Sunday, December 16The Voice of London

The real India: Illiteracy, culture and hope

What comes to your mind when you think of India? Taj Mahal, and the Himalayas; novels by renowned authors like Chetan Bhagat and home to world’s most beautiful and cultural resorts, perhaps.

India, without a doubt, has a beautiful culture and heritage. Different states offer unique and diverse forms of culture like musical heritage, sculpturing, traditional beliefs, dances, food, languages, and festivals. The state of Rajasthan, for example, follows the principle ‘Attithi Devo bhavo’ which means treat your guests as you would treat God.

Being ruled by many rulers in the past, each region in Rajasthan has its own folk culture. As a tourist, you will find a variety of food you need to try. The state itself is known for its spices and sweetness. One particular dish called ‘dalbati’ is the most famous of all. It comprises of lentils, and a wheat flour cooked in homemade ghee, served with fried potato chunks, and tamarind and mint chutney. 70% of people in Rajasthan are vegetarian which makes it by far the least meat consuming state in the country.

But, there’s a very different side of India that few tourists see and the one I have experienced as a native citizen in the past years.

Factors like child marriage, health inequalities, poverty, corruption, lack of sanitation facilities for women in governmental schools and colleges, and most importantly lack of education has put so many lives in jeopardy. 52% of the population in India are farmers, and recent reports by Indian Express state that farmers are now earning 5 rupees (£0.056) for 100 kg of onions, which is a new low for the government and traders. No wonder why the rate of suicide among farmers is very high in the country. Times of India reported that over 12,000 people commit suicide in the agricultural sector every year since 2003.

Photo by Chelsea Aaron from Unsplash

A local agricultural farmer Sundarlal from the state of Madhya Pradesh told Voice of London that, “It is a very hard occupation, and buyers don’t really see how much trouble and hard work we face while growing these crops. Sometimes the weather is not in our favour, our fields go dry and we have to start all over again.” He added: “We provide food for the nation, and receive no respect or deserved wage whatsoever.”

Illiteracy is another major issue in India. It is due to factors like insufficient facilities and backward mentality in small villages. For example, I personally participated in a service project funded by my high school Daly College, where we took an initiative to build proper sanitation facilities for girls in government schools. Apparently, it was difficult for girls to attend school as there were no separate toilets for them there, and commuting all the way back home just to use the facilities was hard. So it was easy for them to not go than go through the trouble. Hence causing illiteracy.

Picture from Daly College Service Project by Arjun Singh

Despite these factors, India has acknowledged 7.4% growth rate so far and is optimistically stepping towards a double-digit growth rate one step at a time; Indian stock exchange is growing, and luxurious companies have launched supercars and luxurious real estate projects in the market because there is buying potential. Well, then where does the problem lie?

It lies in the mentality. Recently, a political party candidate Shobha Chouhan promised citizens of no police intervention in child marriages if voted to power. India Today reported that this promise has sparked a controversy as the nation has been trying to do away with this age-old custom of child marriage for a long time now. And truly, if political leaders are making such unorthodox promises and supporting an activity which locks away children’s lives, what could be worse?

Moving onto wildlife, out of 3,890 tigers left in the world, 2,226 are in India. 523 Panthera leo persica asiatic lions live as a single population in the state of Gujarat. The wildlife conservatories are doing a spectacular job in keeping all endangered species safe from extinction. But, killing and trading of animals has been the government’s biggest challenge by far.

Lion walking on the streets of India | Photo by Nashad Abdu from Unsplash

Factors like lack of knowledge, low-income, and again backward mentality among residents have led to innocent animals being killed by the ravening poachers just to satisfy their allure for money. They don’t understand how important it is to save these species for future generations to come. The demand of products made from these animals skins and fur is also very high in the western market, so the desire of making quick money in a short span of time drive poor and needy people to kill animals. It is commendable that many high street brands like Michael Kors who used to use animal fur have now stopped. But the black market and private buyers pool are still very high.

India is vulnerable in many ways. Discrimination and crime rate is very high. The brutal Nirbhaya case is a prominent example where a young medical student was gang-raped and tortured in a moving bus in the capital city. Many more cases have gone unreported thereafter. But, these cases have led to changes in laws and legislation. Many states have introduced death penalties for rape of minors. So there’s hope.

Picture from the Daly College Service Project by Arjun Singh

Government is taking one step at a time to tackle these challenges. Apps have been introduced which help individuals call for help by one click if they think they’re being followed, or if their life is in danger. The recent demonetisation of currency cost a lot of people their jobs but has its own success stories, and it is one step towards a better future. Indian Space Agency ISRO successfully launched their most powerful satellite “The Big Bird” which will help provide satellite-based internet services to remote places where cable based internet cannot reach. So now, there’s hope that every individual in the country will have access to a new world of the Internet.

Many challenges need to be tackled in a limited amount of time. There may be corruption, discrimination, and cultural barriers, but one thing for sure is that India is moving forward. It is a slow process, but the future will be better than what it is today.

Words and Photo Gallery: Peony Hirwani | Subbing: Lucija Duzel

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