I do not know Parvati, but she died today. Nobody told me that she did; no one really was told. But I know.Maybe it was yesterday. Or maybe it is tomorrow. But you can be sure another Parvati will be dead. Maybe not one, but two Parvatis, possibly even more. And Ashok, and Naval, and Raju and Pappu….I do not know Parvati’s age. If under 5, she was one of some 7,000 children who died in India that day. Some 2.5 million a year who fall victim to diarrhea, malnutrition, or respiratory infections. If she was an adult, she likely died from starvation, as a third of all Indians – some 350 million people who subsist below the poverty line, scraping by on under $1 a day – are chronically malnourished. Or perhaps she died from AIDS complications, a disease that afflicts some 5 million Indians. It could be any of those things or something else.People die, you say. Sure. But these were all preventable deaths. They would surely be intolerable in America or the West. And they ought to be unacceptable for a nation with pretensions of staking the preeminent claim to the 21st century.Not that long ago, we often tired of hearing about the poverty, the famine, the suffering, every time we read something about India in the American media. But India is shining now. It commands awe for its IT prowess, nuclear capabilities and relentless economic boom. Indian Americans understandably take pride in the mythical new image of India in the popular imagination and we have contributed our bit to the myth.But we ought to be careful not to fall for our own publicity. Because, remarkable as India’s recent economic growth and development have been, the fruits have been reaped by a very small minority in urban areas. Rural India, which accounts for almost three-quarters of the country’s population, has been largely untouched by India’s “economic miracle.” Even today, notwithstanding the vaunted boom, with a per capita income of $740, India still ranks in the bottom quartile of the United Nations Human Development Index.Amidst the hoopla over outsourcing, the mega deals and glittering malls, the invasion of Gucci and Starbucks, which are all transforming the face of India’s major metros, the grinding poverty and misery is also marching in lockstep. Trading tired stereotypes for misleading myths represents no real advancement.In his famously somber speech “Tryst with Destiny,” marking the most triumphant moment in modern Indian history, the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, was wise enough to warn that independence represented the redemption of a historical pledge “not wholly or in full measure.”Cautioned Nehru: “The achievement we celebrate today is but a step…. The future is not one of ease or resting, but of incessant striving …. The service of India means, the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity…. As long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.”Fifty nine years on, it is still far from over. So party and celebrate for sure this August 15th, but mark a moment of silence also for Parvati and the millions of others for whom India’s independence has meant no liberation and who suffer and toil daily outside the glare of India’s shining new global economy – you know, the one that propelled you and me here. Related Items
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