- Vijay Simha
A debate has been triggered by the newest Planning Commission data that says poverty levels in India have fallen to 22 percent of the population in 2011-12. The poverty line here is Rs 32.26 a person a day in urban areas and Rs 26.32 in rural areas.
The 22 percent translates to 269.3 million people of whom 216.5 million live in rural areas.
We shall have a fresh yardstick and fresh data in about a year – soon after the next government takes charge in New Delhi. Until then, we have to go by this poverty update.
The debate, on who's wrong and whether the data is correct, is necessary. But this article is not about that.
The purpose of this article is to share what it means to be poor. For nine months – beginning July 2001 and ending March 2002 – I lived on the streets of Delhi. I had no home, no money, no friends, and no status. I had nothing.
I am therefore able to indicate what it is like.
Poverty, the term
The simplest understanding of the term poverty is that it means a state of having little or no money, goods, or means of support.
You may be born into poverty. You could drive yourself into it (as I did). Or you may be pushed into it (by circumstances out of your control).
Poverty may be absolute – when there's no money for food, water, sanitation, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education and information. The Planning Commission's poverty line of below Rs 32.26 refers to this.
Poverty may be relative – when there is money to get by in a status quoist way but there's no growth. You could, for instance, earn Rs 30,000 a month but you'll have to live on the fringes of metros, spend hours commuting and cook and wear Spartan.
Image: A man distributes free food to the homeless in New Delhi, Wednesday, July 24, 2013. (AP)