Real Independence means refusing charity

Sri Lanka is again on the receiving end of charity, as has been the case for many years. If the wealthy nations of the world wish to donate schools, hospitals and other infrastructure, then there seems no reason to refuse it. However, when India recently donated 500,000 sheets of roofing, food and various other contributions including specialists in various fields, the mind boggles. India itself is the recipient of massive aid from world charities such as Oxfam, Save The Children and World Vision. The image that India tries to portray is one of a rapidly rising standard of living in a society that is becoming technologically sophisticated. Affluence, along with luxury shopping malls, and condominiums do exist, but only for the middle class, around 10% or 150 million people. Many of the other 90% face degrees of poverty highlighted by slums, malnutrition, disease and illiteracy. It is not quite the "incredible India" seen on the television advertisements. Travel into the heartland of rural India and nothing much has changed in decades. Of course, tourists love the picturesque photographic opportunities to show their folks back home, but grinding poverty is not the image India wants to show.

India's capital of Delhi has a million and a half out of fourteen million living in slums. Mumbai is worst with a greater percentage living in slums. Newly built cities like Chandigarh and surrounding towns where shantytowns could have been avoided altogether have now slums. The forgoing is India's shame despite huge progress. Poverty, slums and urban squats are not going to go away in next 20 to 25 years. India is home to the world's largest population of street children, estimated by UNICEF at between 11 and 18 million. Many international charities work with these children, otherwise the numbers would even be greater.

The Republic of India is the seventh largest and second most populous country in the world. With acceleration in economic growth, India has become one of the fastest growing developing countries. This has created a rift between poor and rich; 22 percent of the population lives below the income poverty line of a dollar a day and a further 30% below two dollars. This might be sufficient for the very basics, but little more. Save The Children report that 2 million children under five die every year - 1 every 15 seconds, and WHO report that India is 171 out of 175 countries for health spending as a percentage of its income.

Owing to unemployment, increasing rural-urban migration, attraction of city life and a lack of political will, India now has one of the largest number of child labourers in the world. Street children are subject to malnutrition, hunger, health problems, substance abuse, theft, commercial sexual exploitation of children, harassment by the city police and railway authorities, as well as physical and sexual abuse, although the Government of India has taken some corrective measures and declared child labour illegal. Child labour in India is a human rights issue for the whole world. It is a serious and extensive problem, with many children under the age of fourteen working in carpet making factories, glass blowing units and making fireworks with bare little hands. According to the statistics given by Indian government, there are 20 million child labourers in the country, while other agencies claim that it is 50 million.

India has 22 per cent of the world's population, but 46 per cent of the world's illiterates, and is home to a high proportion of the world's out of school children and youth. While India does well compared to Bangladesh and Pakistan, it lags substantially behind all the other BRIC countries and Sri Lanka. The findings make grim reading. In 2006, nearly 47% of children who were in school and studying in grade 5 could not read the story text at grade 2 level of difficulty. In arithmetic, 55% of grade 5 and 25% of grade 8 children could not solve a simple division problem (3 digits divided by 1 digit). There was a considerable state

variation in student performance. For example, in 2005 based on the sample of grade 5 children, in West Bengal, Haryana, Bihar, Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh less than 50% of children were able to do the simple division problems. In the bottom five states, 62-75% of grade 5 children could not solve the same division problem. Yet India portrays an image of a superior mathematics standard and a country where English is widely spoken. In reality, though many are familiar with very simple English that has become a part of the mother tongue, only a minority have any fluency. Despite these facts, India offers numerous scholarships to Sri Lankan students and is making a major contribution to the government English language initiative, through Hyderabad University. This does seem rather bizarre when the majority of Indian school students have less English than their Sri Lanka counterparts. The middle classes that are proficient have mainly attended private schools and English medium syllabus.

India spends lavishly on space research that gives prestige in the international community. Numerous call centres provide employment to university graduates. It has an average 8% GDP growth rate and is becoming a world leader in the manufacture of all types of vehicles. Despite these positive indicators, the majority of the population would benefit from India getting its own house in order before offering generosity to Sri Lanka. Even with all its failing in education, Sri Lanka can advise India on achieving universal schooling and literacy. Whereas in India, many rural communities have little access to modern health care, Sri Lanka has a surplus of doctors, nurses and teachers, who could give one or two years service to India. In defeating terrorism, Sri Lanka might well offer advice to India which has been plagued by insurgencies for decades. Maybe a good-neighbour offer would be to mediate between India and Pakistan to assist on a road to cooperation and peace.

The war is over and Sri Lanka should now be able to stand on its own two feet. It is now recognised as a "middle income" country, and way ahead of India on numerous accounts. India may be willing to offer generous aid, but it should be politely refused. India's tourist slogan is "incredible India" but such a slogan is no better than the "small miracle" offered by Sri Lanka.

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