Indian history goes back thousands and thousands of years, filled with conquests and foreign emperors taking claim on the rich lands of India. The most notable of these were the Muslim Mughal emperors from Persia who controlled India during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The late eighteenth century marked the beginning of Britain’s involvement in India, which proved vital to Britain’s trade and prosperity as one of the world’s leading powers. The integral importance of India as ‘the jewel in the crown’ of the British Empire was confirmed with Queen Victoria becoming Empress of India in 1876, placing control of Britain’s possession of India under the British Empire. Such control lasted until 1947, when finally calls from Indian nationalists such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru were answered with Indian independence. Through independence came partition and the creation of Pakistan, but at the cost of thousands of deaths and refugees, especially on the border. However, India has prospered since its troubled past, rising to become a major global economic power, but at what cost to its population?
Within India there is much contrast; from state to state there are variants in food, language, dance, costume and attitudes. Officially there are 22 regional languages officially recognised yet there are known to be 100 more spoken within India. Economic contrast has always featured heavily over Indian history, with the now outdated caste system playing a significant role. However, looking at India in the 21st century there is a new and increasing economic contrast. Considering its vast population, what is seen as the poorest 2% in India equates to more than 24 million people. This number is more than the entire population of Australia. However this also means there exists a top 2% in wealth within India, that is made up of some of the richest people on earth.
Not only are there great disparities of wealth in India, but this disparity exists side by side, especially in the metropolitan areas. In Mumbai, only a drive away from Dharavi, the biggest slum in Asia, you will find one of the most expensive housing complexes in the world; the Antilia, owned by Mukesh Ambani and worth more than one billion pounds.
The poverty, and especially the slums of India, are images that most people are familiar with. Thousands and thousands of Indians every year leave their impoverished lifestyles in the countryside for a chance to earn money in the growing cities. Life in the slums is hard and competitive but proves to be better than the lifestyle back in the villages of India, where the majority of the country’s population live.
However, the common ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ view of the slums has been rejected by many in India and those who live in the slums themselves, suggesting the film as an overly negative, unfair and false portrayal of reality.
The slums are a maze of tiny dark passages leading from one area and opening to another. Coming out of a dark pathway could lead you to the buzz of businesses working to reuse recyclable materials, make cheap yet nutritious cakes or involved in some other innovative idea making the most out of the little they have. Alternatively, such pathways could lead to the music and festival colours of the living quarters, where families dance side by side celebrating and throwing coloured powders. Wherever you go though, the feeling of community is prominent and alive.
Where there is the bottom of the economic ladder, there is also the top; Vogue Fashion Night in India is the perfect example of luxury, decadence and the power of the rich. With celebrities waltzing around, champagne in hand, the Palladium Mall in Mumbai and its afterparty is the place to be seen. Here, countless photographers, black label alcohol and designer gifts reveal an exclusive pocket of Mumbai. Meanwhile, wannabe models and actors, millionaires and even billionaires fill the skyline, living in lavish skyscrapers and drinking in rooftop bars and clubs.
Yet we must not forget that the main cause of such disparity in wealth across India is an enormous population size. With some cities doubling in population every year, it is a credit to India that it still prospers and continues to dominate economically with such pressures.
We must also not forget the millions of people in between, who form the middle classes and experience none of India’s great wealth, yet none of its poverty either.
The greatest lesson we can learn from India though, is that despite the fact there are such wide gaps in wealth and an ever-increasing population, thousands of individuals in India work tirelessly everyday to reduce societal issues in the country. A growing number of charities, NGOs and politically active individuals dominate Indian society, and in fact, those who visit the nation and immerse themselves within local culture will find that anyone of money is willing to help those in need. Step into a university or school and each pupil is taking part in some organisation to find solutions to India’s problems.
We, as the west, could learn many lessons from India; though there are multiple issues, instead of sitting back and accepting it, Indians take the view that working together to actively try and solve such problems, is the way forward.