poverty in india

Ensuring Citizen Safety through Law Enforcement and thereby ending Everyday Violence is a Prerequisite to End Poverty in India

Violence in society at macro level is manifested in multiple forms such as genocide, wars, ethnic cleansing, attacks prompted by religious bigotry, and heinous acts of terrorism.Some thinkers include state led violence against civil resistance also in this category. Such violence is clearly visible and widely reported, though it is limited to certain specific geographies and nationalities and often triggered by political motives. There is also ‘everyday violence’– rape, sexual abuse, forced marriages, slavery, trafficking, property grabbing and police brutality which individuals routinely face at micro level. This type of everyday violence is often unseen and unreported or under reported, though it is prevalent and pervasive in almost all societies across the world by precipitatingdisempowerment, marginalization, underdevelopment, and poverty.

Everyday Violence and the Poor

Johan Galtung in his 1969 paper, Violence, Peace and Peace Research[1], argued that injustice and inequality are built into the structure of society, resulting in unequal power and, imbalanced life chances. He called it Structural Violence. Due to existence of structural violence in the society, poor people continue to remain as poor and they will not be able to access even their basic needs. Later, an Indian origin social scientist Akhil Gupta[2] argued that structural violence has been the key influence in the nature and distribution of extreme suffering in India, and it excluded the middle and working classes from the political system through a system of politicized poverty. In India cultural legitimization of structural violence comes from institutions such as caste system. Though caste is an illegal system according to current Indian law, it was ‘legitimized’ for centuries previously by the ruling regimes and continued to be followed by most of the Indians as a social norm.

Gary Haugan, author of The Locust Effect while explaining the inequality in the world in a recent essaystated: “The richest 85 people in the world hold the same wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people. There are many obvious ways in which the lives of those wealthy 85 differ from the poorest 3.5 billion, but there is one critical difference that is much harder to see — a difference that should be at the center of the world’s efforts to overcome poverty. It is this: The rich are safe, while the poor are not[3].” Widely prevalent violence and the resulting lack of safety of the poor is also the reason for India harboring around 800 million people below the poverty line, though it is the world’s seventh wealthiest country in the world. Systematic use of violence employed by the criminals had intimidated the poor and kept them in a perpetual state of social deprivation and poverty. Social and religious norms of many countries supported such use of violence against the poor, while the public justice systems remained ineffective and dysfunctional.

There are numerous stories of violence and human suffering coming up every day, from the interior districts of India. Dalit and tribal women are being raped in the hinterlands of India.Properties of poor people are being usurped by powerful land mafia. Those who resist such violence are being attacked by the goons of the powerful and the rich criminals. Every day teenage girls are being trafficked from the poverty stricken districts of Bengal and Jharkhand to work in various roles ranging from sex slaves in the brothels of Kolkotta to domestic slave workers in the rich houses of Delhi. Entire families are being trafficked from Odisha to slog in the brick kilns in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The victims don’t have any right to move out of their work places. They have no defined work hours. They don’t earn minimum wages. They have no access to basic health care facilities. No places to educate their children in the vicinity of their work. If they complain or demand such things, they are tortured, abused and beaten. Fear of violence keep the poor people in a perpetual state of underdevelopment, powerlessness and poverty.

By seeingsuch life stories of men and women who face severe everyday violence in India and other countries, Gary Haugan concluded that end of poverty requires end of violence. He concludes: “…what is the direct solution to violence? In modern societies, it is the law enforcement. That is to say, acts of violence are declared to be against the law and then the state is authorized to use coercive power to enforce the law by restraining and punishing those who commit illegal, violent acts”[4].

Constitutional Guarantees on Citizen Safety in India

In India, access to Justice is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 14 & 21 of the Indian Constitution. Article 14 of Constitution of India states: “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law and equal protection of laws within the territory of India.” Equality before law means no one is above the law. Everyone, irrespective of his or her status is equal in the eyes of the law. Equality calls for equal protection by uplifting the downtrodden. State can take special measures to ensure safety of the people who are vulnerable to violence.

Article 21 reads as: “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.” Thus Article 21 secures 1) right to life and 2) right to personal liberty. The right to live includes the right to live with dignity with the basic necessities of life such as adequate nutrition, clothing and shelter.  It also guarantees citizens to freely move about and mix and mingle with fellow human beings and must include the right to basic necessities and the right to freely carry on one’s basic functions and activities.

Citizen Safety and Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable development goal (SDG) 16 calls for promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies by providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. It requires significant reduction of all forms of violence everywhere. All the governments including India have agreed to demonstrate verifiable reduction in the proportion of population subjected to physical, psychological or sexual violence. Success in achieving SDG goals demands an end in abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of human beings. Reduction in the number of victims of human trafficking, and sexual violence are included in the indicators of success of achieving goal 16 of SDG. Promoting the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensuring equal access to justice for all are commitments India has given to the international community thanks to being part of SDG implementing countries of the world. Therefore, India is duty bound to develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions and mechanisms to deal with violence.

Citizen Safety and the Judicial Systems

Judicial systems in the developing countries of the world have pivotal role to play in ensuring citizen safety. However poor people in India, like their counterparts in many other parts of the world find it difficult to access justice due to several reasons. As Gary Haugan, rightly observes in his book: “throughout the developing world, justice systems are so broken and dysfunctional that the poor people these systems should protect have no defense whatsoever from those who seek to rape, abuse, exploit and assault them.” Moreover, “Under-resourced, under-trained and potentially corrupt law enforcement cannot or will not arrest and charge criminals or gather evidence. Trials move at a glacial pace, files are lost, no efforts are made to mitigate trauma during the court process for survivors of violence, and hearings are often conducted entirely in official languages the poor can’t understand, among other systemic absurdities. In fact, not only do the poorest not seek protection through their police and court systems, but they often actively avoid them because the systems are so abusive.” Thus most of the developing countries of the world have absolutely no system to deal with everyday violence.

Strengthening Public Justice Systems as a Way Forward

Functioning, effective justice systems, including law enforcement is a sustainable way to protect the poor from the onslaught of everyday violence.To solve any problem – whether at the community, individual or any other entity level, there has to be an acceptance of the problem by the individual, community or the entity. It seems there is an acceptance of the existence of everyday violenceat the level of public justice institutions in India, though state governments may at times refuse to accept crimes like modern day slavery and trafficking in their geographic limits. Governments should proceed further from acceptance to planned specific interventions to deal with criminal elements who perpetrate violence.

Police and Judicial reforms including training of concerned officials, measures to build the confidence and trust of citizens and introducing and implementing strict penal measures for effective deterrence which discourage criminal elements currently benefitting from the use of violence are some broad measures to be considered at the national level.

Only effective law enforcement can create deterrence among perpetrators of violence and build confidence and trust among the victims. Till that happens, the poor will continue to remain disempowered and they will suffer from poverty, ill health and underdevelopment. Everyday violence will continue to prevent the poor from accessing benefits of any special welfare measures. Thus end of poverty requires end of everyday violence through enforcement of the rule of law. Ensuring citizen safety through law enforcement and thereby ending everyday violence is a prerequisite to end poverty in India.

(Kandathil Sebastian works as a Director of International Justice Mission in India. He writes this article in his personal capacity and the views expressed in this article are not necessarily that of the organization where he works.)

[1]Galtung, Johan (1969). “Violence, Peace and Peace Research”. Journal of Peace Research. 6: 167–191.

[2]Gupta, Akhil (2012). Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence and Poverty in India. Duke University Press.

[3]Haugen, Gary (2014)“Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence” in Huff Post at https://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-haugen/why-the-end-of-poverty-violence_b_4676932.html

[4]Haugen, Gary A. and Boutros, Victor. “The Locust Effect” (2014) Oxford University Press, New York

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  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    To root out violence, the causes leading to violence should be ascertained. Major causes pertain to socio – economic inequality. Besides, communal forces are at work perpetrating violence. Unless these are addressed, violence remains in the society causing harm to people

  2. Sebastian Kandathil Sebastian says:

    Yes, inequality is both cause and effect of violence. Communal violence is usually engineered in areas where inequality is high. At the ultimate analysis, inequality is precipitated by powerlessness of individuals. The powerless would need protection from the powerful who use violence to exploit the former and hence the logic of priority strengthening of law enforcement. Robust implementation of all relevant laws including labor laws, improved labor inspection and setting up of a universal social protection floor are keys to solve the issue. It is true that law enforcement is not the only solution. Multiple strategies aimed at economic development including systemic reforms to counter distress migration; effective implementation of schemes such as the rural employment guarantee, promoting corporate accountability for decent work conditions and protecting migrants’ mobility and rights are crucial to address inequality and thus violence. Self-organization of workers who are likely to be trafficked as well as already trafficked is important. Long term measures for ending caste-based discrimination; ensuring sustainable development; redistributing resources etc, are also important. To see the results of these development measures one may wait for ages. Therefore ensuring law enforcement along with simultaneously addressing under development are strategies for governments to address violence.