Saturday, 16 June 2018

An agenda for New India

Devendra Kothari PhD
Population and Development Analyst
Forum for Population Action

Empowering deprived population will yield greater dividend

The policy paper- Nurturing Human Development: A Strategy for New India - provides a pragmatic and workable agenda for NEW INDIA based on the concept on Social Inclusion.[1]  India has been trying to achieve inclusiveness through reservations in government jobs and higher education. If the reservation system had truly worked to empower deprived or backward communities, the decades of its operation ought to have ensured an inclusive society. But we have seen that India is most unequal society in the world.  The paper provides an alternative framework to achieve social inclusion.

Productivity is a major determinant of economic growth and provides the basic trust for the improvement of the standard of living.  As per the International Monetary Fund, India became the seventh largest economy in the world in terms of GDP in 2016 but still it has a very-very low per capita GDP. As a result it is placed at 123rd position among 186 countries. This is perhaps the most visible challenge.

The results of the cross country analysis indicate that the level of productivity is negatively related to income inequality.[2] Even though India has made remarkable progress in various fields, pockets of exclusion continue to prevent millions of its people from realising their true potential. It is because of this that India has been ranked the most unequal large country in the world. The concern raised by many experts is that this equality is rising much faster than expected.  The top one per cent richest individuals in India appropriated six per cent of total income in the early 1980s, and now, this figure has gone up to twenty two per cent.[3] This suggests that wealth is not trickling down to the poor and India is turning into a ‘republic of inequality’.

As a result, over fifty per cent of India’s population (Box 1)  still has little or no access to basic facilities, such as quality education, health or sanitation even after the adoption of market-friendly strategies during the 1990s and record-high GDP growth in recent years.[4]   

Box 1
Sizable deprived population
Around 700 million (70 crore) out of the total population of 1350 million in March 2018 can be classified as deprived or Vanchit population. And, without empowering this population of 140 million (14 crore) families, mainly comprising Dalits, tribes, other lower castes including OBCs and Muslims, India cannot think of becoming a developed country.

What is the way out? The paper is based on the premise that only the well-being of the deprived population, capable of actively participating in the development process and in market economy, can ensure sustainable and inclusive development of the country. Bill Gates and Ratan Tata rightly noted:  “Human capital is one of India’s greatest assets. Yet, the world’s fastest growing economy hasn’t touched millions of Indian citizens at the bottom of the economic pyramid.”[5] It will, therefore, be more effective and rewarding if we can focus on the poor families and provide opportunities to them for upward mobility.

In fact, in the changed situation the poor people want upward social mobility, as evidenced by recent violent agitations. But the irony is that most political parties insist on imposing a social identity on their vote banks without in the least realising that these deprived people want other identities, or at least be associated with it – probably a more neutral identity which is not as closely linked with their given identity. These aspirations have come largely through media exposure, and through what one sees others doing (as proposed by M.N. Srinivas in the concept of “Sanskritisation”). Both Indian politics and society would, therefore, will be better served if we could move our discourse more towards identities like ‘aspirational’ middle class   rather than “be fixated around supposedly immutable ascriptive identities” like caste and religion.[6] This move will help the vast downtrodden population in achieving middle class identity leading to the creation of an inclusive society in the real sense. Now the crucial question is how to translate this premise into a concrete fundamental plan in policy framework and programme?

For this, India has to empower its people through a dedicated human development approach/strategy. The proposed approach is the central point of the paper, focuses on enhancing the richness of human life rather than simply the richness of the economy. It will enable ordinary people to decide who they want to be, what to do, and how to live. Also, it will help India transform its demographic dividend into an asset.

To start with, the process of human development must focus on five interventions, namely:  Improving the quality of school education, Strengthening WASH factors (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene), Enhancing primary health, Reducing gender gap, and most importantly Stabilizing the population by minimizing incidents of unwanted childbearing incidences and bringing down infant mortality. In addition, we recognize that shifting of excess labour from agriculture to non-agriculture sectors and managing climate change including the quality of air and water are important inputs in the process of human development.

How to implement the strategy? It may be recalled that the Government of India  has launched various pro-poor  schemes in  recent years such as ‘Swachh Bharat’, ‘Skill India’, ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’, ‘Ujjwala’, ‘Saubhagya’, and ‘Ayushman Bharat’ among others for financial inclusion and unlocking human potential. These schemes give new wings to aspirations of the poor.  However, it appears that these schemes may not serve the purpose since most of these are being implemented on a piecemeal basis and in isolation from the wider process of holistic development. No doubt, India needs a comprehensive policy package in place of incremental approaches to expedite the process of human development.

The paper, therefore, suggests a strategy entitled ‘HDPlus’ to identify the right beneficiaries or the target population. Additional inputs may be added looking at the needs of specific people/area. Hence, the framework has been termed as “HDPlus”.  It is based on a ‘whole child’ concept, that is child and his/her family should be the fulcrum of human development efforts and is being referred as ‘HDPlus families’. The concept is being described by policies, practices, and relationships which ensure that each child is healthy, educated, engaged, supported and encouraged. For this, integrating the child and his or her family more deeply into the day-to-day life of school and home activities represents an untapped instrument for raising the overall achievements including learning skills and health parameters, and hence improving overall productivity. In other words, creating an enabling environment at family and school levels is a way out to empower people.
Now the question arises how to identify the target population or HDPlus families?  In this framework, all government school-going children, aged between 6 and 14, and their families will be the target population for action. Most BPL (Below Poverty Line) families send their children to government schools, though some of them have started sending their children to the private ones too. The suggested framework will be implemented by government agencies in collaboration with civil (society) organizations as was done in the Pulse Polio campaign during the 1990s and the 2000s to eradicate the polio virus (Box 2).

Box 2
HDPlus framework: at a glance
HDPlus is an affirmative action framework to change the circumstances that lead to (or have led to) social exclusion.  Its main features are:

·         The focus of action will be all school-going children, aged 6 to 14, in government schools and their families (HDPlus families).
·         The focal point of various governments’ pro-poor schemes along with HD interventions will be HDPlus families.
·         The framework will be implemented by government agencies in collaboration with civil organizations.

India’s future is apparently bright, but it will depend on which direction our policies lead us to.  India has to develop not only in wealth but also in human potential. HD, therefore, is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenges of increasing productivity, reducing inequality, promoting sustainable development and building good governance (Box 3).  It is high time that the Government of India and research institutions focus on developing effective and smart human development agenda to unlock the human capital. And, the paper suggests a prototype - HDPlus.

Box 3

The major Benefits of the proposed HDPlus strategy:


·         It will trigger rapid economic growth on a sustainable basis, and India can be a developed country in a generation.

·         It will open new vistas for social mobility or an aspirational middle class identity, which are urgently needed for sustainable development of the country.
·         It will help to solve an array of seemingly intractable problems such as the battle over caste reservations, gender inequality and lack of opportunity for youth among others. 
·         It will redesign India’s future by providing its youth with innovative ideas/jobs, involving robotics and artificial intelligence.
·         It will reinforce the faith in liberal values.

[1] Based on the policy paper: Nurturing Human Development: A Strategy for New India by the author. It analyses what actions to be taken in the next 5 to 10 years to empower the people, especially the Satar Crore Vanchit (deprived) Bharatiya. It can be an effective political slogan.  For details, contact: Dr.  Kothari at: E mail: & Mobile: 91 9829119868.

[2] DiPietro, William R. 2014.  “Productivity Growth and Income Inequality,” Journal of Economics and Development Studies, Vol. 2 (3): 01-08.

[3] Chancel, Lucas and Thomas Piketty. 2017.  “Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj?”  WID, World Working Paper Series No. 2017/11, World Inequality Lab, Paris School of Economics.  Also refer at:
[4] Chancel, Lucas and Thomas Piketty. 2017.  “Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj?”  WID, World Working Paper Series No. 2017/11, World Inequality Lab, Paris School of Economics.  Also refer at:

[5] Gates, Bill and Ratan Tata. 2016. “New nutrition report underscores the importance of leadership in addressing stunting in India” at:

[6] Kapur, Devesh. 2018. “Middle class is an aspirational identity … people want other identities not as closely linked with their ascriptive identity” at:

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

CBSE results and Indian higher education system

Dr.  Devendra Kothari PhD
Population and Development Analyst

Forum for population Action

While the desired levels of research and internationalization of Indian campuses remain weak points, Indian higher education also suffers from a lack of funds, and its largely linear model with very little focus on specialization.”


The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has announced the Class 12 examination results on May 26, 2018. An analysis of the results brings very interesting facts, as noted in the TOI Edit: Give them wings: CBSE results reveal lakhs of students raring to go. The system mustn’t fail them[1]

CBSE’s Class 12 board examination results lay out neatly the contradictions of the Indian education system.  There is no dearth of bright students – 72,599 scored 90% or above and 83.1% of the 1.18 million students who took the test have passed. But rather than exult or be relieved these students face a harrowing time securing admission to undergraduate courses of their choice. Often the best among them head to a clutch of prestigious colleges in big cities amid uncertainty and insecurity over making it through.
This is most evident in Delhi University (DU) colleges where students from across the country flock to. First list cutoffs are known to soar over 99 per cent, not surprising considering that 12,737 students have scored over 95 per cent. Also note that CBSE is just one among other education boards and a ten million (crore)  or so students pass out of education boards run by state governments. While it is not clear whether the consistently rising pass percentages and topper scores are a result of quality improvements or a liberal testing regime, the trend does require higher education to play catch up.
It has tried to do so by increasing seats and courses in top institutions like DU and IITs. But unlike school education where the private sector has stepped up and catered to rising aspirations, this has happened more slowly in higher education, mainly because of the vice-like grip of UGC and AICTE. Granting more autonomy to decide fees, student intake, courses and industry partnerships can reverse the quality stagnation in higher education.
But analysing Class 12 CBSE results alone may not give a general picture of school education. For instance, ASER survey results (Pratham) show declining learning outcomes in lower classes and very little probability of those students reaching Class 12.[2]
But the CBSE results are an aspiration index that policy makers cannot ignore. For example, some toppers are contemplating going abroad to pursue undergraduate education. These students have the gap between foreign and Indian universities in mind. This suggests the need for education reforms at every level to ensure better quality. Both public and private education approaches have their task cut out.

According to CBSE results, Meghna Srivastava topped all India with 499 marks out of 500. This is the calibre of many young Indians, at least on education, but the system is letting them down and forcing them to seek greener pastures.

The higher education and research sector in India is not in a good shape, due to mismanagement. The Times Higher Education World University Rankings provide the definitive list of the world's best universities, evaluated across teaching, research, international outlook, reputation and more.  According to THE, not a single Indian university/institute gets a place in the top 200 world university rankings in 2016. [3] The rankings reveal that Indian Institute of Science (IIS) lies between 251 and 300 and IIT-B are ranked between 351 and 400.  On the other hand, China takes four places in the top 200 in 2016, up from two in 2015, with its leader Peking University joining the top 30, at 29th place (up from 42nd in 2015).

If the private sector is fulfilling a felt need in school education, it should be encouraged to do so in higher education as well. Open up the regulatory maze, in order that this space is not dominated by the political class. Foreign universities should be invited to set up campuses in India. Another major problem in higher education is getting good teachers.

[2] Kothari, Devendra. 2017. “Managing school education in India”, in Administrative Change, Vol. XLIV (2) 78-89.

[3] India Today. 2016. “World University Ranking 2015 to 2016: No Indian university in top 200, IITs and others in top 600”, India Today at:

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Promoting gender equality in India

Dr. Devendra Kothari

Population and Development Analyst
Forum for Population Action

In India there are two great evils. Trampling on the women, and grinding the poor  through caste restrictions. 

Swami Vivekananda
Our Women (p. 61)

Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenges of reducing poverty and promoting productivity. So, how is women's status in India? No doubt, in many ways, today is the best time in modern history of India to be a girl. Opportunities for a girl's successes are as unlimited as her dreams. It appears that the condition of women in India has undoubtedly improved in the last couple of decades. However, the extent of this improvement is mainly confined to middle classes. Even among middle class families, this change has been very slow and it has benefited only a small portion of women, mainly the educated ones and that too only in big cities.

According to Gender Gap   Index (GGI) Report 2017, released by the World Economic Forum, India is simply not doing enough for its girls/women. The country ranked 108 out of 144 countries in 2017, behind China and Bangladesh. In fact, India slipped by 21 places compared to 87th rank last year.  Further,   India’s ranking has been falling steadily since 2006 when the Index was launched. [1]  That is a shameful reflection of the condition of the women/girls in a country that is on a growth song. Available data indicate that   the poor health conditions and discrimination in opportunities for work and income still haunt women. It appears that India is simply not doing enough for its women to improve access to resources and freedom of movement as well as about decision making.  

As a result, India has witnessed an alarming increase in the number of missing girls. It is estimated that around 3 million girls in age group 0-6 have gone missing in 2011 Census. In other words, during 2001-11, on an average, the number of girls missing in India was 300,000 per year or 820 per day. The number of missing girls for the consecutive census periods 1981-91 and 1991-2001 were 0.5 million and 2 million, respectively.

As a result, India is among countries with the worst child sex ratios in the world. The 2011 census showed that the child sex ratio, number of girls per 1,000 boys between the ages 0-6, has dipped from 945 girls in 1991 to 919 girls in 2011.

To understand the rising phenomenon of missing girls, one has to analyse the complex calculus that Indian would-be parents go through - when to have a child, how many, and boy or girl. A survey, conducted by the Forum for Population Action, an NGO working on population and development issues,   in a community inhabited by the middle and lower classes including slum dwellers in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India in 2010  revealed some interesting facts (Table 1). The main objective of the survey was to understand the fertility preferences and contraceptive uses. Around 200 couples were selected randomly with the help of local telephone directory, who had married between 1990 and 1995. Though the sample size is small, findings indicate a strong preference for sons as well as for a small family. The survey findings clearly indicate that Indian women with son (s) are more likely to stop having children than those with any daughters; also indicate a strong relationship between family size and the proportion of female children in a family.

Table 1 Distribution of couples by number of children, Jaipur, India 2010
Couple with:
Number of couples
Percent of total couples
No children
One son
Two sons
One daughter
Two daughters
One son and one daughter
One daughter and one son
More than two children
Did not answer
Source: Kothari, Devendra. 2010. “Fertility preferences in an urban locality,
Rajasthan: An analysis of survey data”, FPA Occasional Paper 8, Forum
for Population action, Jaipur, India.

Also, the findings clearly indicate that the sex ratio is poor when women have one or two children, but gets better as they have more children. Two factors are at play here. One is sex-selective abortions and the other is sex-selective ‘stopping practices’, which is stopping having children based on sex of those born. It is observed that women stop childbearing if the first one or two births are sons and even girls.

The findings of the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS- 2015-16) support this trend. The survey showed that almost 30 per cent women with one child had got sterilised, suggesting that they had decided they did not want any more. Almost 84 per cent of women with two children had got sterilised. This was the case for 77 per cent of the poorest women who had two children and almost 89 per cent of women in the highest wealth quintile with two kids. This indicates that even poor do not want more children.

Now question arises why many couples don’t like the birth of a girl child? It is widely observed that growing up as a girl in India in the prevailing environment   is a challenge in itself. Girl/woman is made to feel like it is all her fault. It is just like that when investigating crimes of passion, the French Police are said to use the mantra – 'cherchez la femme' (find the woman) in establishing a motive. This preconceived notion that whatever the ills afflicting us, from crime to unemployment, girls/women must be at the root of them is gaining ground in India's male-oriented society.[2]

Much of the discrimination has to do with cultural beliefs and social norms that have become more pronounced in the deteriorating governance or low and order. There has been a continuous rise in the incidence of crimes committed against women over the years. Girls are raped, beaten, dumped even in the metros like New Delhi. Raising a girl child in such a situation is very difficult. One can ask questions: Save girl child for what? Eve-teasing? Dowry? Rapes? Domestic violence? This what we have in store for girls? This is why we want to save them?

It appears that female's abhivyakti (expression), khvaab (dream), or kalpana (fantasy) frightens males. And they want to regulate it by hook and crook. It appears “women are not born, but made”. What better than India to exemplify this statement by Simone de Beauvoir, made some 70 years ago.  [3]  One has to recognize that high GDP or economic growth   alone does not automatically empower women nor does it reduce gender inequality.

What do we do then? No doubt, expanding education and employment opportunities will help in achieving gender equality but that may take more time. To expedite the process, “we need men to be allies”, as argued by Melinda Gates, in her article: Women Transform Societies, based on Indian experiences. [4]  Expanding argument, she writes: “women's empowerment can't be just about women; it also has to be about men - the fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons – with whom they live their lives.”

In my paper - Empowering Women in India: Need for a Feminist Agenda - it is argued that there is an urgent need to formulating a feminist agenda to empower women living in highly patriarchal and traditional surroundings with several obstacles. [5]  The ‘agenda’ is based on the premises that  efficient policing, stringent punishments and legal measures would reduce the incidences of crime against women but these cannot eliminate growing gender inequality in India unless and until the mindset of the society changes. Women-centred reproductive health care along-with enlarged education and employment opportunities for females may alter patriarchal constructs despite strong structural resistance. And this feminist agenda will contribute to women’s empowerment significantly and reduce gender gap.

That can happen only from more deliberate and direct public policy interventions to change the mindset. Men does what does they see in their own family and surroundings. People question government’s inability, but it would require reforms in child rearing as well education in schools regarding gender equity - respecting women and their dignity. Mothers need to learn to treat daughters equally as they do for their sons.  It means one has to work at the family level.  With the help of grassroots workers like ASHA and Anganwadi Workers, one can achieve this. These workers should be trained to change the minds of young and old about everything: from the age at which girls should be married to whether men and boys should help with housework. And such campaign will drive home the point that girls are to be celebrated.

The path ahead looks long, winding and hazy. However, the present administration shows the promise and will to clean the path, albeit slowly. The government also recognizes that gender equality is part and parcel of the country's future; and campaigns like “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save the girl child, educate the girl child) will help promote gender equity. To make BBBP more effective, the government has clubbed it with Nutrition (Poshan) Mission on the International Women Day 2018. 

[1] The index measures gender gap as progress towards parity between men and women in four indicators: (i) Educational attainment, (ii) Health and survival, (iii) Economic opportunity, and (iv) Political empowerment.

[2] TOI Edit. 2015. “Jobs (only) for the boys: Women are being seen as the root of all our ills, including unemployment” at:

[3] The Second Sex (FrenchLe Deuxième Sexe) is a 1949 book by Simone de Beauvoir, in which the author discusses the treatment of women throughout history. Beauvoir researched and wrote the book in about 14 months when she was 38 years old. The Second Sex is often regarded as a major work of feminist philosophy and the starting point of second-wave of feminism.  

[4] Gates, Melinda. 2016. “Women transform societies”, Times of India at:

[5] Kothari, Devendra. 2014. “Empowering women in India: Need for a Feminist Agenda”, Journal of Health Management, 16 (2),  233-43