Sunday, 11 February 2007

India is visibly less poor today

I've just got back to Sydney from a month-long visit to India. I saw signs of affluence everywhere - new car models, mobile phones in the hands of autorickshaw drivers and vegetable push-cart vendors, etc., etc. But does that really mean less poverty?

The penny dropped after I returned home to Sydney. I hadn't seen a single beggar on the whole trip! As a child (more than 30 years ago), I remember travelling around a fair bit, and the one constant feature of every stop were the outstretched arms of beggars. They would throng around our bus or car as it stopped and the passengers alighted. We had learnt the folly of paying any of them. Once we were seen as potential "givers", there would be no peace from the rest.

But all that seems a thing of the past. We travelled a fair bit on this trip as well, and - no beggars! And it's not as if the beggars were physically removed by officials, Potemkin village-style. You can't do that in messily democratic India without creating an instant scandal, anyway.

There's no escaping the conclusion - there's still a lot of poverty in India, but it's no longer as severe.
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