Jul 6, 2008

"girl killed for seeking food"

i read this short article (photo below) in the calcutta telegraph on my way back from there, and i decided to write about it. i am sorry to post on one of the dark faces of india again, i'll try to pick something positive for the next one, or maybe the one after the next one. the article goes like this, please click, and take a moment to read it:

the article focuses on the evilness of the agrawal family for treating alo so bad, and even killing her. i agree, the agrawal's are monsters, and a disgrace to humanity. however, what came even more shocking to me were the comments from alo's own parents. her father was aware that her 'little girl' was not given enough food to eat. and her mother sent her to work for the agrawals for 250 rupees a month (a little less then 4 euros, or 6 us dollars), clearly against alo's wish (who would want to work and starve and be tortured...), while she should have sent her to school instead.

well, are these good parents? no, i don't think so.

were these parents at least unhappy with the way their daughter was living? that she is undernourished and tortured? that she remains uneducated and therefore doomed for the same poverty as of her parents? maybe, maybe not, i would guess yes.

well, why didn't sonu and manju (the parents) change something then? didn't they have a choice? well, possibly not, they were trapped in poverty. it seems that even the small amount of 250 rupees a month mattered strongly in the sen family's budget, and most probably they were not able to give their daughter even the inadequate amount of food the agrawal's gave alo.

who is there to blame for all this misery then? well, blaming will solve nothing. but there can be a lot done to improve/prevent situations like this, which i am sure is not a unique case, but only the tip of the iceberg.

in india, there are clearly too many people. it is overpopulated, and this is a bad thing, period. overpopulation reproduces and worsens poverty and misery, and it makes life cheap, unimaginably cheap.

probably the best approach to population issues is the 'wanted children, wanted parents' principle:
"only wanted children should be conceived, who can grow up in the belief that their parents, era and place are the best for them."

obviously, this principle is violated hundreds of millions of times every year, around the world. the number of unwanted births is around 80 million a year (worldwide) in these times, and this is only the 'wanted children' part of the principle. i am sure alo sen could have imagined better parents, era and place for herself. and she is not alone. if the 'wanted children, wanted parents' principle was respected in india, its population would be shrinking already, closing back to sustainable levels, contributing to solving many of india's problems naturally.

if india made stabilizing population a priority, through education on sexual and reproductive health, support on available family planning, and policies empowering women's rights in society, it could go a long way towards a prospering, but sustainably prospering country, where alo's story could not happen any more.


Ricco said...

Not sure about this one. I know that you are the specialist in this field, but still i have a different opinion. (mostly economic criticism to follow)
I think your reasoning is the wrong way around. Lets assume, that the girls parents had no other choice than to have children (and send them to work) if they wanted to survive. Now even if the Indian government gives out contraception pills for free and gives the Alo's mother an equal social stance as her dad they would still have decided (now together and with their options in mind) to have a child, who can probably bring them 250 a month.
I would rather think that economic development naturaly controls birth rates (see Europe) rather than the other way around. Losing people rapidly even harms the economy as shown by Malthus through his actions in India.

Your ideas seem to be rather Mathesian (although in a more modern less bold version). I am sure you know his work but for other interested people:
Malthus in Wikipedia
Interestingly he was using his theories in India. Check if it helped the economy. As well check the criticism.

Second point that I would like to argue with: "in india, there are clearly too many people" Lets not consider the ecologic sustainability for a second. In terms of people India only ranks nr. 33 on the population density scale. Behind countries like The Netherlands, Belgium, South Korea and Japan. So I dont see your statement supported there.
Population density Wikipedia

g. said...

thanks ricco for throwing this in! i am sure many other readers share your views, and i am happy to react to it!

(sorry for the long delay in respose, i am backpacking in kerala at the moment, this is net cafe)

economy is not value in itself, and can not justify anything. it is could, it would be ok to hunt for slaves in africa, because it makes economic sense. if you concive a child for the reason that it will earn you 250 a month, then you are basically creating a slave, instead of hunting for one. economy is often short of ethics and often prioritizes the short term over the long term. economy should seek to creat real value, taking all its benefits, but also its harms into account, including long term harms and externalias too (which both are often neglected).

i still maintain that family planning is ending poverty, and not the other way around. on a scientific level, there are not many nowadays who still believe that all the world's population can be brought up to a decent economic level, and as a result, the growth in population will slow down. of course education, improvement in economic conditions is reducing birth rates, still, on the world scale, it is not feasible.

and this brings me to your second point. i think that we are living in an era, where ecologic sustainability is something you must consider, and with a very high priority.

Population density tells us little about overpopulation in a country. Every country has different levels in biocapacity, the ability to sustain life (provide for it and absorb its pollution). Also, the history of the countries you mentioned are quite different. Some got where they are now via a colonial era, and some are still exploiting other parts of the world in various ways to sustain dense populations and high life standards. having a totally different history and setup, in india dense population results in great poverty and misery.

sorry if this comment is a little messy, as i said, i am in a net cafe with a noisy street behind me :) i would like to read your opinion on these, and to elaborate on anything (hopefully from a calmer setting) that you find unclear.

ps: do you have a blog or any online presence, that i could follow?

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