Poverty in these parts comes color-coded.
Exactly how poor one is, is painted right on
the front wall of the house. As the Indian elite
display utter lack of sensitivity, the poor have
little choice but to watch their poverty turned
into a town square tamasha.
In the Jungle Books of Rudyard Kipling, Seoni in Madhya Pradesh seems far more romantic than it does on the ground where poverty figures shame many a sub-Saharan nations. But perhaps Seoni's administrators have a special talent for slapping some egg on their face.
In order to embarrass people who, as per the perception of the admninistrators, did not really qualify for being beneficiaries of Below Poverty Line benefits like cheaper rations or kerosene oil, the authorities took a decision to paint outside each poor man's house "Main Gareeb Hoon" alongside his BPL card number.
Certain houses were marked with "Yeh Ghar Gareeb Hai" (This household is poor) and still others, apparently covered under the Antyodaya scheme, with "Yeh Ghar Atee Gareeb Hai" (This household is very poor) outside the main door.
The administrators said the step is meant to weed out the non-qualifying BPL card holders as they will then rush to get their names deleted. Clearly, poverty was being linked not with bad luck or lack of resources and opportunities but with the idea of shame. If you are poor, you ought to be ashamed. If you are called poor, and you can afford to forego the label, you would rush to do so.
Now, the BPL families of Gopalganj village in Seoni have taken offence to these "I am poor" declarations and the panchayats in several villages are effacing the same. In earlier such incidents, protests by dalits and BSP activists had led to the markings being painted over.
Collector Manohar Dube claimed the campaign was meant to target fake beneficiaries.
Even as the society elite display utter lack of sensitivity, the poor have little choice. If they resist and ask that their poverty not be made a matter of town square tamasha, they will lose out on the little ration that could be crucial to them.
In Narsinghpur in Madhya Pradesh, and now in Seoni, the poverty is being paraded on the front walls. Much thought has gone into devising these pernicious plans.
In the Karera and Tendukheda tehsils, the branding of the poor as ‘Yeh parivar garib hai’ was in blue letters on a white background and ‘Yeh parivar ati garib hai’ in yellow letters on white, corresponding with the blue cards issued to BPL families, and yellow cards issued to the ‘poorest of the poor’ eligible for the Antodaya Anna Yojana. The colour-coded poverty-driven public humiliation of the poor has elicited little reaction from India's civil society.
Shockingly, such devious methods to deprive a few people of meagre benefits come at a time when, 25 years after Rajiv Gandhi said that for every rupee sent to the common man, only 17 paise reached him, Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia claims that even now, a Plan panel study on PDS recently found that only 16 paise out of a rupee was reaching the targeted poor.
But when administrators are being so clever in counting the "poor" and the "too poor" accurately, even splashing poverty paint on their front walls, the latest data onpoverty has brought out how callous the Indian demographers and poverty fighters have been in counting.
Recently, the Indian poor were recounted and it has been found that their ranks have swelled. With a new definition of poverty kicking in, 38 per cent of India's population is now officially below the poverty line, instead of 28.5 per cent.
A family of five with an income of less than Rs 3,000 a month in urban and Rs 2,250 in rural areas should be considered poor, a report of the Planning Commission, suggesting fresh criteria for determining how poverty should be defined, has said.
At present, using standards laid down in 1998, an urban family earning Rs 2,200 per month or less and a rural family earning Rs 1,650 or less is 'poor'. The raised bar will lead to many more people being classified poor. While urban poverty will increase slightly from 26 per cent to 28 per cent, rural poverty will jump from 30 per cent to 46 per cent.
The painters of poverty are soon going to need a lot more paint buckets.