Photo: Flickr / Deanne J
An essay by The Hindu’s Harsh Mander describes what it’s really like to live like India’s rural poor. Matt and Tushar, two flatmates and college grads participating in the country’s welfare initiative, Unique Identification Project, decided to see how the other half lives by surviving in Bengalaru on Rs. 100 a day, the average Indian’s income.
Eventually they scaled back to Rs. 26 a day, the official poverty line for Indian villagers.
From limiting their travel to no more than 5 km per day and subsisting on a “diet” of parboiled rice, bananas and black tea, the two 26-year-olds found their lives ever-restricted and each choice—laundry or soap? healthcare or food?—fraught with sacrifice. Writes Mander:
“What changed for them was that they spent a large part of their day planning and organising their food. Eating out was out of the question; even dhabas were too expensive. Milk and yogurt were expensive and therefore used sparingly, meat was out of bounds, as were processed food like bread. No ghee or butter, only a little refined oil …
They walked long distances, and saved money even on soap to wash their clothes. They could not afford communication, by mobile and internet. It would have been a disaster if they fell ill. For the two 26-year-olds, the experience of ‘official poverty’ was harrowing.”
India’s Mean National Income is around 4,500 a month (Rs. 150 a day), though 75 per cent of Indians live far below that. Lacking a safety net isn’t uncommon for them. It is simply their way of life.