Understanding India Through Faces of Inequality

In the second half of the year 2021, there was a rejuvenation of the age-old debate of India vs Bharat, through comedian Vir Das’ Two India, at his performance in Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. This spared an unprecedented wave of criticisms from urban nationalists and right-wing sympathizers. In our consciousness, we all knew about the drastic dichotomy in terms of social, economic, political, and cultural disparity existing in the rural/ semi-urban and urban/metros. But we often feel offended when the obvious is not sugar-coated to a worldwide audience. The ignorance to accept the existence of these problems has been the hurdle towards solving the problem itself. Mr. Pradeep Baisakh’s book Faces of Inequality, explicitly and methodically explains the various socio-economic and political problems in India from the eyes of humanitarian journalists and social workers.

The book, named after a worldwide campaign initiated by the Global Campaign for Action against Poverty (GCAP), where Mr. Baisakh is currently placed, is a deep dive into the practical and theoretical structure of inequalities. The book also follows the path of addressing diverse structures of influence among the haves and have-nots and provides a deep analysis of the stark gap existing in the country. The story of Jinthu, demands your attention with a gruesome commentary on the state of affairs faced by the underprivileged in face of acute hunger and starvation. In Part I, extending the insights in a greater attempt by the state to cover up the hunger death to boost the human development indicators, is denying justice to the marginalized communities.

He further explores the nature of inequality through the distress migration of the Dalits and Adivasis (most marginalized communities) in the country. He expresses the nature of social hierarchies in terms of livelihood, decent wages, access to services, justice, and peace. Part 2 of the book explains the nature of work, the hardship within the workplace, and the blatant exploitation faced by these communities and their families in their quest for survival. He explores the patriarchy and gender discrimination instilled with physical, mental, and sexual violence by the brick owners towards their women workers, and exemplars the nature of social atrocities faced by the Dalit and Adivasi communities in the country. The migrant crisis during the lockdown shows the ugly side of unskilled/semiskilled industry in the country, which systematically ignores the right to life of the interstate migrants and their access to basic needs. The graphic representation of migrants walking hundreds of miles during the lockdown, without food, water, and proper protective gear in the first wave of the pandemic is heartbreaking. The story of Rakesh, a homeless migrant from Odisha, emotionally breaks down while begging for food encapsulates the story of millions of migrants in India.

The book not only expresses the saddened nature of underprivileged communities in India, but it also provides the positive influence of people’s collective demands and actions. He also shed light on the impact of self-help groups (SHGs) in India and their impact on the social and economic sustainability of women from marginalized communities. The women’s movement has had rare structural success stories in the country which not only depended on financial inclusion but also on socioeconomic and political inclusion. He emphasizes the success of the people’s movement resulting in positive steps taken by the government to provide suitable services that benefit the marginalized. The resilience shown by the Delhi slum dwellers against all odds to fight for their right to access the public distribution system is a remarkable example. On the other hand, the government has also proactively established a system towards ensuring the welfare of the poor and marginalized, like in the case of the Government of Odisha’s efforts during the pandemic to avail food for all through the help of SHGs for reaching the underreach and unreached populations.

In conclusion, Faces of Inequality is a grounded, brash, and raw reality check on the socio-economic divide and clandestine structures that enforce this status quo. It not only introduces the urban educated to the rural reality but also sheds light on the urban poor and their issues. It strives for inclusion- of gender, caste, tribe, age, class, income, location, disability, and minorities among others, whilst India strives for a 5 trillion economy and global guru of everything. The book acts as a guide for all human rights and social development professionals, sustainable development and inclusion specialists, public policy specialists, policymakers, government officials, lawyers, and media professionals, as well as a must-read for all.