Inter-Generational Poverty in Bihar-UP: Any Light at end of Tunnel?
Inequality is a consequence of development in the conventional sense we understand post-cave life. The problem is absolute poverty and inter-generational confinement of the same set of people in that poverty trap. Let me reject some dominant views that the poor are poor because they are poor or because their productivity is low.
The matter of concern for a national economy like India is that its one-third of the population continues to live in inter-generational poverty. Dispossession of resources keeps this size of population in poverty despite them being temporarily engaged as wage-labourers at the bottom of the labour market. The working hands not owning the working instruments, a part of the value that they produce gets siphoned off.
Based on a field-based survey that I conducted over past few years in the rural areas of the district of Allahabad and slum areas of the city of Allahabad revealed that the portfolio of the rural poor was limited to foodgrains, some domestic animals and its by-products like cow dung cake used as fuel, less than marginal landholding for subsistence farming for mono-cropping and its by-product for use as roof of house, CPRs-made kutcha house having rope-bamboo made cot (‘khatia’), and indigenous oven (‘chulha’). No poor household owned high-cost productive assets like tractors, pump sets, water sources for irrigation. Living below subsistence level meant for them absence of savings. They had no access to banks to borrow for investment on marginal land. Through migration or displacement the rural poor becomes a dweller in an urban slum at the best. In case he was rural poor he earned real wage at subsistence level or below that; or he becomes a slum poor to earn wages in cash – the saving consequence is the same – zero or negative savings.
We present below some observations to explain why the poor remain inter-generationally poor.
The illiterate labourers migrating mostly from the poverty-belt in the states of Bihar and Jharkhand (a part of Bihar decade ago) to the brick kilns in UP, even after working at piece rate per day for seven months at a stretch on a span of twelve months, and repeating the same work being in inter-kiln circulation over years, could not save money to purchase agricultural land or invest on the marginal land that they owned or purchase/maintain draught animals. The wages earned in the kiln-work calculated per month was much more than what they earned per month during four-month mono-cropping season in the rural economy. The saving of the labourers went to repay the outstanding debt to the landlord-lenders and adjustment of advance wages received from bricklords pre-production season, all in the rural economy (Interviews of Brick Kiln migrant labourers in district Sravasti, UP, 2013).
In a slum in the city of Allahabad on the bank of Jamuna river inhabited by Dhaikars, people of bottommost caste, most of whom were illiterate, the household productive assets were some pieces of bamboo bought to be converted into baskets; each of the households had one dilapidated living room in a I-shape arrangement of rooms with common wall, the working space being the room itself and adjoining common kutcha corridor. The final products like baskets were for sale but absence of bargaining power kept these households below the level of subsistence. The producers were women members of the households. Large family size meant for them more working hands. The male members of the households were infrequently engaged at piece rate by local administration to do odd jobs (Interviews of households in Dhaikar/Dom bastee, Allahabad, 2014).
The boatman at the bottom of the non-motorized ferry services for tourism/pilgrimage on the confluence of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna on the side of Allahabad city used to run around four trips per day, receiving per trip between Rs. 150.00 and Rs. 250.00, the bargaining done by the Munshi who used to look after boats assigned by the contractor (Thekedar), the latter rented-in boats from boat owners. In this chain, the boatman earned on average Rs. 400.00 per working day of twelve hours, after paying rent to the Munshi, who in turn, paid to the Thekedar who, in turn, paid rent to the boat owner (Interviews of boatmen and Munshi, Saraswati Ghat, Allahabad, 2014).
All the examples imply that the asset-owning non-poor are capacitated to engage the poor as labourers to extract rent. Initial asset-holding by inheritance or accumulation by dispossession of others brackets the non-poor. The non-poor (generally high caste in UP) apply its social and political power to annex CPRs and to keep the poor (generally low caste in UP) distanced from the benefits of public utilities. In rural UP this phenomenon starts with the isolation of the inhabitations of the ‘Harijan’ (low caste) households by locating the public utilities distanced from their access to these utilities.
In consequences one is poor and the other is non-poor – the latter for possessing rent-yielding assets and the former for absence of it. In processes, poverty of a section was a derivative of dispossession of non-labour resources. A labourer supported by a machine in the organized sector lives above poverty line drawing a regular wage above the minimum wage rate declared by the Government. Had the same labourer been in the unorganized sector incapacitated by absence of working instruments, he would have remained perhaps below poverty line. Our observations confirm inter-generational poverty in UP mainly for those who are also at the bottom by castes. The observations from UP confirm poverty as both economic phenomena and social derivative.
The poor in India remains poor inter-generationally because of the following:
- The poor remains engaged in low-quality low-wage works because caste hierarchy determines most of the occupations;
- Low-wage is consumed and a part is used as interest payment on past borrowing, not saved institutionally;
- Most of the poor remain excluded from institutional finance for financial illiteracy;
- Absence of functional literacy and absence of formal education beyond a point make the poor institutionally obsolete;
- Technological advancement, by non-access, makes them technologically obsolete;
- Rural-based land-dependent job inter-generationally keeps them tied to land;
- Borrowing, mainly for food and rituals, leads to never-ending outstanding debt leading to inter-generational dependence on the rural moneylender, often resulting in borrower’s landlessness.