A new House of Commons report on British aid to India is a welcome endorsement of efforts to tackle the devastating discrimination which excludes many millions of people from mainstream Indian society, Christian Aid has said.
The development agency says that MPs on the International Development Committee are right to state that the UK should have a long-term exit strategy from its Indian aid programme – and indeed others.
"However, if the UK is going to end its aid programme to a particular country then it should do so on the basis of clear, rational criteria and not in response to media campaigns," said Robin Greenwood, Christian Aid’s Head of Asia.
"Terrible need and extreme inequality and discrimination still exist on a staggering scale in India, with more 400 million people living below the international poverty line. This is one in three of the world’s poorest people," he continued.
"If Britain does decide at some future point to withdraw its financial support from the country, then it is more important than ever to ensure its existing aid programme is reducing inequality and discrimination, which go hand in hand with extreme poverty," said Greenwood.
"What this means in practice is empowering poor men and women to get what they need from local and national government within India," the Christian Aid spokesperson declared.
Christian Aid has welcomed the MPs’ decision to highlight discrimination against people in groups such as Dalits and Tribals as the major cause of severe poverty in India and their calls for the Department for International Development (DFID) to increase its efforts to help them.
"This is not just political correctness. This is about saying that Dalit women, for instance, should not be forced by accident of birth to empty other people’s toilets with their hands – many other, more dignified ways of earning a living should be open to them," explained Greenwood.
"Christian Aid’s experience in India is that the exclusions from society of whole groups - Dalits, tribal people, religious minorities and also women - are the most important causes of continuing extreme poverty in India.
"We also welcome MPs’ conclusions that most British aid in India is making a difference in the fight against poverty in that country and that civil society groups play a valuable role," he said.
Christian Aid says it believes India’s tax system is an important source of the resources its government needs to fund public services and redistribute income towards the poorest people. India’s tax system also holds the potential to replace at least some of the millions that India will lose when British aid finishes.
However, international financial secrecy is one of the problems blocking that potential, the aid agency explains, because it helps tax dodgers.
Christian Aid says it hopes that India will use its influence with fellow G20 members to get financial transparency put at the heart of the Group’s agenda for its meeting in Cannes in November 2011.