Updated: July 26, 2014 12:15:07 am
India has improved, but only just, on the human development index, the United Nations’ composite measure for overall well-being that takes into account life expectancy, income and education. According to the UN Human Development Report 2014 released this week, India ranks 135 on a list of 186 countries. It has become a stock routine to try to shock the system by counting out the conflict-ridden countries among which India resides on the ranking table. To shockingly little effect. All the more reason why the list of failures embedded in the statistics bears telling, and retelling, and it is particularly useful to weigh the new parameters for meaningful development that the HDR lays out. Of late, India’s political discourse has taken on board a range of entitlement measures — from employment guarantee and food security to right to education — but in a piecemeal, compartmentalised fashion. It is valuable to have repeated documentary pointers such as this one as a nudge towards comprehensive planning and implementation.
The new report puts emphasis on “structural vulnerabilities”, those pegged on historical and geographical reasons, as well as on institutional health, that affect the capacity to deliver public good and protect people. It advocates that caution be taken on “life cycle vulnerabilities”. Among the specific phases in an individual’s life where she or her care-givers may be particularly vulnerable to losing control over her life’s direction are the first 1,000 days after birth, the transition from education to work and from work to retirement. It is at these points that a child or adult, especially one already vulnerable on account of social, gender and/ or economic reasons, stands in danger of being made to forfeit the chance to even a semblance of equal opportunity. The report also introduces a measure of gender development and, depressingly, it is not difficult to anticipate India’s lowly place on the index, 127 on a list of 148 countries. In a country unable to control the incidence of female foeticide or to even collectively thread gender equality and a woman’s right to bodily integrity in policy, its practice and law-enforcement, the life chances of its women are bound to be adversely affected.
There can be no getting around the state’s primary responsibility for regulating institutions and delivery systems, and being a guarantor for the provision of health, education and security. The report is a reminder that we need a progressive discourse that interrogates the state and compels it into action more effectively.
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