What is poverty?In the broadest of terms, poverty can be considered to be a situation of scarcity. This scarcity is generally expressed in terms of lack of money. In India as well as in several countries, a calorie-based poverty line is used to find out the number of poor people. The Minimum Per Capita Expenditure (MPCE) which is required to procure the necessary amount of food to get the requisite amount of calories is used as the indicator of poverty. In other words in India, a poor person is someone who is not having enough money to buy the required amount of calories. Even while using this sort of minimum criteria, the total number of poor as well as the percentage of poor shows a scary picture.
But poverty is very often converted into statistics. The 'human face of poverty' as P. Sainath put it in his 'Everybody Loves a Good Drought', is almost always pushed into the background. Maybe that is one of the reasons why we have not been able to solve this problem until now. The general population perhaps does not have that much sympathy for the poor which it should have. The apathy of the government is of course shocking.
Poor India and Developed IndiaSeveral writers in several books have repeatedly talked about 'two India's' existing simultaneously. One is India consisting of skyscrapers and multi-millionaires as well as a reasonably affluent middle class. The other India consists of people who barely have enough to eat. Most of the people in this other India do not have a proper house to live in or proper drinking water to quench their thirst. As close as these two India's are in terms of physical distance, the actual disparity between them is massive.
Whatever we have achieved as an independent nation is impressive. We have one of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world. We have moved ahead in terms of securing democracy for our people as well as bringing in rapid technological modernization in several key areas. But all of it somehow pales into oblivion when we look at the poor population of the country.
The existence of poverty on such a massive scale is a blemish which we cannot deny. It is a sign that our economy and even our society and polity have not been fully inclusive. It means that while some sections of the society have prospered, others have not. Even if there is one person in the entire country who does not have enough to eat then it is our failure as a nation. It is an indictment of our failure if we allow poverty to exist.
Poverty as a ThreatWhoever has even the basic knowledge of security threats must know that in the current world, threats have not remained confined to violent activities. The threat due to violent activities formed a part of the 'traditional' concept of security threat. On the other hand, 'non-traditional' security threats include epidemics, hunger, refugee problems, and even chronic poverty.
How is poverty a threat? In the simplest terms, poverty endangers the existence of a large section of the population. Due to their abject poverty, they are unable to procure the basic necessities of life. Their nutritional level, as well as their life expectancy, falls along with every other conceivable health parameter. As a result, their existence falls under threat.
Poverty is a threat to prosperity in another manner. Poverty prevents the tapping of the talents and energies of a large section of our population. Just think about it. In our country, at least 1 out of every 5 persons is poor. The poor person may have the potential to contribute to national development through various mediums. But due to his poverty, he is so fixated on ensuring his own survival that he is unable to do so. The existence of a large number of poor people thus acts as a basic obstacle to development.
Poverty is also a threat to prosperity in the sense that it acts like a sponge which sucks up the resources of the country. Again it might be useful to look at examples from our own country. To alleviate poverty, so far as an independent nation, we have spent uncountable crores and crores of rupees mostly to no avail. As long as poverty is allowed to exist, it will necessarily lead to an obstacle for development as well as a drain of the country's productive resources. The problem of poverty thus has to be removed through a combined effort from everyone possible.