India has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Last year its economy grew by 8%, ten times that of the UK. It is classed as a middle income country by the World Bank and provides poorer countries such as Niger and Libya with foreign aid. It even has its own space programme.
So, should MRDF still be working in India?
India’s economic statistics are impressive but they have not translated into prosperity for its one billion people. Two in every five children are malnourished. A third of adults are underweight. More than 500 million Indians have no electricity, and less than a third have adequate toilets.
India’s economic boom may have led to a rich elite and growing middle class, however 450 million people continue to live in extreme poverty. These people are often of a lower caste, which means they are discriminated against, marginalised and considered to be less important in society. They are therefore often unaware of their basic human rights to education, healthcare and services. This lack of skills and knowledge makes is extremely difficult for them to raise themselves out of poverty independently, and the Government has not yet started to address the situation of extreme poverty in India effectively.
Among the poorest and most marginalised people in India are tribal people - the indigenous communities of the land. Tribal people occupy an even lower status in society than the 'untouchable' Dalits, the lowest caste in society, and often experience greater prejudice. Tribal people often lack basic civil and political rights. They have little or no access to the legal support needed to secure land ownership and are discriminated against in the judicial system.
MRDF is working with women from the Saora and Kondh tribal groups in rural Orissa, Eastern India. Tribal women are generally expected to work in the home and have little say in how household income is spent. They have the lowest literacy rates in India and most are not aware of their rights. Community decisions are generally made by men so women’s needs are rarely addressed.
The aim of the project in Orissa is to educate tribal women about their rights and raise awareness of issues that frequently affect them such as child marriage, trafficking and domestic violence. The women receive training in leadership skills and advocacy so they can confidently voice their opinions in public and demand services from the government. MRDF also helps the women to form groups and start up small businesses by providing training and start up capital so they can earn an income and learn new skills.
Recently the Indian government responded to demands from the women in the project and funded village drains to improve health in three areas, provided free electricity for 156 poor families to light and warm their homes, repaired five wells so communities can access safe water and provided 380 vulnerable families with mosquito nets to protect them from malaria.
Under the surface of India’s economic boom, there is inequality, extreme poverty and millions of people who are not aware of their rights to education, healthcare or state services. These are the people MRDF is working with.
What you can do
Find out how your church or group can support MRDF’s project in India directly and receive regular updates.
Read about the difference this MRDF project has made to Parbati’s life.