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Dipesh Majumdar

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Who drew the poverty line?

April 5, 2012

My day began with a Jug Suraiya Column in the Times of India editorial. It was more of a parody about poverty in India. On one hand there are claims that poverty has reduced from 37.2% to 29.8% and on the other hand there is this irony of definition of poverty in general - one who can spend more than Rs. 28.65 per day in urban area (22.42 in rural) doesn't lie below the poverty line. What is Rs. 28.65 in modern days - Six cigarettes, one plate idly, 3 sweets, an auto fare for 2 km - any of these would constitute Rs. 30 in a shot. And don't  we feel ashamed of such definition?

With a heavy heart filled with empathy I went to Fortis hospital for the routine injection and vaccination for my son. A visiting fee of Rs. 400 was followed by medicine purchase - Rs. 3863. Only one injection cost me Rs. 3800. Two injections went into little Romir's back and he flinched and cried painfully. A stroll in the hospital lobby and little cajoling and singing of lullabies silenced him and we started coming back. Just the mere parking fee was Rs. 20 - 70% of a poor man's spending capacity.

While coming back I was wondering - What about medical treatment for poor people? I haven't visited Government Hospitals for a long time, so can't comment! These vaccinations, polio drops and injections come subsidized here. But still this would cost something!

What about poor women? If at all there is something you needn’t worry about them, it is their fertility. With each offspring comes additional requirement…of food, medicine and treatment. The whole working force in the economically weaker section, mostly women, starting from maid servants, fruit and vegetable sellers on dusty roads to the daily laborers working under the scorching sun and beggars, so many of them tying their kids along with them to arouse sympathy suffer so much day in and day out. How are they going to manage this infinite rise in price, inflation, and medical treatment? Will Rs. 30 per head be enough to fulfill their basic needs?

And what about their male counterparts, most of them…the irresponsible lot… busy drinking and living on their wives’ paltry savings?  Their responsibilities as fathers end before 9 months of their babies’ birth. I feel both sad and angry for them.

How can we vouchsafe so easily that our poverty has come down? And who has set the threshold of Rs. 30 for the poverty line? I don't have the answers. But we continue to bleed as a nation. And that too, profusely!

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