A young Indian shoeshine worker polishes the shoes of a pedestrian on a street in New Delhi. The richest 1 percent of Indians hold 58 percent of the country's total wealth, says Oxfam. (Photo by AFP)
The gap between India's rich and poor is increasing rapidly according to a recent study which has led to church leaders to look again at their efforts to help the poor.
Anti-poverty advocacy group Oxfam recently found that just 1 percent of India's population owns 58 percent of the nation's wealth. In their report, released Jan. 16, Oxfam said that 57 billionaires in India have the same amount of wealth as the bottom 70 percent of the country's 1.2 billion people.
"India is hitting global headlines for many reasons, but one of them is for being one of the most unequal countries in the world with a very high and sharply rising concentration of income and wealth," said Nisha Agrawal, head of Oxfam in India, said in a statement.
However, India's budget for 2017-18 provides a major opportunity to reverse the trend "and to put in place policies that will raise taxes in a more progressive way and to spend those on basic education and basic health care to create a more equal opportunity country," Agrawal said.
A global issue
The 48-page report titled "An Economy for the 99 Percent" showed that the worldwide gap between rich and poor is far greater than had been feared.
The nonprofit said that new and improved data on the distribution of global wealth — particularly in India and China — indicates that the poorest half of the world has less wealth than had been previously thought. Eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity, said Oxfam about the report's findings.
Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said that it is "obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than US$2 a day."
She added that inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty, fracturing our societies and undermining democracy.
India needs to respond
Christians leaders in India said the report challenges their various denominations over their efforts to help the poor.
"The report indicates that new economic globalization has not addressed the concerns of the poor. The Indian government needs to acknowledge and respond to the growing inequality," Samuel Jayakumar of the National Council for Churches in India, an umbrella body of Protestant and Orthodox churches.
He told ucanews.com. that the churches in India need to do more work in the field of education and in the rural sector.
"Even though the various churches have been doing work in these fields, the current situation comes as a challenge," said Jayakumar.
John Dayal, a Catholic layleader and member of the Indian government's National Integration Council, said that the church has failed in keeping the larger social audit. It is an interlocutor of the poor and has failed in its role.
"It is a dereliction of duty for any religious group if it does not speak for the ordinary people. The large disparity is only a measurable index. The agony is immeasurable and the church needs to understand the agony and not the numbers," said Dayal who is also a member of ucanews.com's board of directors and an occasional op-ed contributor.
Expressing concern over the implications of the inequality between the rich and the poor, Dayal said the consequences of this situation would be "very grave."
"These few rich people not only control the resources but they control the governance, future allocation of resources, policies and law. We are just looking at the statistics. We also need to see the implications," he said.
"All religion and religious groups, particularly the Catholics, are the conscience keepers. The church in India has a twin role of keeping the moral audit of the administration and to be able to tell the government where to direct its energy," he said.
Dayal added that the church only goes to court when its own rights are violated but does not approach the law when the basic rights of people are impacted.
A.C. Michael, coordinator of the United Christian Forum and a Catholic, told ucanews.com that India has always lacked a policy for the poor.
"Not only the government but all of us, including the church, has to be answerable for this inequality," he said.