Tribal migration and economic growth – Ramachandra Guha on access to education and wholesome food

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As the economist T. N. Srinivasan observes, these wide disparities meant that “if one is poor in India … one is more likely to live in rural areas, more likely to be a member of the Scheduled Caste or Tribe or other socially discriminated group, more likely to be malnourished, sick and in poor health, more likely to be illiterate or poorly educated and with low skills, more likely to live in certain states (such as … Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, and also Orissa) than in others … “

One consequence of these disparities is the growing migration from poorer areas to richer ones. Once, most Indians lived, worked and died in the vicinity of their place of birth. Now, they increasingly travel long distances in search of a living. Labourers from Orissa come to work on coffee plantations in the Coorg district of Karnataka, 1,000 miles away. […]

Economic growth in contemporary India is marked by considerable disparities of region and class. The Nobel-prize-winning economist Amartya Sen worries that, as these inequalities intensify, one half of India will come to look and live like California, the other half like sub-Saharan Africa. [Quoted in an interview in India Today, 20 February 2006] Already, prosperity co-exists with misery, technological  sophistication with human degradation. The paradoxes of life in India were tellingly captured in a conversation between the prime minister and villagers in Orissa that took place in September 2001. From his home in New Delhi, Atal Behari Vajpayee spoke by satellite to tribals in Kashipur, whose kinsmen had died after eating mango kernel because their crops had failed. ‘It is extremely unfortunate that in today’s world people die by eating poisonous material’, said the head of a government that could speak to its citizens by videophone, yet not supply them with wholesome food.

Source: Ramachandra Guha. India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy. Picador India, 2011, p. 711

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