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Development Destitution

Development is the buzzword today. There is no dearth of information on modern development paradigms, policies and effects across the globe. The materialistic age of development has been converted into a market driven digital age, where the humane component in terms of feelings and external relationships is being crystallised in digits, powered with data and information. The fate of mankind is being determined by information, speed and a profit motive.

Nearly 900 million people go to bed hungry every day. 1 billion people have a per capita income of less that $ 1, and half of the world’s populations earn less than $2 a day. There are nearly 1 billion illiterate people in the world, and the same numbers do not have access to safe drinking water. There are around 40 million victims of HIV/ AIDS in the world."

Ancient Indian visionaries, the Rishis, perceived human development as that wherein all were benefited, so they could live without fear and pain. All would earn for all, and the benefits would be shared. Clearly, the emphasis was on ‘all’ rather than the ‘self’. Ironically, modern day development is defined, executed and benefited by a few who control the powers of the State, wealth and sophisticated knowledge. The blind race towards increased economic growth, per capita income and per capita energy consumption is resulting in irreparable human and ecological loss. As I said earlier, the ones who posses power benefit the most, and who are the losers? None other than the children belonging to economically, socially and sometimes politically excluded communities in the Southern hemisphere and in a few instances in the North as well.Globally, there are certain accepted parameters for assessing development, and just to get a fair idea of where we stand, I’d like to share the following facts. Nearly 900 million people go to bed hungry every day. 1 billion people have a per capita income of less that $ 1, and half of the world’s populations earn less than $2 a day. There are nearly 1 billion illiterate people in the world, and the same numbers do not have access to safe drinking water. There are around 40 million victims of HIV/ AIDS in the world and 246 million child labourers across the globe, two-third of who are engaged under most intolerable conditions similar to slavery. These figures are not merely numbers but comment on the so called ‘development’ that we have achieved so far, and provokes us to take a critical look at ‘development’ as we understand it today.

The biggest critique of development as it has progressed over the years, has been the fact that development policies and programmes have been and continue to be planned and implemented in a completely undemocratic and non participatory manner. Development and it’s benefits are meant for the country as a whole and it’s citizens in particular, but what is seen in most instances is that while certain sections of society benefit from these policies and programmes, there are certain sections who are completely left out. Development needs to be inclusive of all, more so of those groups who are of higher vulnerability. It is fairly simple to understand, if the programmes have failed to address the very basic issues of hunger, curable diseases and illiteracy, then they have not been designed for all. The ruling elite with whom the decision making powers lie, use their positions to forward their own cause leaving a gaping hole in between, through which millions fall each year. A participatory process of development would mean to set in place a process through which stakeholders influence and share control over priority setting, policy-making, resource allocations and access to public goods and services.

Another problem has been that of short sighted development programmes or goals, which have obviously meant that any progress made will not be sustainable. To have visison, and anticipate development needs 20 or even 50 years hence is what makes a programme sustainable. What has now happened is that a flurry of ‘quick fix’ programmes has led to serious environmental damage and ecological imbalance. In the haste of growth which is economically oriented, we have forgotten to conserve our very limited reserve of natural resources. We need to preserve our natural resources and ecosystems on which we and our future generations depend. Development should include economic growth with environmental protection and each should reinforce the other. Other problems that arise due to short sightedness are those of migration and displacement of people. Largely, strengthening industry or infrastructure is prioritised in development programmes rather than agriculture or small scale industries, leading to inadequate economic opportunities in places of origin. What happens in the process has a two-fold effect. On the one hand it is leading to a decline in traditional forms of livelihood; as these are not upgraded and made contemporary to fit in with changing needs which makes them redundant and therefore do not present a viable option of livelihood for people. The second is that of large scale labour force migration. In the process complex problems related to migrant workers, urban slum settlements with inadequate facilities for education, health and employment arise, leading to a whole new cycle of poverty.

Trafficking also becomes a major issue in these circumstances, as women and children being vulnerable and worst affected by problems of displacement, are easily victimised. We need to understand that an increase in the well being of the poor will take place only with the protection and enhancement of their environmental, social and skill related assets, and any development plans made need to be futuristic and keeping these factors in mind. Development today, has become largely materialistic in nature, with the rich focussing on getting richer, and countries measuring their growth by their GDP. Why is it, that indicators pertaining to education and health for economically and socially excluded segments of society are not considered as important and the governments do not see these areas of human potential development as critical? The fact that this growth might not be, and in most cases is not a mirror of the entire population in a country is conveniently forgotten. A good example is that of the State of Andhra Pradesh in India. While a former Chief Minister was being lauded as one of the most forward thinking leaders of the nation, a visionary who was taking his State to new heights in terms of technology and growth, thousands of farmers in the same state were quietly putting an end to their lives. In a country like India, which is primarily an agrarian economy, farmers ending their lives in despair due to poverty shows nothing but the apathy of the ruling class towards them. And though I give this example, the same is true of most of the developing and developed economies across the world.

Unfortunately, the biggest victims of such skewed development are invariably children. The vicious cycle of poverty, illiteracy and child labour is one that millions of children are unable to break free from. In India itself, there are several cases of the presence of child labour, whose benefits are accrued by big companies at the cost of the health, education, physical and mental development of these children. Several cases of child abuse and exploitation have been brought to light through the efforts of civil society organizations, human rights groups and other social workers. Some of these children have been released from bondage with the support of the National Human Rights Commission. But several cases still exist, where children are working in stone quarries in brick kilns, cottage industries and even in other hazardous occupations. Domestic child labour, one of the worst forms of child slavery, is on the rise in cities and is mostly invisible. Most of such children belong to families who are displaced or have migrated, underemployed or underpaid, are landless or have lost their traditional source of livelihood, development destitutes or are surviving on the fringes of development. These are problems that exists the world over.

It is often seen, that in those areas where land reforms have not been implemented, child labour has increased. This is primarily due to the inequal land holdings that exist, and it is the children whose parents do not own land that are forced into child labour. Similarly, in those areas, where minimum wages are not guaranteed, the incidence of child labour is high. Looking at some of the fall outs of developments, there are many areas which have suffered serious ecological damages, such as deforestation in the name of construction of highways or dams. Here too, children are the worst affected by the displacement that is caused. The adults, having to give up their traditional source of livelihood, send the children out to work, who are forced to give up their education and support the families. Bihar for instance, has been seeing terrible floods for the last couple of years, and hundreds of families are displaced due to this and many children are orphaned, leaving them in an extremely vulnerable position susceptible to exploitation. Sometimes, these so called natural disasters like drought and floods are actually man made, brought about by anti people, or anti nature ‘development’ oriented construction.

Tribals and Dalits, are perhaps the most vulnerable groups, especially the children and women from these communities. Forest policies in an effort to keep up with global trends; end up destroying their natural habitat and means of livelihood. Women and children, especially girls are worst affected, because the responsibility for domestic chores rests with them and they are forced to travel long distances and endure many hardships to fetch water and wood for fuel as well as graze their cattle, which becomes a big obstacle in their schooling.

Any adverse effect of development, we see affects children and puts a halt to them accessing their basic rights. Development does not just mean physical development, but holistic development of the child, which must ensure that they able to access all their rights. The perspective of development should be far-sighted and child- centred and the aim should be preservation of ecology, culture, physical environment and equity in sharing the fruits of development. If development policies are framed keeping children in mind, they automatically move away from being short term objectives and gains to being long term visions and goals. Development policies must prioritise children’s education, investment on their health, and investment on social security. It is the responsibility of the state to provide these investments.

Let us take the example of agricultural trade as a case in point of structural deficit. Agriculture is often the economic driving force in developing countries. However, significant agricultural subsidies provided by developed countries, makes it impossible for farmers of developing countries to offer competitive pricing of their products thereby forcing them to remain in conditions of poverty. We need to ensure that globalisation allows for developing countries to enhance their skills and capacity to participate in the global marketplace on an equal footing, so that they can maximize their opportunities in the global agricultural marketplace. Issues related to land ownership and it’s inequitable distribution, minimum wages and the inability of people to have access to even their basic minimum due, legal structures, and the fact that it is only the rich who are able to fight for their rights, all reflect the structural deficits that globalisation perpetuates.

Globalisation is furthering a world integrated into a single capitalist mode which is trans-national, rather than national and international in character. It includes the trans-nationalisation of classes and the accelerated division of all humanity into just two classes – global capitalists and global labour. Globalisation therefore has profound consequences for each nation of the world system. Productive structures in each nation are reorganised keeping in mind the new international division of labour, characterised by the concentration or polarisation of finances, services, technology and knowledge in the North, and the labour-intensive phases of globalised production in the South. The result is a very distinct polarisation of the world. Politically too, power is seen to be concentrated in one, or maybe a group of countries, which basically is a manifestation of their economic powers, and the results are clearly visible in the invasion of Iraq by America.

The homogenisation of culture which is taking place is destroying the diversity of culture, traditional values and systems. It affects lifestyles, livelihood patterns, agriculture and even food habits. Globalisation has entered and affected almost all aspects of our lives, and we need to find a way to ensure that it’s benefits accrue to all sections of society. The time has come for all well meaning and educated people to come together in a unified force and demystify knowledge and take it among the masses. At present, no synergised efforts are being made in the direction of development. To fulfil our objectives, we have to form coalitions and develop alliance building processes to promote the cause of children and marginalised groups in a systematic manner. Their problems have to be addressed in totality and cannot be resolved in isolation.

Thank you.

Kailash Satyarthi... the seeker of truth
Copyright © 2016 Kailash Satryarthi
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