India’s Tryst with the Millenium Development Goals

Primary EducationIndia; the world’s largest democracy, the cradle of numerous civilizations, the upholder of secularism and the rising economic giant of the world. These descriptions of India often colour the front pages of several economic journals and magazines and yet they raise a very fundamental question of relevancy. How pertinent really, are the Millennium Development Goals for India’s ‘Aam aadmi’? These goals encompass a vision for a better future for the world. How poised is India to achieve them?

The Millennium Development Goals were designed as a single interlocking package addressing a plethora of issues. Progress towards meeting one goal has a positive synergistic effect on all others – and nowhere is this more evident than in India. While it can be argued that India has made significant progress in the advancement of some goals such as, reducing extreme poverty, increasing food availability and reducing the child mortality rate, it has not made as rapid strides in other areas such as universalising primary education and empowering its women.

In 2007, at the halfway stage of the time-bound program, it is a good time to take stock of the progress that India has made in the last few years and to examine what combinations and priorities are vital to create the ‘perfect storm’ of conditions that will enable India to meet all its goals. Today India needs to realize that development is a holistic concept and it is imperative that we adopt strategies which address this very interconnectedness.

India is a land of great paradoxes. The very fact that we acknowledge this is testimony to our commitment towards fulfilling the millennium development goals. Though many put forward the view that the high rates of economic growth have no bearing on the conditions of the poorest, detailed studies have shown that to the contrary, hunger-poverty is highly responsive to growth. Today the challenge that we face is not that of creating wealth, but of distributing it efficiently. Therefore, the problem of hunger-poverty can be tackled not merely by introducing poverty-alleviation schemes but by empowering every citizen to play a meaningful role in the development process. Nelson Mandela once said that education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world. It is only if this tool is developed to its truest potential will the country galvanize its people into responsive citizens for whom issues such as degradation of the environment and women empowerment will be real concerns.

However, hope needs to be backed by action if it has to sustain itself, and it is here that India is found wanting. Today more than 36 percent of Indian children are out of school and universal primary education still remains a distant dream. To enroll and more importantly retain millions of more children in five years of complete education, the challenges are aplenty. Centuries of gender bias, perceived high costs, neglect of the backwards classes and inability of government schools to retain children are only a few obstacles to achieve this goal. Better managed funds, support to local NGOs and privatisation of education would help India break not only the poverty- cycle by means of increased literacy, but will also allow us to improve our abysmal records of malnutrition deaths and the high maternal mortality rates.

Other fronts, on which we have to make speedy advancement if the 2015 goals are to be met, are that of gender empowerment and eradication of AIDS and other maladies. Society as a whole develops in a more inclusive manner if its women are empowered and it is essentially education which will enable them to become more proactive in the public domain. The theme of this year’s World Aids Day is ‘Keep the promise’ and this is perhaps exactly what India owes her over 4.6 million HIV positive citizens. However it’s not only about keeping the promise but delivering on it that is most essential if we have to have any hope of eradicating AIDS in India. The Government of India has taken the lead with numerous steps to stop the epidemic by mobilizing its resources, knowledge and expertise to fight the disease.

Today, more than ever before, there is an increasing need for global partnerships and cooperation at an international level. Growth, which isn’t inclusive is extremely farcical and cannot be sustained. As a country striving to be a global player having one of the worst maternal mortality rates and being amongst the lowest ranked countries in terms of the Human development Index is not something that bodes well. To become a nation which embraces inclusive growth we need to step up work on achieving the millennium development goals and for this people’s participation is crucial because change begins from within. Let us take pride our country and strive towards creating a more humane society because that ultimately is what evolution is all about.

Uttara Balakrishnan