SEATTLE — Despite a recent surge in economic growth, India remains a country rife with poverty. The quality of life is tremendously poor for a large percentage of Indians, particularly in slums, which are scattered across the nation. Likewise, poverty in Kolkata and other large cities in India remains at critical heights.
Factors Affecting Poverty in India
- Income Inequality
Oxfam reported that the top 1 percent of the population holds 73 percent of the country’s wealth. In contrast, the poorest 50 percent of Indians hold 1 percent of the country’s wealth, putting India’s income inequality at its highest in 92 years.
- Poverty Rates
Poverty in India affects much of the population. An estimated 21.9 percent of Indians, or 270 million, live below the national poverty line. Moreover, 17.9 percent of the employed population of India lives on less than $1.90 per day.
- Life in the Slums
A reported 64 million Indians live in slums, which are residential areas characterized by unsanitary conditions, close quarters and fragile housing structures. These areas make for dangerous living conditions, given fast-spreading diseases and shelters just feet from operational train tracks. One of the poorest slums in India is located in Kolkata.
Poverty in Kolkata
Poverty in Kolkata is widespread. Situated in Kolkata is one of India’s poorest slums, which is home to many impoverished families. Mary Coffey, a 17-year-old student from Cork, Ireland, visited Kolkata with The Hope Foundation, an organization that seeks to bring long-term stability to the impoverished people of India.
The organization’s mission is not just to bring immediate help to the people of Kolkata, but to better their quality of life in the long term. Coffey told The Borgen Project, “[the organization]provides sustainable, holistic solutions to protection and development. By providing healthcare, counseling and education, [the organization]ensures children in its care enter adulthood equipped with the tools and support they need to live healthy and happy lives.”
Coffey and her peers took on the responsibility of fundraising for The Hope Foundation, spreading awareness of the acute hardships faced by the families in Kolkata and offering entertainment and relief to the children of these families. She recalled the experience: “Our job was to stimulate these kids through interaction, music, games and sport. To see their positive reaction to our arrival was heartbreaking, such are the conditions that these kids exist in.”
According to Coffey, the typical conditions for children in Kolkata are dire. “I met a young girl of nine years of age who had been abandoned by her mother and father at a very young age. She will never leave my mind, cast in a bed in an orphanage and also suffers from spina bifida. She is a common image in Kolkata.”
This sobering image of the young girl exemplifies the unfortunate reality of many of the slum children. Despite these sad conditions in Kolkata, Coffey views the experience in a positive light. “I had brought my musical instruments and to see the reaction I got from these kids to me playing music will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Aid is vital to the development of these communities in India. A small amount of generosity can make all the difference to the poor and is also extremely rewarding to the person assisting them. Coffey is determined to carry on the task of bettering the world. “The conditions for the poor in Kolkata are beyond imaginable to anything I have experienced in my life and I am determined to return to play my part in a very small way, having seen the pitiful conditions in India.”
– Olivia Booth