Poverty In India

One of the hardest things you will face when you visit India is the overwhelming poverty that exists there. You’ll see it almost immediately as you move from the airport, through the streets, to your hotel. Beggars will be tapping on the window of your taxi, and when they see a foreigner they will surround the car begging for rupees. A lot of them will be women with small infants in their arms, signaling by hand gesture, that they are hungry and need money for food. Others will have cheap items for sale. Some of the smallest children are doing acrobatics and tricks to amuse you and collect your rupees.
It is extremely hard to turn your head and ignore their pleas for assistance. There are so many of them. Yet Indians of means do turn their heads and they suggest to us tourists and visitors to do the same thing. If you have a conscience and compassion for others that is a difficult thing to do.
I have seen so many severe cases of poverty and need. I was traveling one day in a cab on very congested roads in Delhi and I looked out of the window and I see a young boy, with no legs, pulling himself along, in the middle of that traffic, on a makeshift board with wheels. Who knows what happened to this little boy’s legs. Maybe some disease or accident, but his disability could have been a deliberate act, to help him earn money for his family. This happens a lot among the poor, when they feel desperate and have no other options.
Once I was in Gurdaspur, a small city in Punjab state. I was in a cab, on an unsuccessful quest to find some tampons. We were moving slowly through the congested streets and I saw, in the distance, a boy of about 9 years old, running behind his mother. He had a tumor coming from his right eye that hung almost to his waist. I had the urge to jump out of the cab and run after them. I didn’t because they disappeared so suddenly and the traffic was so bad, but I never got that young boy off of my mind. I couldn’t imagine the life he was living with that tumor. The ridicule of other children must’ve been great. Was he even able to go to school? I went back to that place and asked many people if they knew who he was and where he lived. I was determined to get him some help, to find a doctor willing to remove that tumor and return this boy to a more normal state. Sadly, I was unable to locate him.
Another year, I attended the Pushkar Camel Festival in Rajasthan state. I’ve never been real interested in the sales booths, etc designed to lure tourists so I decided to walk into the area where the desert tribal people were camping during the festival. I wanted to see the life they lived and speak to some of them if possible. I was lucky enough to run into a family, with four children, that had brought their camels and livestock to the fair from the Thar desert of Jaisalmer. They had walked and driven their livestock 400 kms to show and trade them. They invited me to sit in their tent with them. They were making chai tea and we sat there for over an hour talking about their nomadic life, always moving their tents from one place to another. These people are considered gypsies by the Indians. The children were excited about having a foreigner amongst them. They were very inquisitive and asked me a lot of questions. They were shocked to find I was in my 40s and was unmarried without children.
When I finally got up to leave, after at least 8 small cups of tea, the young mother stood up and took the infant that had been breastfeeding as we talked from her breast and she handed him to me. “Please take him and let him have a good life” she said. I saw so much hope and compassion in her eyes as she prepared to say goodbye to her newborn infant. Of course I was unable to take the child. I explained to her that I couldn’t leave the country with a child , without a proper adoption. She understood and, looking very disappointed, she returned the child to her breast. I said my goodbyes and began to move on and she stopped me. “Please take these things for your kindness” she said, as she began removing the heavy silver jewelry she was wearing. It appeared that these things were the only things of value she owned. I explained to her how happy I was to meet her and her family, but that I could not take her necklace and bangles.
I was in a village in Uttar Pradesh state once. The children, once again, were very curious about a foreigner. I noticed that almost every child had some form of birth defect. In addition to the obvious things like missing toes, cleft lips, etc there are also a lot of children suffering from defects like spina bifida, a disability caused by a lack of pre-natal care and the lack of folic acid during the pregnancy. It’s such a shame that pregnant mothers don’t get proper care. I was so moved by this need that I began trying to help some of the children affected by this affliction. I am pleased to report that the first young man I helped has become an IT engineer and recently gotten married.
If you visit and are also moved to take action I would suggest that you find a local NGO and offer to volunteer. There are so many people in need that the hardest part of this task is choosing who to help.
The elderly, without families, live in buildings that are much worse than most stables in the west. They walk around with cataracts so thick that it renders them blind. Some of the NGOs concentrate on cataract clinics and offer cataract operations as cheaply as $6 per eye, so a generous donation could go a long way to help a grandmother once again see her grandchildren.
There are no provisions for the handicapped there. I have helped NGOs, which deal with the disabled, provide wheelchairs to the needy, but without ramps and smooth sidewalks these people are still basically homebound.
I assisted another NGO which worked with the Delhi slum kids in simple health projects. I remember how happy a group of kids were to jump into a big tub of hot water for a much needed bath.
Everywhere you go you see people sleeping along the roads, in the open with no shelter. I’ve given so many coats and shawls away during the years I’ve been going to India. Now I pre-plan to buy a new coat for the trip and find someone to give it to before I leave.
One of the great traditions of India is to give to the poor on your birthday, rather than taking gifts for yourself. It’s a drop in the bucket for a population of 1.27 billion, but it is at least a good gesture of compassion toward the poor. 96% of Indians live on less than $5 a day. 33% pf the total population live on less than $1.25 daily. No wonder they protest when the price of onions or vegetables increase!
You must be thinking that the poor must be living in misery and unable to enjoy life, but I have observed that unless a person is sick or disabled they normally have smiles on their faces. They accept their life as it is and know no other, so they make the best of what they have. Family and faith in God bind them together. Spirituality is apparent in their daily lives. Nowhere on Earth will you see so many people lined up to enter temples every morning. It reminds me of that old Billie Holiday song, “God bless the child that’s got his own, that’s got his own.”


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