For the 407 million Indians who survive on less than $1.25 a day—42 per cent of the population—hunger, insecurity and ill health overshadow every aspect of life. Most of these people are born into poverty and deprivation; others join their ranks because their meagre resources are depleted by debt, displacement by development projects, and the deepening failure of agriculture. The scale and intensity of poverty make it the single biggest challenge confronting India as a nation.
It is clear that reducing poverty depends on helping the poor get access to means of livelihood. Productive assets such as land-based resources, financial capital, tools and raw materials are essential for this, as is education, training and access to secure and remunerative jobs. Addressing poverty thus requires changing political and economic policies at the highest level so that giving opportunities to the poor becomes a priority. It also requires fighting against local oppression and corruption so that the poor are able to control resources that are rightfully theirs.
Over the last two decades, economic liberalization has failed to address the crisis of poverty. Skewed policies that favour corporate firms and elite social groups have worsened inequality, making it even harder for the poor to improve their lives. SRUTI Fellows have witnessed this growing gap in the areas where they work. They are addressing it at various levels: by participating in nation-wide movements against projects that displace the poor; by fighting to secure local rights to land, water and forests; and by working through panchayats to implement public works and employment programmes. They are also working to broaden the debate about poverty and development by enabling the poor to put forth their perspectives in forums from which they have so far been excluded.