Unequal : Why India Lags Behind Its Neighbours – Swati Narayan


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A newborn girl can expect to live to eighty in Sri Lanka, seventy-four in Bangladesh and sixty-nine in India. This is but one of a range of Swati Narayan’s insights from a five-year study across four India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. She found that even poorer neighbour’s were doing better than India on a range of social health, nutrition, education, sanitation, with more women working outside the home. Narayan’s intensive, immersive research shows that India’s leapfrogging neighbour’s have worked hard to dilute social inequalities. Land reforms, investments in schools and hospitals, and socio-political reform movements aimed at diluting caste and gender discrimination – all of these have wrought change over the decades. Excellent networks of primary healthcare clinics, village schools and household toilets have transformed the lives of citizens in these countries. In economically booming India, on the other hand, social ills like sex-selective abortion, child stunting, illiteracy and preventable deaths are rampant. Inequalities are stark here—not only between the burgeoning billionaire class and the neglected masses, but also among the northern states and their southern counterparts. However, it is in fact the successes in states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala that offer grounds for optimism—India is capable of transformation if governments commit to social welfare investments and bridging social inequities. Packed with human stories as well as hard data, and shot through with empathy and hope, Swati Narayan’s Unequal is a necessary book for our times.


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