India is mesmerising, chaotic and unforgettable.
India, according to the CIA World Factbook, is home to approximately 1.3 billion people, many of them crowded into its big cities, like New Delhi or Mumbai. And the streets of these cities aren’t just full of people, but also with cars, tuk-tuks, motorcycles, thousands of feral dogs and even with cows and the occasional goat or pig. The sound of engines revving and honking horns can seem non-stop, and in some towns, monkeys dance overhead swinging past masses of tangled electrical wires. The simple act of crossing one of India’s heavily congested streets can be a death-defying act.
A Country of Bewildering Contrasts
According to CNN, about 60 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people live below the World Bank’s median poverty line, which is $3.10 per day. Even more astounding, one out of every three of the world’s poorest people can be found in India. The World Bank also states that, “India is by far the country with the largest number of people living under the…poverty line.” For many people around the world, their first glimpse of the squalor and desperate living conditions of India’s poorest communities came via the Oscar-winning movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” parts of which were filmed in Mumbai’s huge Dharavi shantytown. But rural poverty is even more pervasive, while some of India’s rural regions are undoubtedly beautiful to look at they also host the majority of its poorest citizens.
Poverty may be rampant in India, but it is not a poor country. In fact, in 2017, it was ranked as the sixth richest country in the world. According to Gulf News, the total wealth of India’s citizens is $8,230 billion, which puts it ahead of France, Canada and Australia. So how is it possible that India is so wealthy but so many of its citizens are so poor? It’s because of India’s staggering income inequality. The majority of this country’s wealth, 73 percent, is controlled by India’s richest 1 percent. Discrimination against women is widespread. Women living in the poorest areas of India have almost no access to finances, land and inheritance rights. Domestic violence, rape and sexual harassment are frequently reported. Additionally, although discrimination on the basis of the Hindu caste system is now illegal in India, members of the Dalit caste or tribal ethnic groups remain some of the poorest people in society. Smallholder farmers from Dalit and tribal backgrounds make up 80% of the farming community and despite providing 50% of the food in India, they remain poor, and have few rights to their land. All We Can is working in Odisha and Jharkhand, two of India’s poorest states in Eastern India.
Why work in India?
India’s ranking as the sixth wealthiest nation in the world can be very deceiving. Some people may see that as a sign that India is no longer in need of help from the outside world. However, at All We Can, we recognise the huge problems still facing so many in India today. We are working in partnership with local organisations in Odisha and Jharkhand. Our partners are providing training so that women can speak out for their rights and are supporting women to form Self-Help Groups so that they can set up small businesses together and access low cost loans at times of particular need.
Juhi works as a community mobiliser in some of the villages supported by All We Can in Jharkhand State. When she first began working in this role she said she was shy, lacked information and was timid around others. The transformation in her own life is incredible, she now helps educate and lead other women within the region to make changes in their lives that will help elevate them and their families out of poverty.
Juhi said, “To me there is an exchange of motivation! It is not just about me coming and motivating the women, it is about them motivating me too.”
Juhi has supported groups in setting up small businesses and developing savings schemes. Women are able to supplement their family income and support their children. Women are also given the tools to understand and challenge some of the unjust structures affecting them in their villages. Juhi has been very proud to witness women from these groups boldly step forward and run for election in local government. Laws have been changed in India to tackle poverty and discrimination, much of the work supported by All We Can enables people experiencing rural poverty and discrimination to understand their rights and take action to make sure they are able to see their own potential fulfilled.