Independent India : Current Challenging Issues

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Major Political Issues

The major political issues that concern Indians, especially during election time are:

  • Communities demanding more economical and social rights
  • Communities wanting more autonomy for their cultures within the Indian states
  • Communities demanding autonomous states within the Indian Union
  • Communities demanding independence from India.

Education

At the time of independence only 12% of the Indian population was literate. According to the 1991 census there literacy rate was 52%, meaning that over half a billion people were literate. Literacy rate among the urban population is higher than among the villagers. It is also higher among the men than among the women. The literacy rate among the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is lower than in the general population.

The government provides education at the primary level, but not all Indians get the opportunity to go to school. There are many sources for funding and depending on the funding level schools range from schools without buildings to schools with all of the hi-tech facilities.

According to researchers in the 1980s about one-third of Indians study or studied in schools that have English as the medium of instruction. This number continued to climb through the 1990’s and into the 2000’s. For many, English is in many senses their first language and it is easier for them to read, write and even communicate in English than any other language. This makes India the second largest English speaking country in the world after the USA.

Border Issues

Border disputes with Pakistan disrupt into violence and have been the root cause of wars since Independence from Britain was attained in 1947. When Independence was granted Pakistan became a separate country, but there have continually been disputes over which country claims ownership over the area called Jammu & Kashmir. This issue is still a source of friction between the neighbouring nations. Watch your newspaper for the current state of this issue.

Pollution

Pollution problems are a serious concern in India. With factory emissions and cars polluting the air, farming chemicals affecting the soil and water, and garbage from over a billion people who are increasingly using “disposable” products, the issue of pollution is growing bigger and bigger. New Delhi is considered one of the most polluted cities in the world.

Languages

One of the main political issues in Indian politics is connected to the language problem. After India’s independence the government decided the official language of India was to be Hindi. Hindi has at least 13 different dialects and is the most commonly spoken language in India.

Among the other language speakers of India, the decision to choose Hindi as the official language was seen as an attempt to erase their cultures. After different struggles – political, violent and passive – the central government decided to allow the state governments to pick their official languages and recognized constitutionally other languages of India. For now the Indian constitution recognizes 18 Indian languages. The Indian constitution also declares that English can be used for official purposes.

Women

With a firmly entrenched patriarchy in place, gains in the status of women have often been slow in coming and painful in achieving.

A major source of concern in India is the failure to create strong social sanctions against violent men. A recent survey by the International Institute for Population Studies showed that an astonishing 56% of Indian women believed wife beating to be justified in certain circumstances. The reasons varied from going out without the husband’s permission to neglecting the house or children to cooking a bad meal. At least 20% of married women between the ages of 15 and 49 experience physical domestic violence in India, many on a continual basis. This number is likely unreported as families are rarely supportive of a women’s choice to leave an abusive situation and there are no laws in India that deal specifically with domestic violence. Aside from physical and sexual violence, emotional and economic violence are also prevalent.

Recently Women’s Courts have been set up to mediate and adjudicate on behalf of women. The formal courts are often inaccessible, costly and unwilling to hear cases of intimidated women living in poverty. Many of the Women’s Court officers are barely literate but they have learned about the law, its implications and limitations. Their dockets are crowded with cases of women seeking help and justice. They hear, mediate and adjudicate cases of divorce, fights between women and their mothers-in-law, complaints about drunkenness, domestic violence, rape, dowry extortion, maintenance for abandoned or divorced women, inheritance, and mis-treatment of widows and the elderly. The courts’ successes depend upon the respect of the parties and the parties’ willingness to accept its authority.

Poverty

Poverty in India is a very real and very complex issue. In 2000 it was estimated that 26% of India’s population was living below their national poverty line. While this is an improvement from the 1950’s figure of over 50% living in poverty, there are still well over 250 million people for whom poverty is a way of life in India.

Children in particular are detrimentally affected by poverty. For those affected by poverty, problems such as malnutrition, child labour and high mortality rates are very real issues faced daily. Although India contains fewer than 20% of the world child population, more than 40% of the world’s malnourished children are found there. Girls are more often negatively affected than boys as gender inequality is also a very real fact of life in India.

Child labour is a significant problem in India where it is estimated that between 75 and 90 million children under 14 are working. The jobs they perform are often difficult and low-paying, but their wages are needed to help provide food or shelter for their families. By being required to work at such young ages, these children are often prevented from receiving an education and getting out of the cycle of poverty.

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