Atanu Dey On India's Development

Some are Born to Sweet Delight

Hi from Mumbai. Been here for a couple of days, and tomorrow I go to Bangalore for a few days.

Mumbai is not too unpleasant at this time of the year weather wise. Spent last evening in Colaba meeting with a friend. Best way to get there from my office in Lower Parel is to take a local train and then a cab from Churchgate station to Regal theatre.

Local trains going south in the evenings are not crowded. The compartment I entered had a couple of dozen people. A woman entered the train carrying an infant on her hips. She was also visibly pregnant. She was begging. Accompanying her was a girl I guessed was about three years old. The girl went from person to person begging. She would go down on her hands and knees and try to touch the shoes of the passengers. She was wearing a full-length dress which once must have been very pretty but now was in tatters.

The guy sitting opposite me tucked his feet below the seat and looked out the window. The little girl crawled further under the seat and then gave up. She turned to look up at me. Her grimy face reflected the beauty that comes from the pure innocence of being a child. Her hair was tied in an untidy bunch on her head. She scratched her head as she pleaded with her eyes and extended a hand to me. I dug into my pocket and gave her a two-rupee coin. She turned away wordlessly and in a few minutes was gone with the pregnant woman with the infant at the next stop. Total take in this carriage was Rs 2.

One of my friends has a three-year old daughter. She is a delight to her parents. The father simply adores her. Seeing the daughter father bond, I feel envious of my friend. She is lucky. She is wanted and loved and is cared for. Life is a random draw. “Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to an endless night.”

The girl on the local train is not one of the “missing girls” some agonize over. Selective abortion and female feticide is for some a crying shame. Day before yesterday’s The Times of India lamented on the front page the female to male ratios: 933 females to 1,000 males in the 2001 census; Delhi—only 821; Punjab—876; Haryana—861. The child on the train is here and there are no government officials crying themselves hoarse about her rights. No, they are only concerned about the rights of unborn babies. Those who are born can fend for themselves in the local trains.

I sometimes wonder why. Why are they so eager that people have more children? Don’t they get it that the decision to not have a girl child is a rational response to an intolerable situation? And to avoid the problem of “missing girl children” you have to change the situation, not just make it illegal to abort female fetuses?

I have a theory. Human labor supply in India is immense. This keeps the price of labor low. The fecundity of the poor helps the rich. Because if it didn’t, the rich are powerful enough to have figured out how to stop the poor from reproducing so rapidly. It also seems to me one of the contributing factors why Mother Teresa is held in high regard around the world. She was helping out the rich have access to cheap labor. Someone has to fill up the slums of Mumbai for the rich to have low cost labor. The poor oblige.

[Related posts:
Oct 22, 2003--The Skewed Sex Ratio
Oct 28, 2003--The Lopsided Sex Ratio (revisited)
June 23, 2004--Sex selection in a Second-best World]

  • http://nevergiveup-neversaydie.blogspot.com/ priyank

    i agree with you in what ever you have to say
    i absolutely believe that the children’s on the street ,the underprevilidge ones are the victims and may end up their lives on streets but i do believe no one has right over anyone’s life even if u have given birth to that life for i believe right to live is the most fundamental right .coming to the state of street children i agree they are among the unluckiest of the lot and question to be asked is what are we as a society and you as individual doing for it .i am grateful that govt at lest took the issue of female genocide seriously probably u r from those families that has never seen it happening but believe me when i say it still exists.

    regards
    priyank reply to me on pv_shah007@yahoo.co.in

  • http://naygib.blogspot.com/ BiGYaN

    “… the decision to not have a girl child is a rational response to an intolerable situation …”
    Like you I have also gone through that Times of India article, but I’ve never thought from the viewpoint you mentioned.

    Maybe changing the situation is a better and long term way of fighting this problem rather than legally preventing abortion of female fetuses.

  • http://rampost.blogspot.com/ Ram

    The scene you narrated in the train is the one that hits us in the face every day at every busy traffic intersection. Inspite of the air-conditioned comfort of the car, one cannot ignore the deep dis-comfort in the stomach.

    As an economist, any thoughts on the way out? If the Indian economy needs to build out so much infrastructure (needing huge quantities of unskilled labour) and if there is such a huge supply of ‘human resource’ on the streets and the villages, why can’t the two be matched?

    Illustration to the above problem: As I daily watch the new Outer Ring Road get built in Hyderabad, I can’t but think – why the hell don’t we add a few thousand more people and get the damn thing built faster?

  • http://www.prettybluesalwar.blogspot.com Blue

    An interesting argument and a perspective worth considering. But is this limited just to India? Can the argument apply to America (and other countries)as well? We are perhaps not quite so fecund, but if one considers that contraception is not included in most health insurance plans (while Viagra is), and pharmacies can refuse to sell Plan B, etc., isn’t there a bit of a sense that we’re trying to create a barrier towards family planning?

  • Graham Johnson

    Another insight from you that resonates with one so recently in Mumbai for the first time. The absolute lottery that is life is at its most stark in the situation you describe. And how do we move forward from the “move the feet” response to a more considered, collective response? If your “its suits the rich” view is correct, maybe looking within India for a way forward is bound to be fruitless. Many outside India would selfishly welcome a rise in the cost of Indian (and Chinese) labour.

  • http://gudem.blogspot.com Chandra

    ” the rich are powerful enough to have figured out how to stop the poor from reproducing so rapidly.”

    Really? It’s all about keeping labour prices low for the rich, huh!? Which rich planet do you live on?

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  • Soniya Gadgil-Sharma

    I think you are mixing up two issues here. Poverty and the undesirablility of girl children in India. The implicit assumption is that only the poor abort girls in India, when in fact the opposite is true. What about middle-class, educated mothers making a beeline to abortion clinics only because they have more access to information about them? The argument you are making here is similar to that of pro-abortion activists in the US which I completely support. If a woman has no way to support a child and is not emotionally, financially, and otherwise ready, no religious dogma should stop her from exercising here right. But you cannot extend the same argument to sex-selective abortion which indeed is a crying shame. It is a blight on our society, and the efforts being taken to blot it out are not nearly enough. What about 20 years from now, whe if the same sex ration persists, millions more of girls will be missing, and there will be rapes in the street. The same three year old who is cherished and loved in her home today will be a beautiful young woman then, and she may fear even stepping out of the house, because we failed to curb female foeticide today.

  • http://the-redpill.blogspot.com/2006/09/c-o-u-n-t-i-n-g-w-i-t-h-z-e-r-o-e-s.html Kiran

    Hi Atanu
    I am shocked to see this post on your blog. I don’t remember finding myself in such strong disagreement with what you have to say.

    1) I don’t support the practice of you giving 2 rupees for the child. It is not charity and it does nothing to improve her situation. It just creates economic incentive for a wrong business – that of using a kid to beg in overcrowded trains. If you really care about that kid, you should have provided her something untradeable (such as food or books) never money.

    2) Population explosion cannot be supported through any kind of explanation. Society has some minimal commitments to all people (accessible food, education and health) – not a tremendous strain on resources by any means currently. But the situation might deteriorate if population continues to explode. The population-dividend that India enjoys (and being hyped in the press) has no meaning if the populations is not educated and employable.

    3) Female foetecide is an extremely stupid and pathetic practice arising in the cultural mindset of the (North) Indian middle class due to the grip of the old customs of patriarchical society. This practice is a social disease which has its roots in ignorance, not in economics.

    4) The fecundity of the poor does not help by any means. No businessman provides the wages for a worker in anticipation that his litter of children will make him work for cheaper. India has been unable to control the population explosion purely due to the lack of will. If the government had been serious about it, they should have been tax ing parents cumulatively for every additional child. Better late than never !

  • http://yahoo.co.in Nupur Singh

    hey i never thought from this perspective..this side of the coin is actually goes unnoticed but your arguement doesnt actually tends to loose direction..bcoz when it comes to child labor country should be equally concerned if its a girl or a boy child and i hope u must be well acquaintesd with the palana scheme which the government is working on recently.It would definately make a difference to the female foeticide but how far will it control the child labor it would be difficult to say bcoz nowadays from birth to admission in the playschools to reservations for jobs all the government is concerned is about give a platform to the women…dont you think we all are forgetting men..and if men can fend themselves and live up in the society so can the women..and if women have to be given an extra edge tto survive and prevention of child labor is reqd men and women have to be judged on the same platform becoz i see young boys begging with their mother on the roads knocking on the doors of the cars to earn bread and butter for themselves and their mother and father who give birth to them and leave them on the roads to live a life which we as elite of the society cannot even dream of.
    however i have lived three precious years of my life in mumbai and the fair of young beggars leaves your mouth open wide..and i would also like to share a personal experience.i was sitting in front of one of the well known colleges of mumbai..just talking…while a young boy of 3 to 4 yrs came asking for food..there was this small hawker selling vada pavs the famous mumbai snack …me n my friend offered to buy him that but as soon as we reached the hawker the boy refused to have the food and requested for 10 rs. me n my friend refused to oblige his request..but were willing to buy him food..n to our horror on our denial he started throwing sticks and mud on us…we did not know how to handle the matter…but felt we are raising a breed of young who consider beggary their right…and who are ready to fleece the common man anywhere and everywhere.what do you say about this??

  • Akhondofswat

    These are the risks you take when you mingle with the masses. You should have taken an airconditioned cab from your office, preferably one with tinted windows. That way, you avoid the beggars.
    Of course, when the SEZs come up, the problem will be solved, coz we wont allow beggars to enter. There wont be any slums either—the poor will be outside the SEZs. Except servants, of course.

  • http://kumarsbol.blogspot.com Kumar Narasimha

    Hi Atanu,

    Good to know you are coming to (or already in) Bangalore. Please let me know the coordinates if you are around for the weekend and open to meet.

    Regarding the post, can you please explain how Mother Teresa was helping the rich by doing charity work for the poor? The Nirmala Convent Schools, run by her followers, do admit poor children and provide free education and boarding.That’s a useful work, I think.

    OTOH, I totally agree with you on the point about ‘worrying about the missing children’ but ‘not caring for the girl children among the poor’. There is nothing wrong with laws against female infanticide or foeticide. In fact, we do need those laws and their effective implementation. But taking care of ‘existing’ poor children (both female and male) should be on top of the list of priorities. A society that neglects its younger generation is risking its very future.

    That brings me to the point I always wanted to ask you: Your RISC idea and more importantly, the ICT Model for Education idea/venture – do they account for the street children and their access to education? (Just asking a question and not expecting that your ideas will solve everything.Just want to know the scope of the projects).

    Would be nice to meet up in Blr if time permits.

    Cheers,
    Kumar

  • http://www.natureglow.blogspot.com M.AJAYSANTHOSH

    Hi,
    Just going through your words i like to add my words see the thing is that if dog come to birth if he has to survive then he will find a food from any where and survive. Means i am not comparing with dog BUT IT A NATURAL THING WHICH IS GOING ON SOME ONE FEEL IT, SOME ONE DO IT, SOME ONE OBSERVE IT, SOME ONE TASTE IT.

    Not in mumbai local train but if you see in worship place the same condition apply it.
    My self being intrested in Mountraineering, Once we all Mumbai Unversity student were having a trek, from Kulsubai (maharashtra higest peak) to Harishchandra Ghad for 5 day. i Experienced that a Person living in a village of kulsubai step were well settled but as they see any trekker coming to their side what they do that they is to send they child to beg not even to beg but if a chance may occur then they used to rob the thing also.

    Not only such thing happen if a person went into the village and like to take a hault in some one house – (lodge) The female in that village offer herself to sleep for night for a small amount.

    But what to say that a govt person are also residing the same location but the quality doesn’t improve

    The thing is that some one do it for shake, but some one do for money, if a female offering her self for a night and a child very well knows it than these thing will get repeated.

    The only thing which happen in mumbai same happen in village and slum area. So dont feel petty about other, they have develop their business in such a way that if anyone see to them then they have gone. The person have to give money or have to his life.

    These are one thpe of market. If no one believe in my words then go and see their real life then your will come to know where we and they are standing.

    The small girl in a train look very cute
    but she earn some thing not like a fool like other who pay such thing. If you take the same girl at home ask her live with you and do the work at home and take a education. She will not agree it. Why because see i lazy and quick earner then us.

  • http://sadafblogs.blogspot.com Sadaf

    so… u’re a commie, are you? ;)
    this is state of the capitalist world… If the world subscribes to the capitalist ideal.. the state of the poor can not be elevated.

    And even though India is defined as a socialist state… it isn’t.

    The rich have no business being rich just because there are so many poor with not an iota of hope that they can crawl of their wretched lives.

  • Dr.B.P.Gupta

    Yes India Has got surplus labor. But somehow we have to educate our pooralso so that they donot work like little girl in the train