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It's an uphill battle fighting poverty and hunger in India

Pope Francis’ message on World Day of the Poor challenges the entire world to respond to the cries of the needy

Children eat free food served by a youth charity group in a slum during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the coronavirus in Secunderabad city on April 17, 2020

Children eat free food served by a youth charity group in a slum during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the coronavirus in Secunderabad city on April 17, 2020. (Photo: Noah Seelam/AFP)

Published: November 17, 2022 04:02 AM GMT

Updated: November 17, 2022 05:39 AM GMT

On Oct 17, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), released their annual Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (GMPI) report: "Unpacking deprivation bundles to reduce multidimensional poverty."

The GMPI 2022 compares acute multidimensional poverty for 111 countries in developing regions. These countries are home to 6.1 billion people, three-quarters of the world's population. Of these people, 1.2 billion (19.1 percent) are identified by the 2022 GMPI as “multidimensionally” poor.

The report, for the first time, dedicated a special section focusing on the 15-year trend of poverty in India. The revelation is that over the past 15 years, the number of poor people has declined by 415 million.

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However, India still has the highest number of poor people (almost 229 million) in the world. Besides, India hosts the highest number of poor children. Some 97 million or 21.8 percent of its children are poor. Children under the age of 18 account for 50 percent of poor people in India. This means one in every three children lives here in poverty.

"This is not good news for India, which is headed by a regime that has mainstreamed corruption"

About 94 million people or 8.1 percent above the age of 60 are poor. The 2019-2021 data revealed that around 16.4 percent of the Indian population is poor; of these 4.2 percent live in extreme poverty. About 18.7 percent of the population is vulnerable and could be pushed into extreme poverty. Of these, two-thirds fall into the category where one person is at least deprived of nutrition.

All this is not good news for India, which is headed by a regime that has mainstreamed corruption; helped its crony capitalist friends amass scandalous proportions of wealth at the cost of the poor; defocused from the plight of the poor by denigrating minorities and has cloaked itself with immunity by victimizing all those who stand up for truth and justice.

It is certainly not a compliment for the country when the UNDP ranked India 132 among 191 countries and territories on the 2021 Human Development Index. India’s ranking in the Global Hunger Index 2022, also released in October, is now a pathetic 107 out of 121 countries.

It is this context — the reality which grips India and so much of the world today — that the Catholic Church observed the sixth "World Day of the Poor" on Nov. 13.

Pope Francis in his powerful message for the day on the theme, “For your sakes Christ became poor” (cf. 2 Cor 8:9), challenged not only Catholics but the entire world to respond to the cries of the poor by addressing endemic issues and the structural causes of poverty.

He set the tone of his message in his opening paragraph: “Jesus Christ … for your sakes became poor” (cf. 2 Cor 8:9). With these words, the Apostle Paul addresses the first Christians of Corinth in order to encourage their efforts to show solidarity with their brothers and sisters in need. The World Day of the Poor comes this year as a healthy challenge, helping us to reflect on our style of life and on the many forms of poverty all around us.” 

The pope also addressed the global scenario including the current war in Ukraine, saying that great poverty is produced by the senselessness of war.

"India stands out as a poor and one of the most unequal countries in the world with a small and very affluent elite"

Pope Francis deals with critical issues which make the poor, poorer and the rich, richer. “We know that the issue is not money itself, for money is part of our daily life as individuals and our relationships in society. Rather, what we need to consider is the value that we put on money: it cannot become our absolute and chief purpose in life. Attachment to money prevents us from seeing everyday life with realism; it clouds our gaze and blinds us to the needs of others. Nothing worse could happen to a Christian and to a community than to be dazzled by the idol of wealth, which ends up chaining us to an ephemeral and bankrupt vision of life.”

It is not surprising that according to the World Inequality Report 2021, the top 1 percent of Indians now own 33 percent of the country’s wealth compared to 31.7 percent previously. The top 10 percent own 64.6 percent of the country's wealth, up from 63.9 percent. The share of the bottom 50 percent now stands at 5.9 percent, down from 6 percent earlier.

India stands out as a poor and one of the most unequal countries in the world with a small and very affluent elite. This is scandalous, a disgrace and totally unacceptable.

Pope Francis will certainly not endear himself to many of the rich and other vested interests when he says, “The poverty that kills is squalor, the daughter of injustice, exploitation, violence and the unjust distribution of resources. It is a hopeless and implacable poverty, imposed by the throwaway culture that offers neither future prospects nor avenues of escape.”

Reading the pope's message in its entirety certainly provides much food for thought, for prayer and reflection, for internalization and action.

In his final paragraph, Pope Francis provides all authentic disciples of Jesus with an unequivocal direction: “May this 2022 World Day of the Poor be for us a moment of grace. May it enable us to make a personal and communal examination of conscience and to ask ourselves whether the poverty of Jesus Christ is our faithful companion in life.”

Will we in the Church (others too!) — hierarchy, clergy, religious and laity — have the prophetic courage to take the challenges of Pope Francis seriously and ensure concrete implementation in the here and now?

*Father Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer.The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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