UK-based international development agency Christian Aid has welcomed a continued British commitment to aid to India as an important intervention aimed at helping people living in abject poverty.
A £25 million programme the organisation manages as part of a consortium on behalf of the UK’s Department for International Development helps marginalised and socially excluded groups such as Dalits - previously called untouchables - tribal communities, women and others living below the poverty line.
Their continued need, says Christian Aid, reflects the fact that in newly powerful economies, the benefits of growth are often shared unequally, in this case outstripping the Indian government’s efforts to make society more equal.
Media suggestions that some Indian politicians want an end to UK aid, it adds, have been exaggerated, and are not endorsed by the political mainstream on the subcontinent which recognises the value of such assistance.
Christian Aid says that recent criticism of the Indian government in Britain for choosing to buy French rather British fighter jets is misplaced. It rejects any link between trade and aid, saying foreign assistance should be given with no strings attached.
Christian Aid’s senior political adviser Sol Oyuela declared: "The changing demographics of poverty worldwide mean that 75 per cent of the poorest people in the world, living on less than $1.25 a day, are now found in middle-income countries."
"India alone is home to a third of the world’s poor," she said. "The Government there has in recent years made major efforts to make education available to all and provide health services in poorer areas," continued Ms Oyuela.
She went on: "Inequalities in society that predate the economic boom mean that there are still a large number who suffer social exclusion, and are therefore unable to access these entitlements."
"India is not unique in failing to solve all its social problems overnight. The challenges are enormous, with child malnutrition running at about 50 per cent in states the size of Britain. UK aid to India is targeted at the three poorest states there, focusing the work in areas where poverty is very high," said the specialist NGO adviser.
Christian Aid says it fully supports the significant amount of UK aid targeted at women and girls who are worst off among the poor.
It also acknowledges the valuable work Dfid is doing in engaging with the private sector, the biggest beneficiary of the growing economy, by encouraging it to share in addressing poverty through initiatives such as providing employment to people from marginalised groups.
One key aspect of the work that the British churches' agency engages in with the help of Dfid money is supporting civil society organisations in giving poorer and socially excluded communities a voice in ensuring that they do not remain ‘locked out’ of the benefits of development but have access to their rights and entitlements as equal citizens.
The Poorest Areas Civil Society programme advocates for greater social inclusion, and is designed to strengthen demand for improved service delivery, greater responsiveness and accountability from suppliers, as well as addressing the discrimination women and socially excluded communities face.
"Among the groups we help are the manual scavengers," explained Ms Oyuela. "These are dalits whose only source of income is cleaning human waste from latrines without proper sanitation."
"Although the practice is illegal, it still continues. One of our partner organisations helps dalit communities manual scavengers access Government resources and find dignified alternative employment, allowing them to break free of the social constraints consigning them to such a role," she said.
Christian Aid’s country director in India, Anand Kumar, added: "India is dealing with deep-rooted structural causes of poverty such as caste, gender and ethnicity based poverty. In spite of the constitution of India prohibiting various forms of discriminatory practices, some of those social and cultural practices still continue exists in one form or the other."
"The role of civil society groups is crucial in helping poor and socially excluded communities gain their rights and entitlements," he said. "Dfid’s support through its flagship civil society programmes provides critical support to local organisations in addressing these challenges and reducing poverty and discrimination."