India is often called “the largest democracy in the world”. The country is experiencing financial growth, but at the same time encountering significant challenges in regards to the political issues of poverty and climate. India’s population has exceeded 1.2 billion inhabitants. Experts predict India to pass China in a few years. Close to 50 percent of the population is below the age of 25, resulting in problems such as creating enough schools, jobs, residences, and healthcare. India is among the countries in the world providing the poorest healthcare to its population. It is also among the countries topping the list of child malnutrition in the world. 43 percent of under-fives are underweight and susceptible to illnesses and fatal diseases.  India is also the country with highest number of illiterate people.

But this country encounters other challenges also. Today India is a secular democracy and the caste system originating from Hinduism was abolished when the former British colony became independent in 1947. Liberation took place as a result of non-violent protests against British rule under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. After the liberation several violent actions between Muslims and Hindus resulted in the partitioning of India into two states, India and Pakistan. Even today these two countries have a tense relationship.

The women of India often have to endure the worst living conditions. India is ranked as the fourth most dangerous country for a woman to live in, topped only by Afghanistan, DR Congo and Pakistan. Harassments and violence against Indian women occurs both in the public and private sphere. Domestic violence and violence in close relationships are widely spread.

Girls are suffering the most
The focus on women’s rights has increased in India. The country now has a domestic, national commission for women working to protect and defend women’s rights. There are numerous national laws protecting women’s rights and securing women the same rights as men. Even though women and men formally have the same political and economical rights, there’s still a long way to go in reaching real equality.  The role of women in the society is diverse, depending on their regional, religious, ethnical, and economical affiliation. To a great extent, women in India suffer from discrimination and different kinds of violations of their human rights. Rape is an everyday issue in India; still most of them are never reported. The normal reaction from the woman’s family is to conceal the trespass and never inform or report of the abuse either to the police or anyone else.

Female feticide
A huge number of baby girls are being aborted, strangled, poisoned, frozen or starved to death, for the sole reason of being a female. Socio-economic conditions are often the reason for girls being deselected. The practice is for parents or relatives to pay a dowry to the bridegroom’s family along with the bride.  Dowry is seen as a balancing custom so that the daughter also gets a share of her parent’s property, since the laws favor the sons. This is to give the newlyweds financial help from both the husband and wife’s families. This practice may leave a family as debt slaves for a lifetime, resulting in girls being deselected. Even though the payment of dowry was prohibited by law over 50 years ago, the problem is rather increasing than decreasing.  

Hindu funeral rites may also affect boys being more attractive than girls. As you die, the Hindus believe your soul transmigrates to a new creature being born. This circle of rebirthing is referred to as “samsara”, and is without origin or ending. The goal of all Hindus is to surpass rebirthing by achieving “moksha”, which is liberty in the Hindu belief system. Hindu funeral rites may therefore affect boys to be more attractive than girls. The belief system says that a father can only achieve “moksha” if a son is lighting the funeral fire. So a son brings great honor to a family, while a daughter becomes a financial disaster.

As millions of baby girls are being murdered, a new problem is arising. The unbalance between the genders is increasing and the government has prohibited gender information to be given while at ultrasound.  Still, abortion and killing of baby girls prevails in India.

Equal rights
The Indian Government has prohibited the division of people into a caste system, but it is still practiced in the greater parts of society. The system groups people into four castes, and below these four are the untouchables. The untouchables have no rights at all. According to the government all the citizens of India have the same rights. There is rapid abolition of the system in the cities, yet in the slum areas the untouchables are experiencing severe discrimination.

The outcast
Each year hundreds of thousands of Indians become infected by leprosy, and in addition they experience being expelled by family and society. Leprosy is a chronic infection, particularly affecting the skin and nerves. The infection can be treated, but the sequelas are chronic. The healthcare provided in India suffers major deficiencies, leaving huge numbers of those being infected by leprosy untreated.

Huge poverty
For a great number of Indians it is very difficult to escape the severe poverty ruling their lives. Poor people often lack education and a fixed income. If you are lucky and find a job, it’s often occasional work giving occasional income. And in this situation you are without any rights or protection if you get sick or injured at work. Most of these people don’t know anything about their rights and they have no understanding of the need of education for their children. Officially 37 percent of the country’s population is living below the poverty line of USD 1 a day. At the same time many Indians are enjoying good living conditions.

A weak education system
As many as 270 million Indians don’t know how to read and write, and 2/3 of them are women. Each state in India is required by the Constitution to provide 8 years of free and mandatory education for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. Education is supposed to be free, providing equal opportunities for all the children. In the late 1990’s close to 100 percent of the children started elementary school, while less than 50 percent completed secondary school. Only six percent graduated from college or university.  

The different states are responsible for the curriculum for elementary and secondary school, resulting in huge differences in the quality of education the children are given. In the public schools it is very normal for one teacher to have a hundred students in one class. Consequently those that can afford to, choose to send their children to private schools. This only increases the gap between the rich and the poor.

High child mortality
Even though India has signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, numerous Indian children experience violations of their human rights. No other country in the world can compare to the high child mortality we find in India. Each year 1.83 million children under five die in India. Worldwide, one in five children under five that dies is Indian.  Poor hygiene, lack of knowledge about health and diseases, lack of vaccines, and malnutrition among the poor, are the prevailing causes.

The Red Cross claims that the high child mortality rate in India is meaningless, because countries with lesser resources have managed to solve the problem. According to The Red Cross a greater effort placed on providing poor children and their families with access to healthcare, sufficient amounts of food, clean drinking water, proper hygiene, and education, will reduce the high child mortality rate. The hindrances of discrimination and prejudice have to be abolished. The Health Service must focus on social integration of the untouchables and indigenous, ensuring them access to healthcare. The health workers must be trained in the areas of birthing and upbringing. Political leaders must focus on abolishing malnutrition, support breastfeeding and nutritional supplements, aid to children and mothers, provide nutritional education, treat acute diarrhea, develop food safety systems, and adjust and improve the agricultural production. The Red Cross also advocates for the government to set goals for reduction of child mortality and to plan how to reach them.

According to UNESCO, if women in the country had completed secondary education it would bring down child mortality by 61 percent. They claim education to be the most effective way to improve children’s health. Educated women have greater knowledge and awareness of their rights, leading to confidence and freedom to make decisions affecting their own lives, and increasing their potential for work.  Education also leads to knowledge of theirs and their children’s health, increasing their chance of survival. Also UNESCO advocates for girls to live at school dormitories, as this in their view, is the most effective way to prevent child marriage and preterm births.

Dina in India

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Indians infected with leprosy. The Dina Foundation supports victims of the infection and are ostracized from society.
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Leprosy infected in Hyderabad

Weekly we distributes food to leprosy infected people living in the poor sub-districts of Hyderabad.