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Want to know how India’s richest 1 per cent are wealthier than the bottom 70 per cent? Read on

Studying micro economies such as Bastar gives us the tools to highlight the rising inequality between the bourgeoise and proletariat.

Written by Leela Prasad | New Delhi | Updated: January 16, 2017 2:55 pm
Daily wage labourers, who have been struggling to get work since demonetisation was announced, at Meena Bazar behind Jama Masjid on Wednesday. (Express Photo by Abhinav Saha) Daily wage labourers, who have been struggling to get work since demonetisation was announced, at Meena Bazar behind Jama Masjid on Wednesday. (Source: Express Photo by Abhinav Saha)

In Delhi University professor Nandini Sundar’s meticulously researched book, The Burning Forest: India’s War in Bastar, the plight of the adivasis struggling to make ends meet paints a striking picture of the growing wage disparity in the “Maoist state”. Wages paid to the adivasis are strictly controlled by contractors who procure tendu leaves — used to roll beedis — and sell them to traders. According to one contractor, adivasis were paid as low as 80 paise (figures from 2006) to collect 100 leaves. On a average, a worker, at best, collects 100 bundles a day; that is Rs 80 for a day’s of hard work.

Fourteen bundles of tendu leaves make a kilo, which is then sold at Rs 15.70. The contractor stands to profit anywhere between Rs 5-10. And he is just one person in the middle of this huge trading pyramid. The trader community is, like any other community, hierarchical. A majority of them are non-adivasis, mostly immigrants from other states. At the top is the Marwari community that controls the trade, with links spread across the country, and Kochiyas (agents) make up the bottom. Adivasis selling their produce directly at the weekly market are often cheated by Kochiyas, who under weigh the sale. And tendu leaves are just one of the many forest produce that make their way to the market.

To understand wealth disparity on a larger scale, it is important to fully comprehend where Bastar fits in the global economy. Studying micro economies such as Bastar gives us the tools to highlight the rising inequality between the bourgeoise and proletariat.

A recent report by UK-based rights group Oxfam notes that India’s richest 1 per cent now holds 58 per cent of the country’s total wealth — 57 billionaires in India now have the same wealth ($216 billion) — as that of the bottom 70 per cent population of the country. How did they get there? In a capitalist economy, organisations work towards achieving profits and maximising dividends for their shareholders rather than subsidising their products for the poor or distributing the wealth among its workers. In India, around 12 private corporations pay more than 50 per cent of their profits as dividends.

The figure has been steadily on the rise in the last decade, reaching 34 per cent in 2014-15, according to the report. They set out achieving their targets by checking the following boxes: Squeezing wages at the bottom and avoiding taxes. Oxfam notes that the world’s largest garment companies routinely employ India’s cotton mills, which use forced labour. Pay disparity also reflects in the corporate sector. Take this for example, the CEO of India’s top IT firm draws 416 times the salary of a regular employee. When it comes to paying taxes, most tend to avoid them, citing technicalities or incorporate their companies in tax havens — as we have seen in the recent Panama leaks. How does it end? The powers that be must rein in corporate greed by raising taxes and putting an end to crony capitalism, where corporates lobby for state projects and peddle influence to suit their needs. A honest pay for a honest day’s of work is the need of the hour.

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  1. O
    Onkar Singh
    Jan 16, 2017 at 1:04 pm
    It's true that the richest 1% control 58% wealth of India.And Modi controls this 1%,and this 1% of the richest in India control Modi.And this 1% is Capitalist system of India.And hence Modi is the richest capitalist,toodia is a Capitalist state.The rest of the potion of 124.9999crores does not exist for the proponents of Capitalist India.And this the truth.And also borne out of the fact of demonetization.The richest were nowhere in sight,but the rest could be seen,but Modi was fiddling while the country was seething.Hamara desh mahan hai,for the so called Deshbhakts.
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    1. A
      Atheist
      Jan 16, 2017 at 11:29 am
      Thank god he cannot track you or the communist goons will come after you.
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        Atheist
        Jan 30, 2017 at 7:58 pm
        where do that 70% live......(communist/socialist states)lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;It is failure of the government where these 70% people live not the 58
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          priynk
          Jan 16, 2017 at 1:15 pm
          very bad analysis, our is a controlled capitalist economy and not a pure capitalist economy, mainly bcoz we followed socialism uptil 90s and still pursue with it which has made power into the hands of a few people leading to exploitation of the others, we need to complete what we started in 90s.lt;br/gt;pls also note that majority of tax also comes in the form of corporate tax and some also do good work, don't generalise and trivialize the issue, we need to seperate weeds from the produce and not burn the farm completely in trying to do that.
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          1. No To Klein
            Jan 16, 2017 at 1:22 pm
            In Indian context, where supply of labour is more than demand, workers will be exploited and it will be worse than British times.
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