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regular-article-logo Friday, 19 April 2024

Myths shattered

Arguments made by Narayan have already been put forth in Parliament, indicating far-reaching effects evidence-backed book can have

Hindolee Datta Published 23.02.24, 10:33 AM

Book: Unequal: Why India Lags Behind Its Neighbours

Author: Swati Narayan

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Published by: Context

Price: Rs 799

Swati Narayan’s book is an eye-opening analysis of India’s socio-economic fabric juxtaposed against its South Asian neighbours. Arguments made by Narayan have already been put forth in Parliament, indicating the far-reaching effects an evidence-backed book can have.

In an era where GDP growth overshadows the narrative of the average citizen, Narayan refocuses her lens onto the people, emphasising the need to prioritise human welfare over economic data. The author delves into the deep-rooted biases in India, dissecting how caste, class, and gender disparities have not only persisted but widened over time. She provides startling statistics: the emergence of 32 new millionaires in the health sector during the Covid-19 pandemic, 41% of wealth concentrated in the hands of upper castes, and the alarming number of women missing from both the population and electoral rolls. The book touches upon various aspects of social inequality — from education to healthcare — while shedding light on innovative solutions to some of them; Bangladesh’s “Little Doctor” programme being an example

Narayan identifies three catalysts in neighbouring countries’ success: robust public services, vibrant social movements, and empowered women. She terms Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka the “Southern Superstars” for their progressive policies, contrasting them with a similar analysis of Bihar, Nepal, and Bangladesh. The narrative transcends a mere comparison of social indices and probes the systemic issues stalling India’s equitable development.

Her arguments shed light on the mislabelling of social welfare schemes as “freebies”, ignoring the fact that they’re funded by taxpayers. She emphasises the government’s failure in tackling unemployment leading to widespread poverty. It’s implausible that 80,00,00,000 people are lazy; rather, they face hostile conditions that hinder finding meaningful work to support their families. This perspective challenges the narrative that government support is unearned, highlighting systemic issues instead.

Narayan’s writing is refreshingly accessible, inviting laymen and experts alike into the discourse. Her blend of field anecdotes, academic rigour, and journalistic integrity provides a well-rounded perspective. The book critically examines the Indian government’s instruments of denial and defensiveness when faced with comparisons with South Asian counterparts, thereby shattering myths surrounding development and growth.

This book is not just an academic exercise; it’s a call for action and solidarity across class, caste, and gender lines. It’s a narrative that could shape political manifestos, especially in an election year. The author, however, does not delve much into the health of democracy in the nations she critiques, a factor that could further enrich her analysis.

Unequal, a compelling read, unsettles yet informs, and is capable of igniting meaningful discourse and inspiring change. In an era of hyper-nationalism and post-truth, it stands as a testament to the power of informed, empathetic, and inclusive development.

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