The Festival of Lights

Bharat Dogra

Deepawali, the most awaited festival of lights in India, is celebrated by people in many ways but most prominently as a wish and worship for prosperity to them and their near and dear ones. While economic well-being should be wished to all people of the world, certainly the greatest concern should clearly be for the poorest sections.

It is very important to emphasise this, as in the middle of all the discussion on GNP and growth rates, billionaires and mega-companies, the most important feature of world economy today is that those at the bottom are finding it more difficult to meet their basic needs. In a leading middle-income country India the bottom half of the population has a lot of difficulty in meeting its basic needs.

 While as much as two-thirds of the population, or even more, are in such a situation in some countries of Africa and Asia, even in some of the richest countries the bottom one-third or one-fourth of the people are in a situation of not meeting their basic needs on a continuing basis.

 This is certainly the situation in the USA where it appears increasingly clear that the bottom one-third of the population is unable to meet all basic needs in continuing basis and the problems of homelessness and unaffordability of rent payments are reaching unprecedented levels. On the one hand the USA does not hesitate to create highly dangerous situations to assert its dominance over the world, on the other hand it is unable, or does not care, to meet even the basic needs of nearly one-third of its own people.

The difficulties of poorer sections increased significantly in times of pandemic, and this trend has continued till now. A report of Oxfam pointed out that at one stage of pandemic times almost a million people were being pushed into poverty on almost daily basis, even as a billionaire was emerging almost every day at world level.

 Clearly concerns of the weaker sections are receiving less sympathy and attention. Among the poor, the greater burden of the deteriorating conditions has to be borne by women. Perhaps what is most worrying is the fact that a large number of people—their number is in millions—are also facing high risk of starvation deaths. This is true of the Horn of Africa region in particular, and to a somewhat lesser extent in some other countries of Africa and also Asia.

While several factors are responsible for these continuing or increasing difficulties of a very large number of people in meeting their basic needs, the most important factor relates to high, and often increasing, levels of inequalities in most countries. The extent of inequalities in two leading countries can be seen from Table 1.

Table 1 : Inequalities in USA and India
Wealth Inequality
Share of bottom 50% in Wealth
Share of Top 10% in Wealth
Share of Top 1% in Wealth
Income Inequality  
Share of bottom 50% in Income
Share of top 10% in Income
Share of top 10% in Income

Source of data : Obtained from India and USA country profiles provided in the World Inequality Report 2022.

It is evident from this table that both wealth inequality and income inequality are extremely high in both the USA and India. Just imagine—the bottom 50% of the population has just 1.5% of the wealth in the USA and just 6% of the wealth in India. Again the bottom 50% of the population has only 13% of the income in both countries. It is this bottom 50% of the population which faces the most difficulties in most countries in meeting their basic needs.

 Due to overall much lower income level in India, the impact of inequality in terms of denial of basic needs is higher in India.Among the poor, the greater burden of increasing difficulties is being borne by women.

 Clearly, in all discussions and actions regarding economic policy, it is the bottom 50% of the country which should be at the top of concerns. This is all the more important in times of climate change when adverse weather events and worsening disasters are also combining with other factors to increase the economic difficulties of weaker sections. In times of climate change, there is clearly need for much higher levels of equality and much higher concern for weaker sections, although the adverse appears to have happened in recent times in many countries including India.

Clearly this should change. The lamps lit on Deepawali should be placed first and foremost on the doors of weaker and poorerpeople who needjustice and a fair deal on urgent basis.

[The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include A Day in 2071, Protecting Earth for Children, and Navjeevan.]

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Vol 55, No. 20, Nov 13 - 19, 2022