New Delhi: Even as discussions or debates about poverty are considered non-TRP subjects, and research papers and newspaper articles on the issue are now out-of-fashion, P Sainath remains valiant in his efforts to keep the issue in the headlines. This week, the intrepid scholar-journalist was valiant once again, and once again, Delhi's media thwarted his efforts.
Sainath's well attended lecture made no news in the mainstream media.
Among the leading moral conscience keepers of Indian journalism, Sainath shocked his audiences at the Durgabai Desmukh Memorial Lecture 2017 at the India International Centre, when he said "the top one per cent of Indian society owns 58.4% of India's total household wealth," but then more was coming.
India, he added, now beats the US, when it comes to inequality. "The household wealth owned by top one per cent of India is higher than any other country in the world, barring Russia."
"The USA, universally acknowledged as an unequal country lags behind us, with their top one percent owning only 42.1% of that nation's wealth,” he said.
Clearly, in India, "inequality is growing at much faster pace” than anywhere in the world.
"Shockingly, just in two years, the top one percent of India added over 9% of total household wealth to their ownership,” he said.
The Indian top one percent owned 49% of Indian wealth in 2014, compared to 36.8% in 2010, as per the Credit Suisse global wealth data.
When Sainath speaks, shocks do not stop. When he digs deeper into the moral matrix of India’s economy, conscience is something found missing. The wealth of the bottom 10% in India, for the first time, turned "negative” in the past one year.
"The ratings tell us that for the first time the wealth of bottom 10% turned negative in India, falling from 0.1 to minus 0.7%," he said.
This suggests that those whose liabilities were anyway ahead of their assets are sinking further into debt, he added.
The same data suggests that in those 12 months, the top one per cent added more 5% of India’s household wealth to their kitty.
Top 1% of Indian society now owns 58.4% of India's total household wealth. We are ahead of the US now in inequality. Top 1% of US citizens now own only 42.1% of that country's wealth. We are now in a race with Russia, not with the US.
"It is not limited to bottom 10% alone. Even the 20% above them not own over than 0.7% of India’s wealth. In simple terms, the bottom 30% of India owns zilch,” he pointed out. That, clearly, explained why debates and discussions on poverty are low TRP subjects.
Not leaving anyone in doubt that moral economy of India's elite has gone to the dogs, the Ramon Magsaysay award winner said it was shocking to know that India ranks fourth in the Forbes list and 131st in the Global Human Index of the United Nations.
"The socio-economic census data of 2011-12 depicted that 75% of rural household main bread winner earns less than Rs 5,000 a year. That year, we had 55 $billionaires from India in the Forbes list. This year the list goes up to 101, the highest we ever had. Isn't this happy news to share?" Sainath said, his audience fidgeting as sarcasm dripped.
The author of ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought,’ a rather rare best-seller on the subject, spoke about the farming crisis, the misdoings of media, social upheaval and a host of other things prevailing in India, but then failed to make into next day's media headlines - a sign that he hasn't lost his moral compass.
*(The story is a Punjab Today exclusive simply because except for our correspondent who attended the lecture, no one else chose to report it. – Ed.)
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