Discussion on Social and Economic Reforms
Social and Economic Reforms
In India, social reforms go as far back as Gautam Buddha, one of the greatest social and religious reformers the world has ever produced. He opposed the supremacy of an individual based on birth or caste. He took Brahmins and upper castes to task for animal sacrifice in the name of religion. He could not tolerate casteism and untouchability. He disbelieved and broke the theory and practice of castes and classes. According to him, even a lowborn Shudra was entitled to attain "moksha" - the process of breaking the cycle of rebirth through his righteousness. He threw open the doors of Buddhism for all men and women, irrespective of caste, social status or nationality.
Next comes, Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, who led a powerful religio-social movement against casteism and religious discord. He said that God is one, whether you call Him Ram or Allah. He condemned greed, dishonesty, ritualism and exploitation of the weak in the name of God. Similarly, Sant Kabiralso preached Hindu-Muslim unity and condemned casteism, vain rituals and dead traditions. And Raja Ram Mohan Roy, the Father of Indian Renaissance, began a crusade against social evils such as sati, child marriage, the purdah system and casteism .
These were social reforms that took place a long time ago under different circumstances. In today's context, it is time to view the reforms in a larger socio-economic context. Education deserves top priority. One-third of our male citizens and half the females are still illiterate. Unlocking the human mind through education should be the first step on India's path to progress. If education is not addressed, deficiency in the supply side, in the form of an inadequately educated resource base can stifle growth and India may lose the opportunity to China in leveraging her people power. Education policy planners must liberalise higher education and concentrate on free and compulsory primary education in eradicating illiteracy totally.
Health deserves the next priority. It is important because it reflects the quality of life of a nation's people and impacts crucially on economic development. India faces the dual-problem of addressing life-threatening diseases for a vast population, while simultaneously tackling the growing numbers afflicted with life- style diseases. The state of affairs portends a major handicap for India in the 21st century. The Government should focus on primary and preventive healthcare programmes and spend about five times its current spending of 1.7 per cent of the GDP on health. This will include public and private initiatives in the secondary and tertiary segments of healthcare. Reforms in healthcare will not only raise the quality of life, but also make the Indian healthcare industry a driving force for economic growth.
Currently, a great opportunity in agriculture is being missed. After education, agriculture is the most fettered sector in India. Apart from recasting the system of production, storage and distribution, India should apply technology in a significant way to enhance yield and break the root cause of poverty. India should liberate her farmers from the trap of low-investment, low-yield, low-income model of agricultural production by embracing technology.
Infrastructure is another priority. Infrastructure is an engine of not just industrial growth, but social development too. The emphasis must be not only on national highways, but rural roads also, not just on power plants, but reliable rural electricity supply and not only city water supply systems, but rural water supply and sanitation. Infrastructure development in India has to be viewed as a means of taking economic development to the remote comers of the country. It is only when economic reforms are clubbed with social reforms that the country can expect to have all-round development.