Poverty…! Where!?

Dr. Salikyu Sangtam
North East Christian University, Dimapur

In the most recent NITI Aayog’s reports on India’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), we see the glaringly poor performance of Nagaland in almost all the vital indicators, and in some cases, our State even outperformed all the other States and Union Territories in the country for all the wrong reasons. When we look at the numbers or figures published, Nagaland’s performance is below the par in 9 out of 12 indicators, that also in some of the most vital indicators such as hunger, health care, inequality, lack of quality education, lack of decent work and economic growth, lack of sustainable communities, lack of quality of life on land, gender inequality, lack of infrastructure and industry.
The report on NITI Aayog’s SDG indicates that 73% of the population in Nagaland lives below the national poverty line, which if we assume the population of our State to be somewhere around 19 to 20 lakh, the 73% equals to around 14 lakh. In other words, around 14 lakh are living below the poverty line in Nagaland. This is an overwhelming number for a small Sate to have such a high proportion of its population living not just in poverty, but worse, to live below the national poverty line. This figure is further confirmed when we look at the Multidimensional Poverty Index where it indicates 75 % (around 15 lakh) of our population to be deprived and poor in terms of the indicators such as deprived of adequate nutrition, health care, and schooling; and percentage of household deprived of drinking water, sanitation, electricity, housing, assets, cooking fuel, and bank account. What’s more, 25% of the population (5 lakh) do not receive adequate nutrition and are nutritionally deprived, 13% of the population (3 lakh) are educationally deprived and only 10% of the teachers at the secondary level are trained. These are some serious numbers and the concerned Government Departments as well as the Government of Nagaland need to be questioned and held accountable for such states of affairs. What is the Government of Nagaland doing for its people, its citizens? Are the people, most of who are poor, in Nagaland not allowed to have a decent life ~ that is access to proper drinking water, shelter, food/nutrition, health care, electricity, sanitation, education, and affordable housing?
Just to give context to these figures, the MPI indicates that 69% of the total households in Nagaland lack access to cooking fuel, and 70% of the household do not have proper housing. “To put a cherry on top”, as a saying goes, Nagaland leads, among all other States and Union Territories in India, in the total percentage of households without any assets, with 34% of the household. Meaning, that a quarter of the households (which is an astounding number) in our “Land of Festival” have no assets. Here we have outperformed and outdone all other States and Union Territories in the country. This certainly is a cause of celebration, or perhaps a big “FELICITATION” in all our local dailies is in order; after all, it is a kind of achievement that has taken a lot of effort on the part of our State leaders (to be precise: political, governmental, law and enforcement, technical, bureaucratic, and other public servants) in the past 30-40 years to bring our State into such a condition. A condition where the poor refuse to insist on their dignity and human self-respect and where the calamity and day-to-day hardships of the poor are neglected by the indifferent public, news media, parasitic community leaders, civil organizations, academics, church and their own elected leaders. And when this 75% of the population (13 lakh people) do not voice their plights and hardships, in the eyes of the remaining 25% of the population, there is no poverty. This is to say that society does not care. “What poverty? Where is the poverty?” may well be the response one may get when inquiring about poverty in Nagaland.
Everyone in Nagaland talks and voices their opinions on many varieties of issues, especially Naga political issues, clean elections, development, human rights, hornbill festival, and so forth. These are all valid, yet rarely do we hear about the poor and poverty in our State. It gives the impression that there is no poverty. The reality, however, is that most people in Nagaland are apathetic to the poor or their plight. Most people in Nagaland have the mentality that “as long as I am fine and get what I want, Hell with the rest!” Thus, the poor rarely comes into the picture whenever the society and the State speak of development or taking care of the welfare of the people.
There is also one irony to all these states of affairs in Nagaland. As long as the poor (which accounts for 75% of the population in Nagaland ~ according to NITI Aayog’s SDG) are neglected and their plights are not alleviated, no matter what political leaders, Government bureaucrats (including law enforcement, technical engineers, etc.), and numerous civil societies may deafeningly voice about ways to tackle unemployment, corruption, clean election and development challenges will not work. Indeed, it is quite hilarious to hear the upper helms of political leaders say “look beyond Government jobs.” That’s also in students’ graduation ceremony. What a mockery. It is like a very bad and cruel joke on the students and youths ~ most of whose parents will no doubt be struggling to make their ends meet. And given the weak and pitiable socio-economic and developmental infrastructure in the State (and hence fewer employment opportunities with decent living wage), most of these students (especially those without any kind of family, tribal, political, governmental, or bureaucratic connections) will no doubt end up living below the national poverty line, that is, become poor. It is such political leaders and Government servants that brought the State to a grinding halt with no other avenues for decent living other than the Government jobs, and now they dare to say “look beyond Government jobs,” “be a job creator, not job seekers,” “get skills,” and numerous other overused slogans to hide their handprint in the collapse and non-existence of basic infrastructure necessary for economic development and thus shut the door on producing numerous alternate avenues for a decent employment. Other States in India are known for their manufacturing hub, IT hub, transport hub, commercial hub, production and service hub, while it seems perhaps that Nagaland is good at or will be known for poverty hub or producing the poor. Very soon, in the next coming years, we might as well add to these another achievement: unemployment. The wealth disparities in Nagaland are severe, thus the high rate of inequality and poverty in our state. And a high rate of poverty is an indication of a high rate of unemployment or employment that keeps people poor and below the national poverty line.
If the State and society are serious about what they proclaim publicly, then the NITI Aayog’s SDG indicators are the way forward in tackling many of the challenges in Nagaland. These 9 indicators where Nagaland is performing below the par (such as hunger, health care, inequality, lack of quality education, lack of decent work and economic growth, lack of sustainable communities, lack of quality of life on land, gender inequality, lack of infrastructure and industry) should give us a good idea about what needs to be done, what needs to be prioritized. Rather than needlessly waste valuable resources on issues that will never be resolved. As long as there is a high rate of poverty in Nagaland, there will be corruption in all its various forms (nepotism, patronage, bribe, embezzlement, favouritism, backdoor appointment, tribalism), lack of development (compromised workmanship: a good and relevant example of this is the small width of the 4-lane road in Dimapur, which is smaller than National standard), and unemployment.