information and stories about India.

Goonj
Goonj is a non-governmental organization working in various parts of India. It aims to share unused and unrequired materials from urban households with people living in rural areas to fulfill their needs. The organization believes that countries and economies can use urban discard to alleviate poverty and enhance the dignity of the poor.

The organization works across 23 states in India with 250 partner groups. It has offices with 150 full-time people and thousands of volunteers. The organization receives about 80-100 tonnes of material each month and turns it into material that people can productively use in the remote and impoverished areas of the country. In its latest annual report for 2017 to 2018, Goonj highlights that it has been able to reach over 3,600 villages in India and has dealt with more than 4,000 tonnes of material.

Various Initiatives

Goonj has performed various activities in different fields of work from 2017 to 2018. Some of its highlights include sanitation activities where it repurposed basic essentials like clothes and utility items into materials for women to use during menstruation. In addition to this, its initiative, Not just a Piece of Cloth, also aims to break the culture of shame and silence around menstruation. It turns these cloths into biodegradable clothes for women to use. When people from urban areas contribute their cotton bed sheets, curtains and shirts, the organization turns them into cloth pads for women in rural areas. It also holds gatherings for women to talk openly about the issue of menstruation, which many still consider a stigma in Indian society.

In the field of education, Goonj’s initiative School to School works towards using urban school material to address gaps in the rural education systems in India. Goonj was able to share 39,416 school kits to over 2,100 schools and 1,200 educational setups in villages. In addition, children in rural areas learn value for their belongings as they take up various educational and behavioral change activities which reward them these school kits. Not only does this initiative provide the poor with resources for education, but it also teaches them values.

Other areas of work that the organization focuses on are road repairs, disaster relief and health that it can perform with the excess raw materials it receives. Its initiative Cloth for Work works on rural developmental activities while Raahat provides disaster relief. Meanwhile, Green, an in-house brand, creates items from the last bits of materials it receives. These are also extremely successful ventures and have impacted a large population of the country.

Awards and Recognition

Goonj has received various awards for the work it does all over India. In 2012, NASA and the U.S. State Department chose it as a Game-Changing Innovation and in the same year, Forbes magazine listed Anshu Gupta, Goonj’s founder, as one of India’s most powerful rural entrepreneurs. In recognition of its important work, Goonj has received the Japanese Award for Most Innovative Development Project by the Global Development Fund and continues to impact the country to build sustainability and impact the rural population.

– Isha Akshita Mahajan
Photo: Flickr

EdTech in India
Education Technology, also known as EdTech, is a current driving force for major improvements to education in India. The information and communication technology placed in school systems throughout the country helps bring outside knowledge to classrooms that would have been previously inaccessible. Edtech has recently dropped in pricing, making the equipment and technology easily accessible in less developed areas and easier to implement in impoverished schools.

Four Key Facts About India’s Educational System

  1. India has one of the largest populations of school-age children, with an estimated 270 million children between the ages of 5 to 17.
  2. The country has four main levels for education: pre-primary from ages 3 to 6, primary from ages 6 to 10, secondary from ages 11 to 17 and tertiary from ages 18 to 22.
  3. Children must attend school from ages 6 to 13.
  4. School systems have seen a major increase in student enrollment in recent years, with a 15.37 percent increase of total gross enrollment in secondary education between 2009 and 2016.

While enrollment has increased, education in India is still behind with teaching methods and test scores. Many students test poorly in math and reading skills and teaching quality decreases in rural areas. In 2015, the mean achievement scores for math at a national level for rural areas was 247, while the urban score was 256. Urban areas also scored 19 points higher in English, with a mean score of 263. With less access to teachers and educational materials, the rural school systems face more deficits than urban areas.

Education technology is a relatively new concept for foreign countries, but the benefits to technology-infused classrooms are well known. Below are three benefits of increasing EdTech usage in Indian school systems.

Three Benefits of Increasing EdTech Usage in Indian Schools

  1. EdTech Bridges the Gap Between Rural and Urban Education: EdTech incorporates text, audio and video to teach and elaborate on classroom subjects. This technology fills in knowledge gaps when teachers are absent or less educated with certain materials. The language in these materials is also more streamlined, making topics easier to understand for a multitude of students. Video lessons make classes more consistent in all schools, eliminating the variation of teaching materials around the country. These programs also make student data more accessible to teachers, with some methods collecting and compiling data on student progress for teachers to be able to track progress and note areas that need improvement.
  2. EdTech Programs Emphasize Specialized and Individual Learning Plans: Education in India has previously been less effective at aiding students individually; through the implementation of EdTech, schools are better able to cater to students’ needs and adapt specific programs to better suit individual learning styles. Mindspark, an Indian based company that delves into education through videos, games and questions, is working to pique students’ interest in non-traditional ways. The software takes the basic values of comprehension for each student and adapts lesson plans to better fit their needs. The company recently worked with over 600 students in Delhi, citing increases in understanding of math and Hindi.
  3. EdTech Forms a Collaborative Space for Education: As more teachers begin to incorporate the newer technologies into the classroom, lesson plans will become more consistent in each region. Teachers will also be able to share effective teaching strategies using newer technology to benefit classrooms with less access to EdTech. This technology also makes information about students’ success more accessible to parents. Automated messaging to parents regarding progress can increase test scores for students overall.

While Edtech is benefitting education in India, foreign investments heavily fund the current ventures. Further development into education technology would require extensive partnership with the government, but some are taking steps to bring more technology into Indian classrooms. Prices for tablets and computers have decreased in recent years, making these educational programs more accessible to the multitudes. Many state-run schools have some access to these newer programs, and India is making more strides towards providing EdTech for students in all regions.

– Kristen Bastin
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Modern Slavery in India
India, with a population of approximately 1.29 billion people, is the world’s second-largest country. The South Asian nation currently has the third-highest overall GDP in the world. However, though it ranks third in overall GDP, India’s GDP per capita is considerably lower. This ranks India as 156th out of all the countries in the world. Certainly, a number of factors affect this disparity between national wealth and individual economic hardship. That said, one thing is certain: with an estimated 21.9 percent of the population living below the poverty line, India’s lack of wealth distribution feeds directly into the intersection of poverty and modern slavery in India.

Slavery is Still Prevalent

Many may not be familiar with the fact that slavery is still a very real issue in countries like India. This is because it simply does not receive the same media coverage as other topics. Slavery is quite prevalent in present-day India, especially in rural areas that heavily rely on agriculture. In fact, according to estimates by the Global Slavery Index, approximately 18.3 million people are living in modern slavery in India. This staggering number represents a portion of the many impoverished people in India who are trying to emerge from their socioeconomic situation.

Vishnu Rao-Sharma, a student who frequented New Delhi, gave The Borgen Project some insight on poverty and modern slavery in India. Rao-Sharma recalled that “Poverty in India is so jarring because of how visible it is. Within just miles of the New Delhi airport, one is plunged into a devastating reality that is foreign to many first-time visitors. This reality consists of mangled limbs, emaciated bodies, and rotting teeth. No one is spared. Indian men, women and children are all prone to India’s seemingly inescapable poverty.”

Lack of Other Options Leads Indians to Become Slaves

The issue with combating poverty and modern slavery in India is that they both affect each other. This is why so many poor people in India have few options to survive. Rather than living on the street and begging, they have little choice but to enter into realities like bonded labor. Bonded labor, one of the most common forms of modern slavery in India, is most similar to many people’s idea of indentured servitude. This is a service agreement in which employers bind laborers to them. They work long, arduous hours in exchange for food, shelter and small sums of money. The lack of sufficient employment opportunities leaves many impoverished Indians with no choice but enter into modern slavery. This feeds right back into the cyclical nature of poverty and modern slavery in India.

Fighting Poverty and Slavery in India

Though India’s poverty and slavery situations may appear dismal, there are groups and initiatives focused on resolving such issues. For instance, the international organization GlobeAware fights poverty in India by sending people to help the poor. Another example is Anti-Slavery International, a group committed to eradicating all forms of modern slavery around the world. Organizations such as these are working tirelessly to try and improve the dreadful conditions for many people in India.

Since the issues of poverty and modern slavery in India are so interwoven, organizations around the world are working to free India from both. Eliminating even one would hopefully result in the elimination of the other issue. If more groups, like the aforementioned, could invest time, money and resources into improving living conditions in the nation, the outlook for the situation in India should improve. Viable solutions may not be so far down the road after all.

– Ethan Marchetti
Photo: Flickr

Child Labor in India
India is the second most populated country in the world with around 1.3 billion inhabitants and the seventh-largest country in terms of size. It is also a prominent figure in the United Nations and other international deliberative assemblies. The country’s top exports include petroleum, medicaments, jewelry, rice and diamonds with major imports consisting of gold, petroleum, coal and diamonds. India’s main trade partners are the United States, Saudi Arabia, China, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While the country wields power as a major partner in worldwide trade and holds the title of the 17th largest export economy, many Indians still struggle to make ends meet. Indian children, in particular, must carry the heavy burden of supplying for their families far more often than any child should. The following are 10 facts on the reality of child labor in India and what the country is doing to improve these children’s quality of life.

10 Facts About Child Labor in India

  1. Poverty is the main driving cause of child labor in India. There is often an increased reliance on child labor in India due to the need to provide a necessary income contribution to one’s household or out of an obligation to fund a family debt, especially considering the susceptibility of Indian families to enter poverty. In some cases, a child’s income amounts to 25 to 40 percent of a total household income.
  2. A lack of quality education also causes children—particularly girls—to turn to work. Girls are two times more likely to take on domestic jobs like cleaning, cooking and general housekeeping if out of school. Also, even though India’s 2009 Right to Education Act made education for 6 to 14 year-olds compulsory, it did little to improve the educational infrastructure across all of India. A 2006 survey found that 81,617 school buildings lacked blackboards to display class content on and that around 42,000 state-supported schools conducted classes and academic activities without an actual building.
  3. Child labor affects 5 to 14 year-olds disproportionately and is present in some of India’s most unsafe industries. Almost 60 percent of all working five to 14-year-olds are located in five of India’s 29 states. The latest available census found that of the 10.1 million children in India between the ages mentioned above, 2.1 million live in Uttar Pradesh, 0.1 million in Bihar, 0.84 million in Rajshahi, 0.7 million in Madhya Perish and 0.72 million in Maharashtra. Around 20.3 percent of Indian children work in hazardous industries such as mining gemstones and construction — even in spite of the existence of laws that are supposed to prohibit this activity in India.
  4. Indian legal rulings on child labor have brought about unorganized trade, called the informal sector–an area of trade that has little to no regulation on the production of goods. Though it is not the greatest source of GDP growth in India, the informal sector still constitutes 90 percent of the workforce in the country. Because of the nature of child labor and the need to often choose work over education, the majority of child laborers work in this unskilled sector. Government-mandated inspections are infrequent, and employers rarely uphold legal rights for workers and do not enforce minimum wage standards.
  5. Production work in India can range from seemingly harmless to very harmful. Many children at work in India take part in “bangle-making, stainless-steel production, bidi-making, hotels, and small automobile garages and workshops.” However, some of these workers experience serious health issues as a result of their involvement. One such sector is incense production, which causes respiratory tract problems. The ILO finds that girls are more likely to work in this sector, and as such, are often more susceptible to these health issues.
  6. A decades-old child labor law in India requires amendments to solve the issue of loopholes. The Child and Adolescent Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 defines a child as a person of 13 years of age or younger. This ruling prohibits children from working or from employers putting them to work. Adolescents are of age 14 or older, and may work in unhazardous occupations. The law, however, does not outline all types of work that can become unsafe after an extended period. The penalties for violating this rule are also not enough to encourage employers to move away from adolescent work.
  7. Maintaining child labor in India is detrimental to the country’s economy. Investing time and funding in children’s education upfront might feel like an economically unwise choice, but in the words of Frans Roeselaers, ILO International Programme director on the Elimination of Child Labour, “ [childhood education investment] gives enormous, almost astronomical returns in terms of both productivity and increased wages once the child grows up and becomes a worker.” Not only do companies benefit from more educated workers, but individual households will also experience an improved quality of life thanks to the higher salaries of the jobs more educated people can obtain. As a result, the government would also benefit from those higher salaries in the form of greater tax returns.
  8. India has made or is in the process of making various efforts to establish institutional unity and solve the child labor crisis. The state of Andhra Pradesh, India is working on an economic model that would eliminate the need for child labor and urge other Indian states to follow suit or use as its example as inspiration for similar approaches. The Universal Alliance of Diamond Workers (UADW) is working to establish the involvement of children in the gemstone industry as unsuitable in many respects. Also, the M. Venkatarangaiah Foundation in India has strategized different and adaptable approaches to “prevent early drop-out and involvement in child labor, by motivating parents, easing enrolment problems and bridging the gap between home and school.” The initiative utilizes groups of government teachers, officials elected to represent their community at a higher governmental level and other community members who have counsel to provide based on experience and observation. As this effort grew in acceptance and implementation, 85 villages rid their industries and establishments of any opportunity to utilize child labor.
  9. Recent updates to rules on child labor in India have resulted in improvement. As of 2017, the Indian government moved to ratify both ILO Convention 182 and Convention 138–two improved standards of labor laws that the country hopes to introduce as status quo in years to come. India’s leaders also devised a new National Plan of Action for Children that establishes the National Policy for Children. This policy focuses on helping improve the conditions and tolerance for continued child labor and child trafficking.
  10. There are several organizations already working to address India’s child labor crisis specifically. Groups like CHILDLINE India Foundation, Save The Children India and SOS Childen’s Villages India are all working to combat child labor in India.

Although India has a long way to go to eradicate child labor, it is making serious steps towards its goal. The help of various NGOs and the improvement of existing laws should help reduce child labor in India.

– Fatemeh-Zahra Yarali
Photo: Flickr

V Unbeatable
V Unbeatable appeared on the debut episode of the 14th season of “America’s Got Talent.” The episode kicked off a summer full of heated potential, as acts competed for a $1 million prize.

The premiere episode of the season aired on May 28, 2019. It featured one of the most talented dance groups in the show’s history with an incredible backstory. V Unbeatable is an acrobatic dance group from Mumbai, India. The group consists of 28 dancers between the ages of 12 and 27. Although the group collectively shares unique talent, its members also all fight for their lives every day in the slums in India.

A slum is a squalid and overcrowded urban street or district that very poor people inhabit. The members of V Unbeatable, like many others who live in these conditions, occupy a very crowded space, very dirty and lacks proper electricity. The lead dancer of the group said that seven to 10 people often live in one room. He explained how challenging it is to live in the slums as they lack proper sanitation and clean water.

V Unbeatable Performing on America’s Got Talent

The group stumbled across “America’s Got Talent” via YouTube. Since then, the group members dreamed about making it to America in order to audition in front of the judges in the hopes of changing their lives.

“When we dance, we forget all of the tensions in our mind and we feel free,” the lead dancer informed the crowd. He continued saying, “This opportunity can change our lives, and everyone wants to succeed to give back to their families.”

The acrobatic dance group performed a routine in which the members performed flips, tossed other members into the air and performed acrobatic feats using bamboo sticks. Their performance captivated a roaring audience and ended with a standing ovation from all four of the judges.

Upon completing their dance, Gabrielle Union, an American actress, told the group, “You blew us all away.” Julianne Hough, a dancer herself, told the team she was impressed with the trust the team had in one another — a true characteristic of a family. Simon Cowell, a top tier music producer, claimed the group was one of the best dance groups in the history of the show.

Advancing to the Judge Cuts with four yeses, V Unbeatable advanced in the competition. The group said that if it was fortunate enough to win, it would use the $1 million prize toward improving the conditions in the slums back at home.

Condition of India’s Slums

While V Unbeatable succeeded in “America’s Got Talent,” many back at home would continue to struggle for survival. About 6.5 million people or 55 percent of the population of Mumbai, India live in slums. Half of the slums are non-government notified. This means the people have no security of land tenure and cannot access city services such as clean water and sanitation.

Most slums do not have toilets despite housing seven to 10 people. Residents have to use the little money they have in order to pay to use community toilets. Seventy-eight percent of the toilets lack water supply, and 58 percent do not have electricity. Seven people have died from attempting to use the toilets and contracting a disease from the insanitation or becoming injured from the ground collapsing around the area.

The population of Mumbai, India also has 50,000 people living without any form of permanent shelter and would prefer the conditions of living in slums despite the horrendous conditions.

The Keep India Beautiful (KIB) nonprofit team spent a day exploring the conditions of the slums. The organization found garbage and filth everywhere. Toilets and showers had little if any water supply with zero privacy and schools had no water or electricity. People were using the public park as a dump yard while many people caused cramped conditions in the houses.

The people of Mumbai, India will be praying as V Unbeatable continues on “America’s Got Talent.” Despite living difficult lives, the dance group has provided hope and a potential support system for people struggling for survival.

– Aaron Templin
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts about Pollution in India
Experts around the world believe that pollution is killing millions of people. In fact, the Lancet Medical Journal believes that in 2015, pollution accounted for three times as many deaths as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. The report also said that it caused around nine million premature deaths. While pollution is an issue in almost every country, some nations deal with much higher levels than others. Year after year, India tops the list of the world’s most polluted countries. There are many important things to note about the problem, but here are the top 10 facts about pollution in India.

Top 10 Facts about Pollution in India:

  1. Eleven out of the top 12 cities with the highest levels of particulate pollution are located in India, according to a World Health Organization report. The report analyzed air monitoring stations across 4,300 cities worldwide in 2016. Kanpur, India tops the list, with a yearly average of 319 micrograms per cubic meter of the most harmful particle, PM2.5. Faridabad is next on the list, followed by Varanasi, Gaya, Patna and Delhi.
  2. Poverty and pollution are closely correlated. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization’s director general, says, “air pollution threatens us all, but the poorest and most marginalized people bear the brunt of the burden.” In developing countries, mechanisms like cookstoves, heating fuels and kerosene lighting contribute to pollution. Additionally, ineffective governmental standards for pollutants have exacerbated the issue.
  3. In India, children are most affected by pollution. India has one of the highest rates of child mortality, in part due to both toxic air and polluted waters.
  4. The country’s geographical distribution contributes to the problem. Agricultural practices like burning crop stubble are still commonly used. Its smoke wafts over big cities like Mumbai. Given that these regions are landlocked, it is difficult for the smoke to dissipate. Additionally, it often combines with traffic exhaust and factory emissions.
  5. Air pollution accounts for an estimated 12.5 percent of deaths in India. The State of India’s Environmental Report found that it also kills around 100,000 children less than five years old every year. The risk is also higher for girls than for boys in this age group.
  6. Eighty-six percent of Indian bodies of water are deemed “critically polluted.” A study conducted by the nonprofit group, Centre for Science and Environment, found that most polluted waters are in the Karnataka, Telangana and Kerala regions. This is likely due to an increase in highly polluting industrial presence.
  7. The country’s capital, Delhi, is looking for solutions. In 2018, the city created 52 teams to increase compliance and safety, as well as take quick action. Additionally, the Environmental Pollution Control Authority (EPCA) halted all construction in the area for 10 days in November when pollution seemed particularly bad. The EPCA is even looking at implementing more vehicle emission control in the near future.
  8. The state of Gujarat is implementing the first-ever “cap-and-trading” program to help reduce particulate air pollution. The state’s government will set a cap on industrial emissions and will allow companies to trade permits in order to meet requirements. It will be tested out in the industrial city of Surat first, as the city is home to high amounts of polluting industries.
  9. In January of 2019, India implemented the National Clean Air Program. Its goal was to cut pollution in 102 cities by 20-30 percent by 2024. Union Environment Minister, Harsh Vardhan, says: “Collaborative and participatory approach involving relevant central ministries, state governments, local bodies and other stakeholders with a focus on all sources of pollution forms the crux of the Program.”
  10. India’s political landscape could be making things worse. The existing anti-pollution laws are badly enforced. Dealing with a problem of this magnitude requires high levels of organization and crucial coordination across state lines. However, there is tension between urban and rural political leaders, making communication difficult.

– Natalie Malek
Photo: Flickr

Water Shortage in ChennaiWater has become a scarce commodity for residents in Chennai, India. Reservoirs once teeming with water are now dry lake beds. Water levels in the area are the fifth-lowest recorded in the last 74 years, sparking worry about future water shortages. Drought-like conditions paired with the limited access to water are driving city officials and residents to find alternative sources of water.

Why Access to Water Matters

Water is an integral part of everyday life in Chennai. At least 85 percent of the area is directly dependent on rain to recharge its groundwater. Agriculture is a big part of Chennai’s ecosystem and economy. Rain provides water for irrigation and livestock. Healthy living is another result of easy access to clean water. Rain provides water for drinking, cooking, cleaning and other household needs.

Rainfall is collected, stored and treated in four main reservoirs: Chembarambakkam Lake, Redhills Lake, Poondi Lake and Cholavaram Lake. These bodies of water depend on seasonal rainfall to replenish water levels year after year. At capacity, Chembarmbakkam holds 3,645 million cubic feet (MCFT) of water, Redhills holds 3,330 MCFT, Poondi holds 3,231 MCFT and Cholavarm holds 1,081 MCFT.

Recent records show that combined, all four reservoirs are at 1.3 percent of total capacity. In May 2019, Chembarambakkam only held one MCFT of water, Redhills held 28 MCFT, Poondi held 118 MCFT and Cholavarm held four MCFT. The water shortage is impeding the city’s ability to produce food, creating severe food insecurity and exposing its residents to unsanitary living conditions.

Factors Driving Chennai’s Water Shortage

Various factors are contributing to the water shortage in Chennai. The most observable factor is the lack of rain. Typically, India’s monsoon rain season occurs between June and September. Similar to a hurricane or typhoon, monsoons bring torrential rains across India which replenish the region’s water supply. For the past couple of years, Chennai has experienced lower than normal rainfall. Even monsoon rain levels were recorded to be 44 percent lower than the average in June 2019.

Lower rainfall, combined with scorching temperatures, has created drought-like conditions in the area. To make matters worse, Chennai continues to grow water-guzzling crops like sugarcane, rice and wheat. With no improvements in sight, some Chennai residents have chosen to migrate out of the area to avoid the consequences of the impending water shortage.

Response to the Water Shortage in Chennai

City officials and residents are responding to Chennai’s water shortage and drought. Here are three ways Chennai is increasing and conserving its water levels:

  1. Water Delivery – Affluent Chennai residents and businesses are relying on the water supply of neighboring cities. They pay trucks to deliver clean water to their homes and places of business. City officials are also following suit. They arranged for 10 million liters of water to be transported by train from Jolarpet, a city 200 kilometers away. The water will be pumped upstream in area lakes. Through the natural gradient, the water will flow downstream and help increase water levels. This practice recharges depleting groundwater in the region. As a result, Chennai will offset the crippling effects caused by the lack of rain as its green cover increases and agriculture receives a boost.
  2. Rain Harvesting – Non-affluent Chennai residents are digging trenches and embankments in an effort to increase their own access to water. Rain harvesting is a common practice in India, but the high cost of water delivery and below-average rainfall has made the practice more important than ever. While individual trenches and embankments cannot hold large amounts of water, they do give residents a chance to increase water levels in the area. The cost of upkeeping the rain harvesting structures is equivalent to $1.40. As a result, Chennai residents are able to increase their field productivity and maintain healthy livestock at a low cost.
  3. Micro-Irrigation – Agriculture methods are also changing as part of Chennai’s water shortage. Farmers are finding new methods of irrigation in efforts to conserve water. Recently, 1,000 solar pumps were added to cultivated areas. The solar pumps will help farmers distribute water more efficiently. The solar pumps also offset the cost associated with growing water-guzzling crops like sugarcane.

The Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board continues to monitor India’s water situation.

– Paola Nuñez
Photo: Flickr

Children in India
Conditions in India are constantly improving and the country has one of the highest rates of poverty reduction. Between the years 2005-06 and 2015-16, India transformed into a lower-middle-income economy by decreasing the number of poor people from 630 million to 360 million. By improving the standard of living, bettering nutrition and increasing public expenditure, India became home to the largest number of people coming out of poverty. While this improvement has greatly boosted India’s economy, children have also undergone positive changes that improved their lives in many aspects.

There are multiple issues children in India face, and although the challenges continue today, many children live a better life than they did 10 years ago. Here are some of the main problems children in India face and the ways in which the conditions have improved.

Education

Due to poverty, overcrowding and the lack of teachers, less than 50 percent of children receive a proper education. However, in the past two decades, the government has worked toward putting more children into schools. For example, India’s Education For All program has helped educate 200 million children, making it one of the biggest elementary education programs in the world. Additionally, this program has put around 20 million children into primary school since 2001. The government hopes to enroll all children in school regardless if they live in urban or rural areas. Ideally, students would complete school up until grade eight. Hundreds of millions of children would be uneducated and not have the opportunities they have now without the help of the government and the program.

Health Issues

Health has always been a serious issue in India, especially up until the 21st century. The gap between the rich and poor caused the poor to have little medical support which, in turn, increased the spreading of diseases. Private sectors, as well as the government, have set out to reduce the spreading of diseases and, so far, it has eliminated yaws, leprosy, Guinea worm and polio. Infant mortality rate, another serious health problem, has been steadily declining over the past decade. The National Family Health Survey taken in 2015-16 indicated that since the previous survey (2005-06), 57 children out of 1,000 died before reaching the age of one. Now, the number has decreased to 41 deaths out of 1,000. The improvements in underweight children younger than five years have also decreased from 42.5 percent in 2005-06 to 35.7 percent in 2015-16. These health improvements are continuing to help the lives of many children and families.

Violence

Inequality between males and females has caused violence to emerge toward women and girls alike. Violence, abuse and exploitation are all serious struggles faced by many, and UNICEF, along with many other programs and organizations, has been acting to prevent such brutality. The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) has begun to standardize the response to sexual violence. The government has also recently launched the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) which protects all children in the country.

A lack of education, health issues and violence continue to threaten the wellbeing of children in India, but through government legislation and the work of NGOs, these conditions have been improving. If all goes well, they will continue to improve.

– Veronica Bodenstein
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in IndiaIndia is home to more than one billion citizens. According to a 2015 World Health Organization (WHO) report, of that billion, 56 million suffer from depression and 38 million have anxiety disorders. When adjusted for population size, India is the country with the greatest burden of mental and behavioral disorders, leading some to call the lack of mental health care in India a burgeoning crisis.

Although India is working to improve the mental health of its citizens, initiatives have been slow going. Some roadblocks to improving mental health are the social stigma, its low priority in the healthcare budget and a shortage of mental health professionals.

Stigma

One major barrier to improving mental health in India is the social stigma around mental illness. According to a survey by the Live Laugh Love Foundation, of the 3,556 respondents, 47 percent could be considered judgmental of people with mental illnesses while 26 percent were categorized as being afraid of the mentally ill. This study looked at people between the ages of 18 and 45 from different socio-economic backgrounds. Surprisingly, most of the respondents in those categories were well educated and from higher social classes. When asked to describe the mentally ill, many used derogatory terms or harmful stereotypes.

However, 26 percent of the respondents were categorized as supportive of people with mental illnesses. These respondents tended to be younger—between the ages of 18 and 24—and from a relatively lower educational and socio-economic background.

Advocates and activists are also working to destigmatize mental health in India. Recently, India passed the Mental Health Care Act of 2017, which protects the rights of people with mental illnesses so that they are treated without discrimination.

Low Priority

According to a 2015-16 survey by the Bengaluru-based National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience, 150 million Indians are in need of mental health care, but only 30 million have access to the care they need. Although India began implementing its National Mental Health Program in 1982 with the goal of integrating mental health care with general care, the rollout has been slow. As of 2015, only 27 percent of the 630 districts intended to have a mental health program had created one. The District Mental Health programs have also struggled with inaccessible funding and administrative issues like an inability to fulfill the required number of professionals for each district.

While this program has struggled, the government has been working on other means of improving mental health in India. In 2014, it began implementing its first National Mental Health Policy, which aims to increase funding for training mental health professionals and universal access to mental healthcare.

A Need for Mental Health Professionals

Perhaps one of the biggest roadblocks to improving mental health, though, is the extreme shortage of mental health professionals. In 2014, the WHO found that there is on average only one mental health professional for every 100,000 citizens. These doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists tend to be overworked leading to misdiagnoses in too many cases.

One way the government of Karnataka in southwest India has been trying to fill in the gap is with community health workers called accredited social health activists or ASHA workers. Though they usually are women who council other women in their communities on pregnancy, breastfeeding and parenting, in 2016, they began training these workers to identify and deal with mental health issues. While ASHA workers can help fill some of the gaps, there remains a need for more specialized care. India’s National Mental Healthcare Policy and District Mental Healthcare Policy is a good start, but for it to be successful, the Indian Government has to be proactive in training mental health professionals.

While people with mental illnesses are still struggling, the topic of mental health in India is gaining traction. Activists are working to destigmatize and protect people with mental illness while the government is working to increase accessibility to mental health professionals.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

AIDS in IndiaIndia has the third largest epidemic of AIDS in the world, as 2.1 million of its residents are currently affected. Fortunately, efforts to reduce this number have largely been effective as new infections declined by 27 percent between 2010 and 2017. The groups with the highest reported rates of infection are truckers, female sex workers, homosexual men and injecting drug users. Most projects that have been launched aim to target these populations. India’s Condom Social Marketing Program focuses on making condoms accessible in high risk areas such as truck stops and remote areas.

Groups such as Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha and India’s National AIDS Control Organization have successfully worked with female sex workers. Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha reported that 100 percent of the sex workers in their areas of work attended their free, voluntary HIV testing services, and in 2015 the National AIDS Control Organization had reached 77.4 percent of sex workers with their HIV prevention activities. Historical data shows that organizations like this have had a huge impact reducing AIDS in India. In 2017, new infection cases and AIDS-related deaths increased, by 8,000 and 7,000 respectively. Listed below are three issues that need to be addressed in order to decrease the prevalence of AIDS in India.

Stigma and Discrimination

Many of the populations affected by AIDS already face prejudice and discrimination both legally and socially. Once these groups are known to be affected by AIDs, the surrounding stigma increases. Previous discrimination also means many of these people do not have access to healthcare. For example, although sex work is technically legal in India, brothels are not. This serves as justification for hostile and often abusive treatment of sex workers by police. A 2011 study indicated a correlation between this abuse and increased rate of HIV transmission. Similar challenges are faced by women who are not sex workers but are still often treated as second class citizens because of their gender.

Educating the Young

Looking to the health of future generations, young people must receive education about AIDS and know how to avoid infection. In 2017 only 22 percent of young women between the ages of 15-24 and only 32 percent of young men knew how to prevent AIDS. Fortunately, the Adolescent Education Program and Red Ribbon Clubs are working with schools to improve their sex education curriculum and incorporate lessons on AIDS prevention. Additionally, UNICEF launched a program to provide sex education to children who are not in school.

Reaching the “Dark Areas”

One way that people learn about AIDS prevention methods is through popular media. For example, the National AIDS Control Organization works to increase awareness and condom use by launching radio, social media and television programs. Some rural villages in India that have high infection rates are also considered “dark areas,” because they lack access to these types of mainstream media services. One suggested approach to this issue is to send folk troops door to door in those areas with a rehearsed, entertaining message about AIDS prevention.

The progress to combat AIDS in India throughout the past decade has been impressive. However, considering the recent increase in infection, there is no reason to sit back and relax. Previously established organizations should continue their work and prioritize ending discrimination, bettering education and infiltrating rural areas. Making these changes will not only decrease the prevalence of AIDS, but also improve overall quality of life for people in India.

– Madeline Lyons
Photo: Flickr