Seven things Amartya Sen told Sharmila Tagore

Why do more young people read stories titled “Seven things Amartya Sen told Sharmila Tagore“?

For the same reason that more young people are interested in knowing the pet name of Hrithik Roshan than in politics or policy. Which is, because “the stupidity and the villainy of human beings is overemphasised and the ignorance is underemphasised.”

Amarya Sen, the Nobel laureate, was in conversation with Sharmila Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore‘s descendant, at the Calcutta literary meet on Saturday.

He also said, among other things:

1. One-third of Indians don’t have an electricity connection. When the newspapers hollered last year that 600 million Indians were “plunged” into darkness, what they didn’t mention was that 200 million out of those 600 million never had any power. So they were not specifically “plunged” that night, they are plunged into darkness every night.

2.  India is the only country in the world that is trying to have a health transition on the basis of a private health care that doesn’t exist. It doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. We have an out-of-pocket system, occasionally supplemented by government hospitals but the whole trend in the world has moved towards public health systems. Even the United States has come partly under the so-called Obama Care.

3. India is a country where there is more open defecation than any other country for which data exists. Forty-eight per cent of households in India do not have toilets. That’s larger than any other country. Chad comes slightly close but no other country. The percentage of homes without toilets is 1 per cent in China, it’s only 9 or 10 per cent even in Bangladesh.

4. There is so much to be learnt from China in terms of economic growth. But not in terms of democracy… China spends 2.7 per cent of its GDP on public health care — governmental expenditure. We spend 1.2 per cent. When Jamshedji Tata was setting up Jamshedpur, he felt it’s not only an industry, it’s a municipality. He felt I have to provide free education, free health care for everyone, not only my employees but anyone in the neighbourhood.

5. China wouldn’t be a country to learn about democracy from but Brazil could be, Mexico could be. Good efficient public services with cooperation of the unions is very important for any country and since 1989 Brazil has transformed itself with that. In the same period, India has risen in per capita income but its position in living standards has declined. In South Asia, we were the second best, after Sri Lanka, and now we are the second worst, only ahead of Pakistan. I think Bangladesh has overtaken India in most of these categories, except per capita income.

6. In the 2011 February budget, the government had put in a very modest import tax on gold and diamond imports. And there was such a lot of protest that they had to withdraw that. Because that’s an organised group; a group of underfed kids is not.

7. When people say that this (rape) happens in India, it doesn’t happen in Bharat, they completely overlook the fact that Dalit girls have been violated, molested and raped over the years and there still isn’t adequate protection against that.

By the way, Hrithik Roshan’s pet name, which used to be Duggu, is H-Ro.

Read the full story: The Telegraph, Calcutta

Photograph: courtesy The Times of India