We visited the offices of Pardarshita. Pardarshita means ‘transparency’. They have partnered with Actionaid, and are striving for transparency within society. They want basic human rights for women and children in India. Although laws are in place to help people, in reality, many people are unable to claim their rights.
For food, poor people are given ration cards. In theory, there is a basic level of nutrition. However, the scheme is not adequately organised, so many people cannot access it. The same is true of pensions, education, health care. The main problem seems to be administration.
The charity runs workshops, informing women of their rights and helping them to access them. These include:
Enrolment in school for children.
‘Kerosine Free Delhi’ ( they can claim free LPG for cooking, if they have a ration card.)
Voter card (for elections.)
The people need to queue for many hours to obtain the above certificates, and they need the certificates to claim their rights. Or, some people pay for a counterfeit one (this apparently, is very common.)
The ration card is given to people ‘below the poverty line’. I think, whatever the country, this is always going to be a difficult one. Who are the ‘poor’ in England? They have far more than these people even dream of owning! Previously, in India, poverty was assessed by calorie intake. I think this seems an accurate guide (often, especially when people are subsistence farmers, the whole “less than a dollar a day” standard is meaningless, as they wouldn’t have anywhere to spend a dollar even if they had one. Money only works in Western countries as a guide to poverty, in my view.)
However, the last census in India took possessions into account. So, if a domestic worker had been given a television to watch, she was considered ‘not poor’. This allows the government to count fewer people as ‘poor’. Which means fewer people can claim their rights.
India has lots of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. If you are a Muslim and speak Bengali, people will assume you are an illegal immigrant, even if you’re not (in the slums, there were a lot of Bengali speaking Muslims.) They tend to have to bribe an official to be issued with an ID card. If you can prove you have lived in India for 10 years (so have documentation) you can then stay legally.
The rights of domestic workers is another issue. India is famous for cheap labour – everyone in the world wants to take advantage of this. Including Indians. So, most people, even ‘ordinary’ people have domestic staff. They are paid below the minimum wage (because no one checks) and are sometimes treated almost like slaves. No one really wants to change this, because no one wants to pay more for their own cleaner, child minder, cook…. The pay is about 2,000 rupees a month ($30) They are also very vulnerable to abuse. A rich person, with guards on his gate, sometimes feels he is above the law (remember, women have very few rights in India, and courts rarely rule in their favour.) There are some sad stories amongst the women in the slums.
All children have the right to free education in India. The quality of this education varies. We visited a school in a resettlement area. It was a bizarre experience.
We were shown into the headteacher’s office and given chairs to sit on. The chairs were dusty, and I felt I needed to keep moving my feet because as the headteacher (a sensible, intelligent, woman) spoke, mice scuttled about on the floor. Do mice run up trouser legs? I wasn’t sure, but didn’t feel especially relaxed.
The school had 2,000 pupils. There were 15 toilets (you can imagine what that means…) We were told the ratio of teacher to pupil was 1:70 (though actually, the classes we saw were much smaller than this.) The building is used three times during the day, two shifts in the morning and one in the afternoon (completely different head, staff and pupils attend each shift.) This makes for difficult administration when things like budgets are planned.
The women in the slums told us that by age 9, most children could only read very simple Hindi, so they questioned the point of them attending school. If children don’t attend school, they can help their parents, or care for younger siblings so their mother can work. The headteacher told us that teaching quality was variable, because many teachers were demotivated. Paid by the government, they put in the hours, but had no motivation to actually teach. They also are expected to do admin, such as ensure children have ID cards, which takes time, so teaching gets relegated. Another problem is that very few of the pupil’s parents could read or write, so there was no reinforcement at home. This is huge. In England, children take home a book every day, so they can practice at home. Without this, it is much harder for a child to learn to read, especially if their role models never read or write.
I found the school visit to be a rather depressing experience. The classes we glimpsed seemed completely unstimulating, even the rooms were drab, with nothing displayed. I might be judging unfairly – we only saw a glimpse; and I don’t like mice – but I’m not sure I would have bothered to attend that school. In the slum, we passed a house where a woman was reading to a whole room full of children. We were told it was ‘an education room’. It seemed much more child friendly than the school.
Thank you for reading.
How to help the poor ? This letter will challenge all of us……..