The volunteers of Platform 2, October 2009 – December 2009 in Bandla, Himachal, had various issues with and misunderstandings about the developmental work that is happening in India. We all had so many questions that needed answering, so I decided to do some research in the hope of answering some of them. Here is what I have found out thus far, however, my research will not stop here as now that I have this information, I want more and would encourage you also to find out as much as you can by any means possible. I would also like to add that I had various sources that I concluded my information from and I will not, under any circumstances reveal what information came from whom.
The majority of questions were related to the women’s empowerment schemes going on, governing system, tax laws, what the taxes are spent on, how the education system works, national benefits that are available and various misunderstanding or questions related to the education system.
Firstly, the Governing system is ran rather similarly to the UK in the way that the leaders are elected using democracy and the Government is either formed by having a head of Government or if a majority vote cannot be found a co-illation is made. This may look good in black and white, however, there is far more that lurks beneath the surface as I’m sure you will be aware of similar issues that exist within our own Government. Of course this is mainly speculation but according to one of my sources; the main method used for winning votes is using emotional issues that people will follow without question due to religious or cultural obligation, rather than focusing on real development issues that are really affecting the people of India. Some of the examples given were using religion, the cast system or the promise of building new religious places for worship that are more convenient for people to get to, to win support.
Another query relating to the Government was the tax system and how the tax is actually used in India. According to my sources there are several taxes in India and the percentages vary from state to state and there are also compulsory national taxes that are devised by the Head of Government. I the state of Himachal the tax rates are as following:
· All agricultural income is exempt from taxes as are those who earn less than 150,000 rupees per annum.
· If the worker earns between 150,000 – 250,000 rupees per annum they must pay 30% tax.
· Those earning between 250,000 - 333,000 rupees per annum must pay 35% tax.
· If they are earning over 333,000 per annum they will pay 40% tax.
· Lottery or commission based income is taxed at between 50 – 60%.
· Any loans for building, buying or rebuilding homes are generally not taxed for the 1st and 2nd year.
Please bear in mind that the majority of India’s population is below the poverty line and are not eligible to pay tax. The tax that is collected from the eligible tax payers goes towards infrastructure development schemes. Particularly regarding education, I feel it is necessary to emphasize the fact that primary and secondary education is free to all Indian children now and Bachelor level education (undergraduate degrees) is free to all women. Men, however, will pay between 10,000 – 350,000 rupees for their Bachelor degree, depending on what they study.
One of the questions that came up over and over again was regarding the existence of Government Healthcare and its’ services. The Indian equivalent to our NHS is the NHRH. The NHRH will give a certain amount of free healthcare to Indian citizens. They will cover any major accidents like road accidents free of charge. This scheme also grants 3,000 rupees towards the healthcare of each pregnant woman. How aware the rural locals are of this scheme however, I am unsure. It is our job and our purpose as Platform 2 volunteers to bring this information into the communities that we are working with. Any minor injuries like individual cases of broken bones, ripped tissue or ligaments etc are not covered by the NHRH and so must be subsidized by the people themselves. As unfortunate as this is and obviously with the knowledge that most of the people in our communities will not be able to pay such costs, at the moment there does not seem to be very much that we can do about it as volunteers. These decisions are taken by the Government and to have any influence over this, it would likely take international pressure to motivate them to improve the system. Also we have to consider the fact that there is a fair chance that at this time, the funding is simply not available.
This does however bring me onto my next topic concerning the Poverty Cards and rationing system. Again, many people in India are not educated about this scheme which means that, in-turn; they are unaware of exactly what they are entitled to. This particular scheme that the Indian Government is running is the dispensing of Poverty Cards for those that are below the Poverty line. Those that hold these cards are entitled to some assistance with money towards food and free healthcare. The BPL will pay card holders 2 rupees per KG towards rice for example. This may sound good and yes, ‘every rupee helps’, but when you compare it with how much each KG of rice costs it does not seem quite as promising. It costs approximately 20 rupees per KG of rice which means that the people still have to find at least 18 rupees themselves to buy a KG of rice. Moreover, the fact that most of these poor families are large in number; which means too many mouths to feed and not enough to go round.
It also may surprise readers to know that there are ambulances in every Government hospital and the number to call is 108 in the event of an emergency. This service may not be available in Himachal as they may have different number to call but generally in India the 108 number is most commonly used. This service is half funded by the NHRH and half funded by whomever uses the service as far as I am aware.
Each area has a doctor/nurse that do weekly visits to each of the villages in their area and there is a trained compounder in each village all the time which deal with minor health issues.
Next, the Indian Government has a guaranteed work scheme ran by NREGSR. This scheme guarantees 100 days of paid work per annum to all those eligible to work or the equivalent pay to this. The pay rate for this work is as follows:
· 150 rupees per day for skilled work
· 100 rupees per day for unskilled work
The work is devised on a 60/40 ratio, meaning that 60% of the work available is manual and 40% is machine based. According to one of my sources the Government is looking to improve this scheme by making it 200 days of guaranteed work rather than 100. This is still a preliminary suggestion however.
Travel in India
There are four main ways to travel in India; bus, taxi, tuc tuc and railway. The railway system in India is among the best in the world and is the largest too. It creates so many jobs for people from all backgrounds and industries. They are reliable and reasonably priced which would explain why approximately 100,000 people choose to travel by train every day in India.
The buses are not of the most comfortable and as a UK citizen you may well find yourself questioning its’ MOT but all in all they are reasonable and very affordable too.
In more rural areas, taxis are the more common and very available form of travel. Local journeys cost between 5 and 20 rupees. Private taxi companies however can cost an arm and a leg and as a westerner they may well ‘see you coming’ and charge over the odds.
Tuc tucs are a very nerving way to travel in my opinion but are very much a part of the norm here. They fit three people, you will get used to them and they can be reasonably priced if you have some haggling skills.
Before coming to India, I remember watching a program about swet shops and child labor which honestly broke my heart to see what these children go through in order to make ends meet. Now that I’m here, I have been determined to find out more about what is behind this horrible way of life. I, as well as my fellow volunteers, had so many question relating to this topic. What causes it and what is the source? What happens to the future of these children? What can they possibly achieve in their lives? Well through talking to someone who personally was a child laborer some years ago and also researching some of the statistics, I have a found a few answers. I would like to share with you the story of one the most inspirational men I have ever met.
He came from a very poor family which sent him to work in factories and sweat shops from the age of 11 or 12. He does not know his own date of birth and cannot read or write. Through shear determination and for the sake of his very survival he learnt to speak several languages fluently (including English) in order to make sales and built himself up to what he is today. He still has absolutely no education but owns several businesses, factories and guest houses in a very popular tourist area in Himachal. He is an honest and caring man that welcomed my friend and I in for tea and opened up his heart and past to us. We both left there feeling like we had finally learnt something real about India.
I learn that yes the odds may well be against these children and they may not all turn out to be as successful as him but he showed me that no matter what, if you have a pure heart and determination you can change anything. This is why I came to India and why I intend on coming back.
As volunteers, we can all make a change in society whether that’s in India or in the UK. Learn and absorb as much as you can while you’re here and remember that as humans, we never stop learning and must never stop loving or caring.
I hope this has been of some use to you and that you can take something positive away from this and be pro-active about it.
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