Juhu Beach, Mumbai

On February 14, 2011, Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), embarked upon a two-week journey to India to visit with several partners of the Unitarian Universalist Holdeen India Program (UUHIP) and with leaders of the Unitarian Union of North East India (UUNEI).  This blogpost by Rev. Morales is part of the continuing coverage of the journey.

In American cities, poverty is mostly hidden from view. Here in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), the images and smells are on every block. We walked for about two-and-a-half hours today and never went 50 yards without being confronted by heart-rending sights.

In America, especially in prosperous suburbs, one can go months without encountering the desperately poor. India’s hidden poverty is enormous, but its hidden poverty is actually outside the city. Here, almost a billion people live on about fifty cents a day.

This evening we had dinner with Palagummi Sainath, an award winning journalist, and his wife Sonya, an activist in the women’s movement. Sainath is the author of the influential book, Everyone Loves a Good Drought.

Sainath’s writing is wonderful. It is clear and powerful. In person, his tireless passion and moral outrage over what is happening to more than 800 million Indians living in rural poverty is palpable.

Sonya and Palagummi Sainath

The situation has gotten so bad that more than 17,000 farmers commit suicide every year. The suicide rate has skyrocketed along with foreclosures in recent years. Indian farmers have one of the highest suicide rates on earth.

India, like so much of the world today, is a study in which a very few get spectacularly rich with the nation’s economic growth, while the vast majority sink lower and lower. In America, the percentage of wealth controlled by the top one percent of our population has shot up during the last twenty years.

In the coming days, we will be visiting organizations partnered with the UUA’s Holdeen India Program. These organizations attempt to help the poorest of the poor, not primarily with economic assistance but by supporting grassroots organizations that help people organize themselves to access legal rights guaranteed by the constitution but ignored by the government.

I am no expert on economic development. Yet, as a religious leader, I cannot help but wonder why we see so little moral outrage when the very few get spectacularly wealthy while little is done to help the desperately poor. Where is the compassion? Where is the sense of justice?

Our next visit is to a rural school for poor girls. I will sleep in what I am told is a rundown room.

Rev. Morales is on a two-week journey across India to meet with human rights partners.

View the trip route:

The UUA’s international human rights work is made possible through the generous contributions of people like you. Please support initiatives of the UUA’s International Office by donating online at http://uua.kintera.org/international.

President Morales Visits India – Photos from Mumbai
About the Author
Rev. Peter Morales

Comments

  1. Robert Duncan

    Thank you for this blog post. I will share it with my UU fellows this coming Sunday.

  2. David Keppel

    Thank you for witnessing this. The increasingly desperate poverty in rural India is, as you know, in part caused by U.S. “free trade” policies, which involve pushing U.S. surplus crops onto the markets of developing countries while forcing these countries to remove any price support for local agriculture. You saw this clearly with NAFTA and Chiapas; and the pattern repeats itself around the world. Unfortunately, this remains very much the policy of the Obama administration. Food First and the Oakland Institute have done good work on the issues.

    At the same time, global warming will have a disproportionate impact on the world’s poorest. While we can and should each change how we live, we need collective action (a.k.a. laws, government, and, yes, a carbon tax) too.

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