Originally Published 2014-04-04 04:21:15 Published on Apr 04, 2014
In today's political scene not many contestants have a background of having worked with the underprivileged people or fighting for the rights of women and children. Many think it is a good opportunity to get into the charmed circle of parliamentarians who have attractive remunerations and huge fringe benefits for five years
Neglect of under-privileged: Confront politicians
A number of questions should be asked by the urban voters today. They should not just listen to speeches, smart talk and repartees of campaigners because, although entertaining, these often hide the real agenda of politicians. The voters should ask what many around the world are asking about India. Why is it that despite being the third largest economy in the world (in purchasing power parity terms) as well as the world's largest democracy, and an emerging economic power, women are still unsafe in the streets of Delhi and other cities? Why are children living in the cities of India still suffering from such a high rate of malnourishment? Around 47 per cent of the urban children are undernourished. Even though there is an increasing amount of glamour and glitter in Indian cities, which often boast of world class malls, the fact remains that there are thousands of street children whom no one looks after. They are homeless and are earning small amounts and live in various corners of big cities. They are abused and exploited and have no medical care or education.

We should also not overlook the fact that there still is female foeticide, practised in towns and big cities and there is a slum population of 8.8 million households or 44 million people living in dwellings which lack access to clean water, sanitation and toilets.

That women are unsafe in cities is a shameful fact and instead of taking drastic measures to stop harassment, molestation and rape of women, very little is being done and crime against women continues unabated. Issues like the maintenance of law and order through regular police patrolling, an increase in street-lighting, helplines, quick and severe punishment to rapists are still not the first priority of many politicians who are contesting elections in our cities.

Regarding street children, the situation is alarming and very little is being done. There are around 400,000 children who work and live in the streets of Indian cities and they are truly homeless and disconnected from their families. There are 37,059 street children in Mumbai and around 50,000 in Delhi and most are above the age of 8 though many are younger and can be seen begging at traffic lights. The most common work is scavenging for recyclable materials such as plastic paper and metals. It is a dangerous occupation which can lead to serious diseases. Many of the children are very sick.

Poverty is the main cause of children leaving home. Problems in families like violence and alcoholism make children run away from home. A lot of children run away from their village homes lured by unscrupulous agents to cities with promises of glamour, money and high life. Thousands are abandoned or orphaned children. Most of the money that the children earn by working 10 to 12 hours a day is spent on food but they also buy addictive substances like drugs, tobacco, alcohol. They spend a lot on seeing movies and because they lack sanitation/hygiene, they are perpetually in need of health care. Clean drinking water, bathing and toilet facilities are lacking for most street children.

The Central government has got many schemes for the urban poor and midday meals in schools are important milestones. The right to education is also supposed to ensure that every child between 6 and 14 gets educated. But both these provisions are flawed as their implementation is far from perfect. Many children have suffered on account of contaminated midday meals. Also the right to education can only be enforced if there are proper schools with teachers and classrooms in slums. Unfortunately slum children may get enrolled but the dropout rate is high because of lack of proper school curriculum and the parents' inability to look after their children's homework or send them to school on time. Some cannot afford uniform and textbooks. Once a child stops going to school for a longish period, he or she drops out as it is difficult to catch up. Lack of skills further diminishes their ability to get a good job. They start working in small eateries, motor repair workshops, construction sites, as coolies and domestic help.

In today's political scene not many contestants have a background of having worked with the underprivileged people or fighting for the rights of women and children. Many think it is a good opportunity to get into the charmed circle of parliamentarians who have attractive remunerations and huge fringe benefits for five years. People from cinema, theatre and the fashion world are contesting elections and promising that they would bring about social change. They sound patently false; yet people will vote for them. But we really ought to ask whether they will help in projecting a better image of India after the new government is formed because so far, even though the right laws are in place, there is lack of good governance in all spheres.

Thus even if we attain a high GDP growth, which is promised in party manifestos, we'll continue to have stark contrasts in the lives of people in cities and this will become an embarrassment for India in future. While India has a record number of dollar billionaires and millionaires, the fact that thousands of children have no future at all is something we should be bothered about. These children will have nothing but hatred towards society and they could be recruited by terrorists and other anti-social elements. In the end everyone will pay a price for the neglect of children who seem to have no one as their guardian. Similarly, the stigma of having unsafe cities, where women cannot go around alone at night, is not going to help in increasing tourism or foreign investment. The word has gone around already that India does not look after the safety of its women and children. Thus voters beware! They could be choosing people who give little thought to bettering the lives of millions of women and children who are less privileged and abused.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy : The Tribune, April 4, 2014

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David Rusnok

David Rusnok

David Rusnok Researcher Strengthening National Climate Policy Implementation (SNAPFI) project DIW Germany

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