situation much. It means, by and large, the poor stay where they are, in poverty!

The solution lies in a fundamental change in the very development model so that people become the target of development, their capabilities are built up and their opportunities are enlarged. It means shifting away from the narrow focus on economic growth as the sole goal of progress. Development should target the people and enhancement of their wellbeing should be the national goal. The process necessarily involves economic growth but only as one among several means. Today what is happening is that people’s wellbeing is compromised in favour of economic growth. They are reduced to the status of mere consumers and tools for growing the economy.

Markets Always Favor the Rich

We have to accept the hard fact that market forces always favour those who have money. It means, left to the market, economic growth will only increase inequality of wealth distribution. A part of the inequality comes from the influence of the rich entities on the State policies. Way back in 1960s, Dr Haq had noted dominance of only 22 industrial families in Pakistan’s economy. They controlled over two-third of industrial assets and around 80 percent banking and insurance. Nothing much has changed since then. Of the 10 million people who qualify today, only 2.5 million are tax payers. With this tiny base, Pakistan’s tax revenue is among the lowest in the world; its tax to GDP ratio is lower than even Sierra Leone.

In Pakistan, taxpaying parliamentarians and political elites are a conspicuous minority. A 2010 review found its PM and ministers among the non-taxpayers in the year they contested election. Obviously, the lawmakers create rules that leave loopholes to make their tax exemptions legal. Those who pay taxes are usually from the honest middle class. The rich and powerful landowners dominate the Parliament so they can make policies that sustain their financial interests.

Pak financial system is described by a retired tax administrator, Riyaz Hussain Naqvi who said: “This is a system of the elite, by the elite and for the elite… It is a skewed system in which the poor man subsidizes the rich man.”

He succinctly summed up how unjust rules made by powerful vested interests create and perpetuate poverty. It applies to all countries of the world but is more damaging in the developing countries.

Although rising inequality is a serious distortion, but in current circumstances it can’t be wished away. It points to the need of a people-focused development model where people take precedence over economy. Experience of past half century shows that people’s welfare can’t be left to market forces alone. It implies need for an out-of-box thinking so that market rules of changed and a clear role of the governments so that they can make the market work for all, not for the rich minority.

Why the role of government becomes important?

Because market is not elected by poor people, government is. Market can be brutal or indifferent to the needs of the poor, government can’t be. Market is supposed to promote efficiency; equity is not its concern. But governments cannot ignore equity and justice that are essential for proper health of social fabric.

Similar Pages

Mahbub Ul Haq: The Man Who Wanted Development beyond GDP
Why Poverty? Let’s Talk Human Development
Can Business be Redesigned to Eradicate Poverty?

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India: Growth Vs Development Debate

Is it really an either-or case, as some people try to portray?

The 2014 Loksabha polls brought this debate into focus through the Sen-Bhagwati dialogue on this issue. Commonsense dictates that the two are related, but they are neither mutually exclusive nor are they perfectly correlated. Experience shows that economic growth doesn’t automatically trickledown to the bottom; it tends to remain concentrated in top few hands. Likewise, targeting human development indicators will not automatically prop up economic growth. Both should be seen side by side in the right perspective.

Moreover, the large population base, widespread poverty and climate change disturbances must be factored in to the development trajectory.

The Sen-Bhagwati Debate

sen bhagwatiIt is a healthy debate between two factions of researchers. One side is led by Nobel winner professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard University, Amartya Sen, whose idea of development culminates in the capability theory. Sen believes that India should invest more in its social infrastructure like health and education to improve human capabilities that will cause economic growth. Without such investments, he fears that inequality will widen which will ultimately falter the growth process. In the recent book An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions, Sen and Drèze stress on state-led social welfare schemes to solve India’s development problems.

This is opposed by Jagdish Bhagwati, a Columbia University professor of economics. Bhagwati argues that focus on growth is important so that enough resources are available for social welfare programs. In his view, inequality may raise with growth initially but sustained growth will eventually also sustain the social benefit programs to redistribute and mitigate the effects of the initial inequality. In Why Growth Matters: How Economic Growth in India Reduced Poverty and the Lessons for Other Developing Countries, Bhagwati and Panagariya recommend focus on economic growth as the best way forward.

Origin of the Debate

In a December 2010 speech to MPs, Bhagwati argued that the reforms of 1991 have brought prosperity to even the lowest social classes and hence they must be continued. He also down played the low ranking of India on the human development index (HDI) which originated from the efforts of Sen and the renowned Pakistani economist, Mahbub ul Haq. Bhagwati thinks that the HDI has little scientific basis.

The Debate

The differences between Sen and Bhagwati may be much smaller than what appears from the media hype. It is certainly not a battle between the left and the right. Yet, Sen attracts left leaning people while those on the right tend to favour Bhagwati’s views. The debate is not about rejecting market economy; it appears to be more about policy preferences rather than policy directions.

For instance, Bhagwati wants growth to precede redistribution to improve people’s capabilities. But Sen wants to focus on increasing capabilities as a way to push growth. He argues that there is no example of unhealthy, uneducated labour producing meaningful growth rates. Bhagwati counters by arguing that putting redistribution before growth is like putting the cart before the horse.

It appears to be more about the process of growth – whether it enriches the rich unequally or spreads down to include even the poor – and the manner of doing so. It is also academic – whether people got lifted out of poverty due to economic growth or redistribution through state policies.

Many critics however point out that the debate bypasses the more pressing issues of global warming and rising population; with fertility rate of 2.6 per women India is still away from the population stabilization target of 2.1, which should have been reached in 2010.

To sum up in one sentence: Bhagwati wants to focus on reforms to push economic growth, and Sen wants the focus on tackling poverty and inequality through social measures.

Beyond Debate, What should India Do

Mind the Inequality Gap

mind-the-gapExperience around the world shows that the corporate led economic growth model, India is trying usher in since 1991, is known to promote high inequality with concentration of wealth in few rich hands. It does not automatically benefit the masses without state led redistribution efforts.

A recent Oxfam research report shows that the richest 1 percent have seen their share of global wealth increase from 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014. The Wealth of the richest 1 percent is 65 times the wealth of bottom half. In 2014, 80 richest persons have as much wealth as the poorest 50 percent (about 3.5 billion people). In 2013 85 richest persons held that much, significantly down from 388 in 2010.

Development is not just about growth; it is also about its distribution. So it is entirely possible for an economy to grow even rapidly without creating much jobs as has been the case in India recently – growth only increased inequality.

Focus on Infrastructure

The government also failed to create sufficient basic infrastructure – transport, electricity, communication etc – to help the manufacturing sector. What actually grew is the service sector around the IT. Another sector that has gone up is the real estate. It is kind of rent seeking and speculative sector. So services and construction account for roughly 70% of the increase in output over the last 20 years. The industrial growth remained limited to around 18%. As a result, we ended up with large export-import gap.

The corporate sector grew very fast in past two decades, almost double the rate of the rest of the economy. However, it employs barely 12 million people in a country with a work force of over 450 million. Even here, white collar workers might have gained to some extent but the wages of blue collar workers remained largely flat.

Strengthen Welfare Program

NREGA work

NREGA work

Human development indicators show that the benefits of growth did not each people at the bottom. As Sen points out, many countries with lower per capita income than India have done better. For instance, in Bangladesh infant mortality has come down below that of India’s, starting with much higher figure, and open defecation is limited to just 8% population there compared with India’s over 50%. A unique and outstanding example comes from Bhutan and its use of Gross National Happiness (GNH) to guide development. It’s human development index (HDI) increased from 0.146 in 1991 to 0.522 in 2010 without unduly impairing its cultural, spiritual or natural treasures. Compare it with India’s current HDI of around 0.55.

Clearly, what counts is the distribution of economic growth and its translation into human wellbeing, not the quantum of economic growth.

Without consistent higher economic growth India risks being stuck in the low-income trap for a longer time. It needs to offer the private sector and foreign investors opportunities to earn consistent long-term profits. Securing their interests is much easier if GDP is growing at 8% than at 4-5%. Further, strong institutions are necessary to achieve consistent economic growth and development. It means focusing on good governance, consistent and clear polices and freedom from corruption.

Invest in Skill Development and Entrepreneurship

As the government is shifting focus from agriculture to manufacturing, the challenge is to support this transition by retraining agricultural workers for more productive jobs with better wages. This means that government must focus on areas like skill development, entrepreneurship, and education. The NDA must avoid the UPA type mistakes – it converted a lot of social expenditure into rights and obligations that were enforceable even by the courts. It can potentially turn into problem when the economy slows down.

You may also like to explore

Why Poverty? Let’s Talk People’s Development
Poverty is Multidimensional, So should be Development
5 Point Holistic Development Plan for India

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Is the World Heading Towards a New Global Order?

21st Century World Needs New Global Rules

cricket game 2The world entered 21st century with new hopes, but could not say goodbye to the baggage of the last century. The intensity of global climatic disorder is now too glaring to be ignored while world leaders show no sign of shedding their slumber and the corporate-consumer model of development shows no sign of respecting the limits of the planet. Even the most ignorant person living in any corner of the planet can tell that the climate is no longer smooth and orderly. The feeling of not being able to do anything is stirring the suppressed conscience of the ordinary people across the world.

As world leaders continue verbal posturing (for public consumption) and carry on international negotiations (not meant to be honoured) giant corporations continue to “maximize profits” and the powerful and “free” corporate media continue to tow the lines of rich and powerful. Yet, the silent pain of ignored ordinary citizens is gathering momentum against the global power centers who dictate terms.

It also infuriates people when they see ‘developed’ nations waging trillion dollar wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but when it comes to fighting climate change and global poverty their disinterest makes their status tag of ‘developed nations’ look empty.

5 Drivers of People’s Dissatisfaction

Our world is certainly at a crossroads. The present drivers of global politics, operating since the end of the WW-II, fail to meet people’s aspirations in the changed world we live in today. The new realities demand a new global arrangement better suited to meet the aspirations of global citizens.

  1. Sick Planet

Climatic Disorder and Environmental Degradation

The phenomenon of global warming is a manmade problem that resulted chasing the myth of eternal GDP growth. It is the most serious threat facing the humanity today and is the un-refutable “proof” of many things wrong rooted in our ecologically blind lifestyle. Reflecting more than the rising global temperatures, melting ice-caps and depleting natural resources it covers multiple and associated ills which not just point to the growing inequalities and injustice but also to local, regional and, potentially, global conflict.

Despite serious global attempts of past two decades, we are already at 401 parts per million of CO2 in February 2015 and counting; it was 325 ppm in 1970. Over the past decade, much has been talked about peaking it between 2015 and 2020. Yet, even in 2015 it is still a pipe dream. It doesn’t help when experts claim: “We underestimated the risks… we underestimated the damage associated with the temperature increases… and we underestimated the probabilities of temperature increases”.

From the perspective of common people, the climate battle is already lost and there is nothing to save them from untimely climatic disasters, now getting more frequent than ever before. Farmers in the poor countries are already seeing destruction of their crops by untimely rains and hailstorms. The mainstream global media, led by the rich West, still treats such events as natural accidents unconnected with human activities. The US and its allies still find trillion dollar wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan more rewarding than fighting global poverty or climate change.

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A New Measure of National Progress: Social Progress Index (SPI)

GDP Growth is not a Good Measure of Progress

GDP growth can be misleading

GDP growth can be misleading

Economic growth, measured as per capita GDP, is currently taken as a measure of a country’s progress. It is simple and certainly provides the personal income and governmental resources needed to run the country. In the past half century, economic growth has surely improved lives of people across the world and lifted people out of poverty.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that GDP growth alone leads to incomplete development and is hitting the environment limits. In many rich societies it appears to have hit the roof, with no further real development with increasing GDP. Moreover, economic growth leads to high levels of inequality that has polarized the world between a “rich North” where obesity and ‘lifestyle diseases’ threaten people’s lives and a “poor South” where people die of under-nutrition and easily preventable diseases. This is a comical situation, speaking in a lighter tone.

Therefore, a change is imperative in how we go about development and this change must be about building not just rich societies but good and just societies. For this, we need to look beyond GDP and include social and environmental measurements into national performance measurement. Tracking the progress of social indicators will also help to better utilize the economic gains for improving the well being of people.

Need to Measure Social Progress

To advance social progress, then, we must learn to measure it comprehensively and rigorously.  Measuring multiple dimensions of social progress is indispensable in understanding its components, benchmarking success, and catalyzing improvement. While there have been some laudable efforts to measure wellbeing, these capture only limited aspects of social progress, and are uneven in breadth and scope across countries.

Systematic measurement of social progress is also important to understand various factors that aid economic advancement. Therefore, social progress also promotes economic development, setting a virtuous cycle. Understanding pressing societal challenges also creates new economic opportunities for business and future directions.

What is Social Progress Index?

The Social Progress Index (SPI) is an attempt to address these gaps and opportunities. It provides a holistic, objective, outcome-based measure of a country’s wellbeing that is independent of economic indicators. It will enable a new level of sophistication in understanding the complex relationship between social progress and economic development. The Index framework is designed to be readily improved and expanded to incorporate new aspects of social progress, as well as improved data. It checks the social progress alongside the GDP for a country’s performance.

The model is based on the following definition of social progress:

“Social progress is the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential.”

This overall definition can be disaggregated into three dimensions of social progress: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity. Each dimension is made up of four equally weighted individual components. Incidentally, the United Nations has also identified three pillars on which the post- 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must rest: economic, social and environmental.

The three dimensions of the Social Progress Index roughly mirror the progression that most individuals, families, communities, and societies go through in achieving higher and higher levels of social progress. The model draws heavily on previous literature, notably the capability approach pioneered by Amartya Sen, which emphasizes the multidimensional nature of wellbeing and the importance of freedom of choice.

The Three Dimensions of SPI

social progress indicators chart

The first dimension captures the degree to which the most essential conditions for survival are met.  These essential needs must be satisfied to create the minimum standards for further progress.

The second dimension of social progress captures the degree to which a country has created the set of policies and institutions to support improving wellbeing and community in a sustainable natural environment.

The third dimension captures the degree to which all citizens are able to reach their full potential. This rests on things like personal rights, freedoms and inclusion.

The Social Progress Index 2014

The 2014 Social Progress Index reveals striking differences across countries in their social performance, highlights the very different strengths and weaknesses of individual countries, and provides concrete guidance for national policy agendas. It rates 132 countries on more than 50 indicators, including health, sanitation, shelter, personal safety, access to information, sustainability, tolerance and inclusion and access to education.

It gave New Zealand the top ranking followed by Switzerland, Iceland and Netherlands. Chad ranks the lowest in the index. It placed India at 102nd position and Bangladesh at 99th. The best performer in this region is Sri Lanka (at 86th) and the worst is Pakistan (at 124th).

Among the five BRICS countries India is lowest place after China at the 90th position. Brazil (at 46th position) shows best social progress. Both India and China currently underperform on social progress relative to their GDP per capita status; they need to better turn their economic success into improving social conditions.

Recently, the SPI was adopted as an official measure of national performance by the Government of Paraguay which will guide the public and private investment choices. In Brazil too, the Index has been adopted by social entrepreneurs and businesses as a tool to understand community needs and guide social progress.

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Understanding Poverty, Beyond Lack of Income

Poverty has many faces other than income.

Poverty has many faces other than income.

Changing World, Changing Needs

In the 21st century, rapid changes are taking place all over the world – even in the economically underdeveloped countries under the wave of globalization and revolution in IT and communication technologies. The poverty standard of income devised in the historical past is no longer relevant under new conditions. People today are no longer subject to the same laws, customs and social order of the bygone era. Globalization and easy of connectivity is exposing the ultrahigh inequalities between the rich West and the poor East as well as the unjust world-order. People no longer want mere economic growth; they also aspire for equal opportunity, social justice and political freedom to influence the direction of development. Therefore, a comprehensive viewpoint is needed in order to understand poverty properly. It must be seen as a human situation deprived of many things other than income.

Low Income – The Traditional Concept of Poverty

Poverty is traditionally associated with lack of income – you don’t expect a poor to have money. This is the traditional way to look at poverty still popular with most people. People are considered poor when they don’t have enough income to obtain basic necessities of life – food, shelter, drinking water, education, medicines and so on. When poverty is seen from this subsistence perspective it is absolute poverty – a situation where the poor are struggling for survival.

According to the United Nations’ 1995 World Summit in Copenhagen, “absolute poverty is a condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income but also on access to services.

This gave rise to the concept of subsistence or absolute poverty line – people with income below it are poor; in fact, they are extremely poor. India’s official poverty line is actually a subsistence poverty line.

The exploitative colonial powers had used such a poverty line definition to set bare minimum wages for their subjects so that they could get just sufficient food to replenish their energies in order to keep working. This is how the colonial countries like the UK laid the foundation for affluence in their own countries while reducing their subjects to bare survival and plundering their natural resources.

Currently, the Word Bank uses $1.25-a-day benchmark of “extreme poverty” and estimates that globally around 1 billion people are extremely poor.

Basic Needs Approach

Evolved in the 1970s, the basic needs approach revolves around listing most basic needs of people like food, shelter, clothing and other essentials of a household. Then it fixes the quantum of their minimum consumption requirements. It also considered services provided by the state or community such as safe water, sanitation, public transport, medical and education facilities etc. It, thus, established a basic framework for community development.

Of course, these minimum needs are defined by the ‘experts’ and the poor remain as mere passive recipients. However, it is attractive to policymakers due to ease of its implementation. It helped the international agencies make developmental plans.

While it is easier to restrict the poverty perspective to material and physical needs which can be planned easily by the government, it helps to remind that human lives can’t be simplified to the level of policies that the government can plan.

Society can also Dictate “Necessities”

Clearly, people are not robotic creatures needing only replenishment of physical energy needed to work. They also have social demands which must be met in order to live a satisfactory life.

“By necessaries I understand not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even the lowest order, to be without. . . . Custom . . . has rendered leather shoes a necessary of life in England. The poorest creditable person of either sex would be ashamed to appear in public without them.” – Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations

After all, people are social beings and are affected by the social opinions and processes. Therefore, poverty can’t be seen in isolation and must necessarily be seen in the overall social context. It must be seen in relation with the society. This relative poverty moves in response to changing social environment and what earlier used to be luxuries can become necessities now. Living in society demands that one has to satisfy social obligations and expectations; not having the resources to do so mean one is living in deprivations – in poverty.

Relative Poverty

The philosophical foundation of relative poverty is provided by Karl Marx, “Our needs and enjoyments spring from society; we measure them, therefore by society and not by the objects of their satisfaction. Because they are of a social nature, they are of a relative nature.

As Peter Townsend, a leading authority on UK poverty, puts it: People are poor if they live with resources that are so seriously below those commanded by the average individual or family that they are, in effect, excluded from ordinary living patterns, customs and activities.

People are “relatively poor” when their average resources or average living standard falls below the society average. Relative poverty is also seen as inequality. It will be always present in any society, no matter how much it progresses. Certain sections of the society will always perform less than others, so relative poverty can never be eliminated. However, if the wealth distribution becomes more even it falls.

Moving to relative poverty is in fact a shift from the “needs” to “wants” – people are poor if they “want” to live like others but can’t. Now the measure is “the deficit in the living standard”, compared with the society average. The philosophy of relative poverty is common in the developed nations, since they have progressed beyond the point where people are no more struggling for basic survival needs.

Definition of Relative Poverty in Europe

Relative poverty is when some people’s way of life and income is so much worse than the general standard of living in the country or region in which they live that they struggle to live a normal life and to participate in ordinary economic, social and cultural activities.” – European Anti Poverty Network (EAPN)

The EU’s Relative Poverty Standard

“People falling below 60% of median income are considered to be at-risk-of poverty.”

Capability Poverty

The capability approach of Amartya Sen puts people at the center and discusses development and poverty from people’s perspective. It is perhaps the most comprehensive approach and expresses poverty in terms of deprivation of people’s capabilities – referring to what they can or cannot do, can or cannot be. It sees income, resources and public facilities as mere means to achieve or expand human capabilities. In laymen’s language, Sen’s development approach aims to make people more capable in terms of their skills, physical and mental abilities – it is a kind of holistic approach.

Expanding capabilities increase well-being and shrinking capabilities decrease well-being. The set of capabilities needed to escape poverty is rather limited. The capability poverty is typically lack of capabilities related to satisfying basic needs of food, nutrition, health, shelter, etc. In this approach, expansion of people’s capabilities is the prime goal: income, resources and facilities have no meaning unless they enhance human capabilities.

Consider this simple example: Having a cell phone can enable the capability of connectivity, but only if the person uses it properly. Mere ownership of the cell phone doesn’t tell what the person can do with it; a blind and deaf person may not be able to use it. Therefore, the important point is not the possession of a commodity or its features, but the capability to use it.

Personal freedom to lead the life one values is the central theme of Sen’s theory of development. Cultural and psychological aspects also affect people’s capabilities, so they are also important considerations and account for individual differences.

As mentioned above, when Adam Smith argued that leather shoes became social necessity in order to avoid shame in the public, he was referring the capability of avoiding public shame. As societies get richer and richer, the list of commodities required to “avoid shame” also increase. Being poor in such societies mean lacking the capability to “avoid shame” because the poor lacks the capability to “afford” all those commodities. There is certainly a strong psychological component here because the “needs” are dictated by social customs (and people’s degree of obeisance).

The Human Development (HD) Approach

It was developed in the 1980s when it was noted that handing over economic growth to market forces alone (free market economy) and curtailing the role of government in the economic activities led to increased poverty. It combines the elements of the basic needs and capability approaches and defines the human development as a process of enlarging people’s choices. The most critical choices relate to leading a long and healthy life, to be educated and to enjoy a decent standard of living. Other choices include political freedom, guaranteed human rights and self-respect.

The HD idea revolves around the basic theme: “People are the real wealth of a nation.”  And the basic objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to live long, healthy and creative life. It was stated in the first Human Development Report (HDR) published in 1990. This is a paradigm shift in developmental thinking: it puts the focus on people and makes them the target of development; incomes and resources are seen as means, not ends goals.

The HD approach offers several advantages: It goes beyond the basic needs of material, services and physical conditions to give importance to other aspects of life like freedom, environment and society. It simplifies the concept of capability approach to include “choices” and “freedom” and sees development as widening human choices. It is open ended, and considers everything that might affect human life, so that different societies can focus on what is important for them. Poverty is just the opposite – people with badly limited choices.

The HD approach has been attracting people who are seeking human-focused and humane alternatives to the usual “economic growth” as development. It also offers an alternate measure of development in the form of the human development index (HDI) which combines life expectancy, literacy and adjusted income. The HDI is an important milestone in efforts to measure human well-being in terms other than per capita GDP or income.

Since the first HDR in 1990, every year a different human development theme is picked up for the report and the global scenario is presented. These reports have greatly impacted the national policies and provide fresh perspective to look at poverty. It has brought into focus the importance of issues like lack of women empowerment and illiteracy, income inequalities, non-inclusive growth, social exclusion etc as major impediment to human development.

It paved the way to look at poverty from a multidimensional perspective. Thus, in 2010 a multidimensional poverty index (MPI) that analyses poverty through a set of 10 indicators was launched. It has been adopted as an effective policy-making tool by many countries around the world.

The Way Forward

Do we really need experts and poverty research in order to eradicate poverty? Why not ask the poor themselves. It would give perhaps the most useful perspective. They see themselves mostly as deprived, marginalized, excluded and vulnerable. They are people without much voice and choice. To be meaningful for them, the development process must empower them so that they come out of these disadvantages.

As professor Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi Nobel laureate of 2006 and better known for the micro-credit movement, puts it “The poor themselves can create a poverty-free world… all we have to do is to free them from the chains that we have put around them.”

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