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Divided We Stand

On our standard 1 hour commute to everywhere we go in Hyderabad, when not bantering with my travel mates I often find myself gazing out the window and surveying the scenes around me. Despite having already spent a significant amount of time living and working in developing countries, I am still always struck by the juxtaposition of the haves and the have nots.

This contrast became ever apparent this past weekend as we meandered through the city, visiting many of the local tourist destinations. We drove through a neighborhood called Jubilee Hills, home to some of the wealthiest Indians in Hyderabad such as Tollywood actors (think Bollywood but in Telugu). The lavish, capacious mansions perched high upon the hills off the main road seemed those of a dream.  We also toured HITEC city, a new township of the city that is the hub of the rising information technology industry and home to companies like Google and GE Capital. The towering modern skyscrapers cast shadows onto the dirty, chaotic street below and seemed misplaced.

On this very same drive, we also passed by countless beggars with missing limbs, malnourished young children sitting on the side of the road, and expansive slums with huts composed of tarps and scrap metal.

In order to substantiate these contrasts that I see on a daily basis, I consulted my good friend Wikipedia to learn more about economic inequality in India. Not surprisingly, the 2nd most populous country in the world is home to the largest number of billionaires. However, an appalling 836 million people still live below the poverty line (and by poverty I mean <50 cents per day). And the income gap is widening.

Economic inequality is often measured by the national Gini coefficient, which is a number between 0 and 1, where 0 corresponds to perfect equality and 1 corresponds to perfect inequality.  India’s number has been growing considerably, rising from 29.6 in 1990 to 38 in 2011.  As one can imagine, the effects of these inequalities are far-reaching: from increased rates of obesity, mental illness, incarceration, and drug use, to lower rates of social goods (i.e life expectancy, educational performance, women’s status, social mobility, etc).

As I round on the medical wards here and look into the eyes of the very people that have been disenfranchised by this inequality, I feel both deeply sad and frustrated at the status quo.  While I am by no means an economist and cannot begin to fathom the efforts it would take to remedy this situation, I wonder, who will stand up for the have nots?

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