Simple is Beautiful
Poverty: On the poverty alleviation front, apparently, India may need
to take a leaf from Bangladesh where the micro credit scheme launched by
Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus is helping in easing a
considerable number of Bangladeshis out of the poverty trap.
Such cross-border lessons in poverty alleviation are particularly
important in view of the fact that the Congress-led government in India
is now intent on reviving the "Garibi Hatao" or "Eradicate Poverty"
slogan of the Indira Gandhi era, which proved popular among the Indian
masses and helped in consolidating the political fortunes of the Indira
Gandhi administration in the early Seventies.
The point to ponder is that regional economic giant, India, which is
believed to be on the threshold of becoming a major global economic
player, is compelled to look anxiously at its grassroots sector, where
farmer suicides are proving a major worry. Once again, the observer is
forced to focus on the growth vs equity debate when considering these
India is certainly doing well on the economic growth front but is yet
to deliver fully on equity or economic justice. In other words, growth
is not percolating down to the masses to the desired degree and this is
causing the centre considerable concern. Hence the revival of the "Garibi
Hatao" slogan. An inability to deliver on the equity front could have
adverse political repercussions for the Congress administration. This is
why it needs to be in very earnest in poverty eradication.
This should really be a South Asia wide concern. Ever since the "open
economy" model was adopted by the majority of countries in the region,
many countries have boasted impressive growth statistics. However,
ground realities make a mockery of these developmental pretensions.
Within most of these countries, for instance, the wealth gap among
classes is widening. So are intra-state regional economic disparities.
In Sri Lanka, for instance, growth is concentrated mainly in the
country's Western Province.
Small wonder that these countries continue to be heirs to
socio-political unrest and turmoil. Therefore, economic justice would
continue to press its claim to be addressed seriously by the states of
the SAARC region. States could ignore it only at their peril.
This where Bangladesh's contribution to poverty alleviation needs to
be considered earnestly. It is a case of the "last being first". At one
time Bangladesh was considered one of the least of the developed among
the South Asian Eight. Not any longer.
To be sure, Bangladesh cannot boast of glittery affluence or dynamic
growth but slowly and steadily she has been making progress in the war
against want. Now we learn that the basic essentials of the people are
being met by the State: food, nutrition, education, housing etc.
Bangladesh's fight against poverty would surely have gained
considerably by Muhammad Yunus' Grameen Bank experiment, which is now
being replicated in many parts of the developing world, including Sri
Yunus' poverty alleviation methodology is what needs to be closely
studied at this juncture. In delivering people from poverty it would not
do to make them passive recipients of State handouts. Rather, what is
important is to make them active, creative agents of their delivery from
This is emphasized by poverty-alleviation think tanks in Sri Lanka
such as, the Colombo-based South Asia Perspectives Network Association (SAPNA)
and India's TERI, an institution committed to the cause of Sustainable
Development, to name just two such organisations.
Micro credit which plays a central role in Yunus' poverty alleviation
methodology and which is of primary significance in the Grameen Bank
concept, essentially, helps the poor to launch, small, sustainable
livelihoods or small businesses, which do not promise magnificent
wealth, to be sure, but help them to make ends meet and be self-reliant
to a degree.
The conferring of the Nobel Peace Prize on Bangladesh's Muhammad
Yunus is a timely reminder by the world community that 'Small
Businesses' hold the key to South Asia's deliverance from poverty.
'Simple is Beautiful', is the message.