Short essay on liberalization and social justice

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It takes time for the ground realities to break our inertia and oblige us to see things in the right perspective. Statistics may satisfy us but they do not tell the whole truth.

Those who sit in ivory towers and air- conditioned rooms may face the shock and surprise of life when they find themselves ‘tete-a-tete’ with glaring anomalies, pounding paradoxes and confounding contradictions.

No, doubt, in spite of the amazing and bewildering successes in the fields of science & technology, the paradox of world-wide poverty amidst plenty, global destitution and destruction amidst development and progress and pavement deaths amidst five-star pageantry seem to be an inseparable part of human history.

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All efforts to bridge the gaping gulf, whether under controlled economy of the erstwhile socialist States or under globalisation of the so called democratic States, appear to have failed to achieve the desired result.

Even under the umbrella of liberalisation, our goal of social justice has gone awry, although there is enough evidence to show that the quality of living of a quite a few people has visibly improved. In the words of L.K. Advani: “Economic reforms are no doubt a critical part of the reforms agenda (set in motion in 1991). But our experience over the past 10-12 years of liberisation has taught us that reforms in governance, administration, judiciary and education are no less important.”

The ideal society that Gandhi would have liked us to create, like the utopia of a classless society and the ‘withering away of the State’ as envisaged by Communism, has miserably failed to reach anywhere near its target. Hence another panacea in the name of globalisation is being tried to achieve the ends of social justice.

Human Development Report-2003, launched by UNDP, is both a tribute as well as an indictment of India under the liberalised regime. It says that despite impressive strides made by economy in the recent years, India continues to be the home of the largest number of hungry people.

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Interestingly, in India there exist massive regional variations in the development parameters, implying that there are pockets within the country which compare with the riches and parts which are comparable with the sub-Saharan standards.

As is evident from the UN Human Development Report (2003), like many other developing countries in the nineties, India has been progressing on the GDP front, but is witnessing a decline in key human development indicators like health-care, education, housing and income-status.

There is no denying that poverty has been greatly reduced in India and literacy levels have jumped, but the gender literacy gap has hardly improved. It is also shocking to find in the report that forty million children are still out of schools and may be engaged in manual labour.

The report ends on a cautious note that economic growth alone cannot bring about higher well-being and governments in developing countries have to spend more on health and education to improve the quality of life.

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During the course of just one year, if our ranking in the matter of human development has gone down by four points, it only shows how inadequately we have addressed the dire needs of our social sectors.

Despite the fact that we have made scintillating successes in the fields of technology up-dating, global competence and competition, there are still areas where our performances have not matched our proclamations. We are rightly proud of our achievements in some vital vistas of our economy, but we should also feel concerned about those children who die of contaminated water and millions of others who have no access to safe drinking water.

The way poor people become playthings in the hands of quacks and witch-craft, speaks volumes about the inadequacies in the dispensation of social justice and that too under the all-embracing presence potential of liberalisation.

Under globalisation the gap in human resource capacity between rich and poor countries is also growing alarmingly, because of widespread malnutrition. While around 35,000 children die each day from malnutrition and disease across the developing world, obesity is increasingly, becoming a major problem in Britain and US.

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In India, where social insecurity is growing every day and neither the civil society nor the government seems prepared to tackle this problem, an increase in violence and crime is bound to take place. Unless economic prosperity ensuing from liberalisation is equitably distributed, and social sectors consciously looked after—and in Stiglitz’s words properly ‘reshaped’—liberalisation will not be acceptable to all.

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