03/31/2021, 17.55
INDIA
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Indians are about 60 per cent of new poor caused by the pandemic

by Nirmala Carvalho

A study by Pew Research Center indicates that India has 75 million more poor people, with the middle class losing a third of its members. “The regression started with the announcement of demonetisation,” said Jesuit Irudaya Jothi. The “lockdown was a death knell for an already bad economy”. At Mumbai’s St Catherine's Home, “Rising poverty and hunger can be seen by the long lines outside the gates” of the establishment.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – According to a new study by the Washington-based Pew Research Center, India contributed almost 60 per cent of the rise in global poverty in 2020.

The report, published this month, is based on World Bank estimates of the impact of COVID-19 on economic growth.

In India, the lockdown caused by the pandemic included the shutdown of most economic activities, job losses and falling incomes, with the country plunging in a deep recession.

“India seems to be the worst-hit country in South Asia, both in terms of contracting GDP and the sharp rise in the number of its poor,” reads the Pew Center’s study. “India added 75 million people to poverty, accounting for 60% of the rise in poor populations globally.”

The country’s middle class (those earning between  700 and 1,500 rupees per day) may have shrunk by a third due to 2020’s pandemic-driven recession with about 32 million people moving down the social ladder. At the same time, the number of poor people, those earning less than 150 rupees per day, more than doubled. 

“The unplanned abrupt announcement of the lockdown was a death knell for an already bad economy,” said Father Irudaya Jothi, a well-known Jesuit activist and head of the Right to Food & Work Campaign in West Bengal. Speaking to AsiaNews, he added: “The regression started with the announcement of demonetisation, which served no purpose for the welfare of the ordinary citizens of the country.”

The Goods and Services Tax (GST), “which was considered like freedom at midnight, doomed the small and medium scale industries and added thousands to the already crowded [army of the] unemployed. “Now the country is being sold to the corporate houses, the future of our rural and urban poor is bleak.”

“Already there is wide starvation in 'the country of plenty' and if some of the bills that are passed with just a brute majority without considering” the needs of the people, “we shall witness a severe food crisis and starvation death on a daily basis.”

The Global Hunger Index 2020 ranks India 94 out of 107 countries, placing it in the group of nations where the risk of hunger is “serious”.

“Rising poverty and hunger can be seen by the long lines outside the gates” of the St Catherine of Siena’s Home and School for Destitute Children in Bandra (Mumbai), said its director, Brother Joseph. “Hunger is increasing, the poor have no source of income’ and “The lines for food are getting longer,” he added.

“St Catherine of Siena’s has distributed over 250,000 breakfast and lunch meals to the poor since the lockdown began. Unemployment, poverty have driven people to  extreme poverty and destitution.”

Since March 2020, “our volunteers have distributed each day 600 hot and nutritious meals to the homeless at the railway station, bus stops and roadsides. These meals are cooked in our own kitchen,”

“Many of the destitute on the street are so thirsty; they want water more than the food, so we include bottled water with the lunch.”

Founded in 1957, the St Catherine of Siena’s Home and School for Destitute Children is administered by the Welfare Society for Destitute Children, an organisation created by Father Anthony Elenjimittam, who died in 2011. Father Elenjimittam loved to call the poor “angels in rags”.

“It’s a great sign and tremendous encouragement that the volunteers helping with the charitable cause are ex-students from the school,” Brother Joseph noted.

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