Poor people in India

India is already Asia’s third largest economy by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It’s the second fastest growing country in the world after China. It’s one of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, which optimists think, are rated to become world’s leading economies in the coming decades. Consumer surveys repeatedly talk of upbeat Indians, who are hopeful of the future. The country is young, and that adds more potential to its growth curve. Its dynamic software industry and huge internal market add to its attractiveness as a place to do business. Combined, all this presents a very rosy picture of India. However, this is only a part of the story.

India for kids
"Poor people in India"
India houses some of the poorest people in the world

Prevalence of poor people in India

Preliminary figures from the latest (2011) census estimate a population of a little over 1,210 million (1.21 billion). This means, between 17-18% of world’s population lives in this relatively tiny piece of land (an interesting point here is that India is less densely populated that the UK and South Korea). At the same time, however, a publication from journalist and TIME Editor Bobby Ghosh points out that one in three poor people on the planet lives in India. This makes India home to the largest poor population in the world. Though there has been a reduction in the relative number of poor people in the past few decades, the percentage of those living below poverty line still remains shamefully large. Data from the Planning Commission of India shows that while there were a little less than 40% Indian living in poverty during the mid 1980s, it had fallen to 26% some twenty years later in 2005. That is a giant leap forward. However, in recent years, questions have been raised on the government’s methodology to measure poverty.

Definition of poverty

A couple of years ago, a report by Arjun Sengupta based on data collected by government agencies caused a great uproar in India when it announced that an outrageously large proportion of Indians were earning less than INR 20 (~US $0.4) a day. The report estimated approximately three in four Indians were poor. It has been heavily criticised and defended since then. There are other reports, including one by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative. It uses a slightly different methodology and concludes that one in two Indians are either “severely” poor or “vulnerable to poverty.” Despite being so ubiquitous, poverty is not spread out uniformly in the country. Some religious communities, regions and castes do better than others.

Distribution of poor people in India

Remember India is a continent in its own right. You’ll find deserts in one corner and beautiful beaches on the other side and snow capped mountains in yet another. India is kept together by strong cultural and societal fabric. There is huge disparity amongst the people of India. On one side India has one of the largest middle class of people in the world which is also a measure of a nation’s strength; Indians are always in the top richest people in the world while it also houses the poorest people in the world.

Of the major religious communities in India, the Sikhs do particularly well while Muslims are a disadvantaged lot. Outdated caste system plays a major role too. The people from lower castes and the adivasis (aborigines) are more likely to be poor than those belonging to the upper castes. There are also regional dimensions. While some states and Union Territories boast of a respectable per capita income (Punjab, Himachal Pradesh) and others of a Human Development Index (Kerala, Chandigarh) comparable to those in European countries, conditions in some states (Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh) are worse than in even some Sub-Saharan countries. This party explains why grand policies fail to eradicate poverty; quite often they do not take religious, regional and caste based peculiarities into account.

The future of the poor in India

The Indian government has several well-intentioned giant poverty reduction schemes. Unfortunately most of them don’t work, including the revolutionary Right to Employment, Right to Education, and now the much discussed but yet to be implemented, Right to Food schemes. However, there are some state level schemes, Midday meal in Tamil Nadu, that do an exceptionally good job of alleviating poverty. Thanks to these local approaches, India is well on its way to meet its target of reducing poverty to less than 22% by 2015. And it’s there a new generation of leaders inside and outside the country is focusing on, a decentralised approach to reducing poverty.

For those travelling to India must realise that poverty is a reality in India. You will actually feel the poverty as you travel across the country. The film “Slumdog Millionaire” was somewhat true depiction of poverty in India and some of the issues poor people of India have to face. However, movies like these that show an image of India that is still frozen in poverty and slums sell like hot cakes in the West which is not entirely true. There are efforts and attempts to change the whole thing. Therefore you must come to India with an open mind and leaving your preconceptions behind.

About poverty in India

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32 thoughts on “Poor people in India”

  1. Hi Shalu Ji,
    You have again highlighted a bitter truth about India.
    It’s a problem in india that Poor becoming more poor and Rich is getting more rich.
    Distribution of wealth is not systemetic.
    Lots of NGO’s working to improve the condition but it require a joint effort from all of us and from rest of world as well to improve the situation.

  2. This is the state of India and a harsh truth that we Indians should accept. The rich are growing richer(thanks to political corruption!) and the poor are getting poorer.

    Until and unless each one of us understand our responsibilities and work in unity towards uplifting the poor, it will just be a dream to see the empowered India.

    • I agree, poverty in India is a harsh reality that does not go away. As our politicians in India happens to fill their pockets some parts continue to burn.

    • Hey Michael,

      Thanks for all that inspiration to stand tall and give our best to the Nation. I am gald to tell you that the same is happeneing these days in the country and the so called common people of India are not all that willing to accept the worse rather they are revolting and supporing our new patriotic hero and the so called second Gandhi, Anna Hazare.

      A ray of hope is shinning in India and hopefully corruption and bad polictics will soon see its end!

  3. It is such a shame about the poor in India, and everywhere. But in all honesty, being in the US, I still think of India as a poor country overall. I know there are thriving parts, but all in all, I think of India, I think of poor people crammed in tight spaces, considering the size of the population.

    • It is definitely a shame about the poor people in India. Although poverty has declined drastically in the last 20 years, more is really required.

  4. Michael, the dot in the middle of the forehead is called the “bindi” a decoration of the forehead. Will write in more detail about that. Thank you for asking.

    As far as poor in India is concerned, it is very sad to see it around us. There are many ills in the Indian society that must be eliminated. There is no doubt that things have improved but its slow as snail.

  5. I’m from a relatively poor country, as well, Romania. It’s so sad to see the striking difference between rich and poor! There are millions of people who can’t afford to buy bread every day, yet as soon as a crazy expensive car model comes out, you can see it on the streets of Bucharest. I somehow imagined (or hoped, maybe) that Slumdog Millionnaire was a bit of an exaggeration in what poverty and daily life of poor people is concerned.

  6. The sad part is that poverty in India is more of an artificial, man made phenomenon compared to may be some other third world countries like the ones in Africa, where due development hasnt reached in time.
    Gross mismanagement of resources leaves people hungry for the basic necessaties of life in our country.
    Nice post Shalu.

  7. This isn’t only problem in India, I’m also from one of the most poor country of the world. Yeah! I’m from Afghanistan which has problems like this more than India, but keeping India popular in mind I think it is the biggest problem.

  8. Hello Rudraksh, I know what you mean. The ruling party will be giving free mobiles. How will they charge when they don’t have power to charge the phones. They will end up selling them. Its a electoral strategy for votes.

  9. It saddens me to see poor people, wherever they are in the world. It is a harsh reality that there will always be poor people in any country, and I usually think of corruption and abuse of power as the cause of it.

  10. According to the Indian government data around 30% India’s population live below poverty line, which is a big fat lie. The fact is that most of the Indian people, around 65% live below poverty line when calculated according to the Global poverty index. Indian government tried so hard to hide the fact. And about the growing economy, it doesn’t reflect among the common people. India has many billionaires, so like 70% of India’s growth were contributed by them. This is rich gets richer, and poor gets poorer in India. Let’s all accept the fact and stop boasting that India is one of the fastest growing economy in India. Let’s all smell the fresh air.

    • Not really. Lots of middle classes have also been created. Its easy to say that the rich has become richer and the poor has become poorer, there is no evidence for this.

      • I disagree. Evidence is everywhere. A middle class person will never accept this fact. People like you and me who use internet will never know the real India.

  11. I totally agree with you Shalu, making statements without evidence doesn’t make any sense. I think the situation is not that great for poor but all Indians have an never die attitude which keeps them happy!

  12. hi shalu ji. i have only one point to mention here about solving this stage. VERY RARE AMOUNT OF PEOPLE ARE ACTUALLY TRYING HONESTLY TO BRING THOSE PEOPLE IN GOOD LIFE… MAXIMUM GOVT. FUNDS GOES TO CORRUPT POLITICIANS NGO’S OR THOSE NGO’S WHO ALREADY FIXED CUT OF TOTAL AMOUNT TO BUREAUCRATS. I FACE ALL THIS PROBLEMS WHEN I TRIED TO GIVE MY BEST TO THOSE POOR PEOPLE OF BIHAR & JHARKHAND. BUT IT CAME OUT THAT I NEED TO DO THIS UNDER ANY ORGANISATION. SO I GET REGISTRATION OF A NGO NAMED “SUVI SEWA”. after that i this NGO has to be 3 years of experience with annual return of 50 Lakh and above and other many kind of reasons to get funds or work permit in any location. you have to bribe people to do something good here.

  13. I would like to say though there are many people who are seriously involved in helping the needy, yet the rest of people are just ignoring them as if they are asking their property. My advice is just to provide something that you can afford so that the poor may feel happy and bless you for what you are!

  14. The tendency of easy living without any work is more. There is no solution other than to motivate the poor to physically work for their living and upliftment. I am Goan and stuggling for past 30 years for better living. Here you give only statistics and sympathy to-wards the poor. As a NGO you need to give the location of the poor so that they can be invited for productive employment and better living condition in Goa. Many hard working people from different places and states have become successful in our State Goa. There are different avenues open to skilled and unskilled workers. NGO’s should motivate and inspire the downtrodden to do productive work for better living.


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