At a time when the public discourse is all about the falling GDP growth rate and India’s economic troubles, Professors Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze shake you up with their latest book, An Uncertain Glory — India and Its Contradictions. It is not the slowdown that is a worry — indeed, growth will return presently. The bigger concern for India today should be the continuing deep disparities in society that are only widening with every percentage point growth in GDP.
India’s democracy, say the authors, has failed to rise to the challenges the country faces in the economic and social fields; and worse, it has been compromised by the extent and form of social inequality. Whether it is education, health care, female literacy, sanitation, or nutrition, India fares only marginally better than countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
And this should shock you: even Bangladesh has better social indicators than India. It has higher life expectancy (69 vs India’s 65), better sanitation (half of all homes in India have no toilets compared to 10 per cent in Bangladesh), lower infant mortality (37 versus India’s 47) and lower fertility rate (2.2 against 2.6 for India). For those arguing that Bangladesh is a much smaller country, the answer is that its GDP per capita is roughly half that of India’s. So, if a country with poorer resources can do it, why not India?