Tagore and development
Ruling parties vehemently point to the profound success of development issues and performance, which is supported by reports and statistical data. On the other hand, the opposition describes all this as propaganda, and as an illusion of development.
They wonder if development in various sectors can only be measured by citing statistics. The real test is meeting basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, health care, education and job opportunities. Be that as it may, the citizens of India have for several years been observing various development projects initiated by the Union and State governments, aimed at the welfare of the common people.
Appeasing the rural electorate during the presentation of the annual budget does not lead to development in the proper sense of the term. At the same time, eliminating the practice of corruption seems like a prudent step in the march forward for the development of a nation.
The distribution of resources to the disadvantaged, careful consideration of economic growth and job creation measures are equally important. The recent UNICEF report paints an appalling picture when it comes to basic amenities for children. Appeasement of the needy, poor and disadvantaged sections of society, providing health insurance to 100 million households up to Rs. the resources. They must not create an illusion of development.
Qualitative indicators of development as designed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) are unique. Tracking changes over time is important for improving the lifestyle of ordinary people. Some typical qualitative indicators are literacy, mortality and morbidity rates, income, etc. Therefore, development with a human face and a pragmatic analysis of the broader dimensions of human well-being must motivate policy makers. Over the years, UNDP has focused on the interrelationship between human development and human rights.
It analyzes the impact of growth, economic structures, human rights development and reiterates that the eradication of poverty must be approached as a fundamental human rights right and must not be perceived as an act of charity. The value of the HDI, its relevance and its importance are well recognized. Therefore, the Human Poverty Index (HPI) appears to be a powerful tool for conceptual understanding of sustainable development.
Recognizing the poverty of choice and opportunity implies that poverty must be addressed in all its dimensions, not just income, despite the fact that much can be achieved in human development using income. It is essential that income does not dictate the HDI value. The HDI index has been criticized for several reasons.
For example, it does not include any ecological consideration and focuses exclusively on national performance and ranking without considering development from a global perspective. The imperfections of the HDI index and its flaws, like other composite indices, raise many relevant questions and underline the need for its evolution, distillation and refinement.
The defense of equal rights for women and children has been and will continue to be an important factor underpinning this development. Assessing perceived satisfaction and dissatisfaction has proven useful. Administrative records do not always give correct results. On the contrary, statistics provided by nodal agencies are more likely to be inaccurate.
For example, in education, a commonly used indicator derived from administrative statistics, namely schooling, does not mention dropouts. The claim of a 100% literacy rate in some districts of West Bengal, echoed by CPI-M leaders during their nearly three-and-a-half-decade reign, is not only inaccurate but ridiculous. It is unfortunate that this important indicator of development is purposely inflated so that the numbers give the wrong idea.
Another indicator is the proportion of households with at least one literate member. Most developed countries that have had compulsory education do not necessarily measure literacy. Similarly, the scarcity of hospital beds or the limited availability of health centers per 10,000 inhabitants are indicators of the lack of minimum infrastructure, due to the poor geographical distribution of health centers that are inaccessible to low-income groups.
However, UNDP ignores the basic needs of human beings such as harmony and happiness when considering the Human Development Index (HDI). The expansion of health, education and income, according to the UNDP, would allow human beings to develop further. Income and health can certainly be seen as powerful tools for development. Good incomes can combat inequality of opportunity in many ways. Income generation is good and maybe a driving force to improve the quality of life to some extent.
At the same time, efficient and meaningful use of income seems to be more important, especially in the field of education, as it would lead to social harmony and happiness. Classic ideas of development as seen by Aristotle, Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill are still important today. The terms development and freedom are common to these ideas. However, a careful examination would reveal the complexity of the two words. Development for whom? And, what is freedom? There are certainly different types of freedom, such as freedom of speech, freedom to write and express opinions and ideas, and freedom of thought.
Political and civil freedom are part of human freedom. But there seems to be a lack of freedom, affecting millions of people in our country. An example is bondage at work. Development should be seen as a journey to freedom. It is a process of generating and realizing new opportunities. However, sustainable development is an ongoing process.
Giving a good education is a deliberate and spontaneous process. It expands abilities. The social objectives and the social content of education seem to be equally important. Only freedom of education can finally bring human freedom and total development. It is a glorious journey from lies to truth, from darkness to light, from ignorance to awareness. Freedom through education is necessary in our country which has 424 million illiterates. About 35 million children, aged 6 to 10, do not even go to school and about 40% drop out before reaching fifth grade. In higher education, the enrollment rate is only six percent.
If the promotion of human freedom is our main objective and our means of total development, it is imperative that we reconsider our education policy, especially for the rural and backward strata. It is imperative to initiate quality improvement programs in the field of education, from the primary level to the higher level if we consider that the construction of the nation is our objective. Rural reconstruction as perceived by Rabindranath Tagore has great relevance even today, despite the concept of “smart cities”.
According to Tagore, rural reconstruction was nothing but national development, and this area should be given the highest priority in a nation-building enterprise. His novel, Gora, published about a century ago, deserves to be remembered. Gora, an educated young man, born in the city and brought up in a cultured society, had horrific experiences in the village. Even today, the image of rural India has not changed. Ox carts, dirt roads, lack of drinking water and electricity, minimum health care system and other basic amenities are still visible.
On the other hand, the concept of “smart city” is confusing as it encompasses extremely polluted air, water and soil. Although technology has enabled closer communication, there is still an imbalance between urban and rural areas. Tagore wanted the well-being of the rural poor not by simply pushing them towards literacy, but by nurturing and expanding their minds to give them strength and awareness.
According to Tagore, reading and writing is a secondary matter, heart-to-heart communication is what matters most. He reiterated that without restoring the balance between town and village, no development was possible. “The Religion of Man” written by Tagore in 1931 is unique and extremely relevant even today.
The dissolute, disordered, unregulated and bohemian intelligence of people with deep knowledge is indeed dangerous, and a matter of greater concern than the presence of illiterate people. Humans must transcend self to sacrifice themselves for others; be compassionate, tender and possess deep sympathy for the needy.
The realization of love, entering outside oneself and uniting the heart with all the living and non-living materials of the environment, pushes the human being to a state where he knows himself (Apan hote bahir hoey baire dara, buker majhe biswaloker pabi sara). This should be the ultimate goal to achieve true human development. Such development cannot be measured by any mathematical index.
(The author is a former Reader in Chemistry, Presidential College, Kolkata
which was associated with UGC and UNICEF)