Poverty in India

overview about poverty in India

Quotes about poverty in India.


  • There was no middle state. A man must be of the highest rank or live miserably.
    • François Bernier. Travels in the Mogul Empire. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 6
  • Most towns in Hindustan are made up of earth, mud, and other wretched material; that there is no city or town (that) does not bear evident marks of approaching decay. (...) In eastern countries, the weak and the injured are without any refuge whatever; and the only law that decides all controversies is the cane and the caprice of a governor.
    • François Bernier. Travels in the Mogul Empire. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • India survived only by virtue of its patience, its superhuman power and its immense size. The levies it had to pay were so crushing that one catastrophic harvest was enough to unleash famines and epidemics capable of killing a million people at a time. Appalling poverty was the constant counterpart of the conquerors’ opulence.
  • The conclusion that the decay noticed in the early 19th century and more so in subsequent decades originated with European supremacy in India, therefore, seems inescapable. The 1769-70 famine in Bengal (when, according to British record, one-third of the population actually perished), may be taken as a mere forerunner of what was to come. (...) During the latter part of the 19th century, impressions of decay, decline and deprivation began to agitate the mind of the Indian people. Such impressions no doubt resulted from concrete personal, parental and social experience of what had gone before. They were, perhaps, somewhat exaggerated at times. By 1900, it had become general Indian belief that the country had been decimated by British rule in all possible ways; that not only had it become impoverished, but it had been degraded to the furthest possible extent; that the people of India had been cheated of most of what they had; that their customs and manners were ridiculed, and that the infrastructure of their society mostly eroded. One of the statements which thus came up was that the ignorance and illiteracy in India was caused by British rule; and, conversely, that at the beginning of British political dominance, India had had extensive education, learning and literacy. By 1930, much had been written on this point in the same manner as had been written on the deliberate destruction of Indian crafts and industry, and the impoverishment of the Indian countryside.
    • Dharmapal: The Beautiful Tree, Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century. (1983)
  • If farmers become weak the country loses self-reliance but if they are strong, freedom also becomes strong. If we do not maintain our progress in agriculture, poverty cannot be eliminated from India. But our biggest poverty alleviation programme is to improve the living standard of our farmers. The thrust of our poverty alleviation programmes is on the uplift of the farmers.
  • Preferably, the government should have anticipated that after it unilaterally declared a complete lockdown (first phase), millions of informal workers would suddenly lose every way of earning their livelihoods and would be rendered penniless. This would inevitably trigger a mass exodus among the poor informal sector workers, forcing almost one-third of the 1.3 billion people who are living a hand-to-mouth existence, to gather on the streets and trek back home with their belongings. The state also took two days to announce a paltry sum of Rs. 1.7 lakh crores as economic relief to the informal workers who have been turned refugees overnight. This is only 0.5% of the national income if existing budgetary allocations are taken into account. This is an insidious form of assault on the well-being and physical and mental security of the poor population of India, especially so when they are already outside the social security net because they do not fall within the organized sector.
  • No doubt, extending the lockdown was necessary, but so was making transportation and other arrangements for the poor. [...] The COVID–19 episode in India has proved that, to date, the voices of the poor are unheard in the decision-making and policies that affect them the most. Further, data and evidence regarding them are least likely to be considered by the government when framing policies.
  • Irrespective of whether you are a freelance humanitarian or a freelance patriot, a fact that is beyond dispute is that the country treats its poor very badly. Across India, in the name of fighting a pandemic, India has beaten up its poor, denied them their livelihood, made them run behind trucks for food, and forced thousands of families to walk hundreds of kilometres to their villages, letting some people die on the way. A few days ago, more than a dozen men travelled inside a cement mixer to escape detection.
  • India’s very definition of comfort is a state of being that is inaccessible to the poor. Often, we pay not for the quality of service, experience, home or education, but for keeping the poor out. Low standards for the poor are embedded in all the cures that India prescribes for poverty.
  • The cities look attractive from a distance... Rich men have gardens... The common people live in huts and hovels.
    • Father Monserrate, (writing at time of Akbar) in Lal, K. S. (2001). Historical essays. New Delhi: Radha.(II.149)
  • [In the seventeenth century John De Laet (1631) summarised the information he had collected from English, Dutch and Portuguese sources regarding the Mughal empire as a whole.] “The condition of the common people in these regions (south and west) is exceedingly miserable; wages are low; workmen get only one regular meal a day, the houses are wretched and practically unfurnished, and people have not got sufficient covering to keep warm in winter.”
    • Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • When any hungry wretch takes it into his head to ruin the kingdom, he goes to the king and says to him: 'Sire; if your majesty will give me the permission to raise money and a certain number of armed men, I will pay so many millions. The king then asks how it is intended to raise the money. It is by nothing else than the seizure of everybody in the kingdom, men and women, and by dint of torture compelling them to pay what is demanded. Such financiers are hateful and avaricious men. The king generally consents to their unjust proposals, as he thereby satisfies his own greed; he accords the asked-for permission, and demands security bonds.
    • Niccolao Manucci. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1999). Theory and practice of Muslim state in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 4
  • The common people (live in) poverty so great and miserable that the life of the people can be depicted or accurately described only as the home of stark want and the dwelling place of bitter woe… their houses are built of mud with thatched roofs. Furniture there is little or none, except some earthenware pots to hold water and for cooking…
    • Pelsaert,Jahangir’s India. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan.
  • The utter subjection and poverty of the common people-poverty so great and miserable that the life of the people can be depicted or accurately described only as the home of stark want and the dwelling place of bitter woe. ... There are three classes of people who are indeed nominally free, but whose status differs very little from voluntary slavery-workmen, peons or servants and shopkeepers. For the workmen there are two scourges, the first of which is low wages. Goldsmiths, painters (of cloth or chintz), embroiderers, carpet makers, cotton or silk weavers, black-smiths, copper-smiths, tailors, masons, builders, stone-cutters, a hundred crafts in all-any of these working from morning to night can earn only 5 or 6 tackas (tankahs), that is 4 or 5 strivers in wages. The second (scourge) is (the oppression of) the Governor, the nobles, the Diwan, the Kotwal, the Bakshi, and other royal officers. If any of these wants a workman, the man is not asked if he is willing to come, but is seized in the house or in the street, well beaten if he should dare to raise any objection, and in the evening paid half his wages, or nothing at all. From these facts the nature of their food can be easily inferred… For their monotonous daily food they have nothing but a little khichri… in the day time, they munch a little parched pulse or other grain, which they say suffices for their lean stomachs… Their houses are built of mud with thatched roofs. Furniture there is little or none, except some earthenware pots to hold water and for cooking… Their bedclothes are scanty, merely a sheet or perhaps two… this is sufficient in the hot weather, but the bitter cold nights are miserable indeed, and they try to keep warm over little cowdung fires… the smoke from these fires all over the city is so great that the eyes run, and the throat seems to be choked.
    • Francisco Pelsaert. Jahangir’s India. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • [the people of Hindustan lived] “as fishes do in the sea - the great ones eat up the little. For first the farmer robs the peasant, the gentlemen robs the farmer, the greater robs the lesser and the King robs all.”
    • Sir Thomas Roe (1615-19) Cited in Moreland, India at the Death of Akbar, p. 269. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • There should be left only so much to the Hindus that neither, on the one hand, they should become arrogant on account of their wealth, nor, on the other, desert their lands in despair.
    • Ordinance by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, quoted in Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • One idea that struck Alauddin Khalji (1296-1316) was that it was “wealth” which was the “source of rebellion and disaffection.” It encouraged defiance and provided means of “revolt”. He and his counsellors deliberated that if somehow people could be impoverished, “no one would even have time to pronounce the word ‘rebellion’.” ...According to W.H. Moreland “the question really at issue was how to break the power of the rural leaders, the chiefs and the headmen of parganas and villages…” Sultan Alauddin therefore undertook a series of measures to crush them by striking at their major source of power-wealth. But in the process, leaders and followers, rich and poor, all were affected. The king started by raising the land tax (Kharaj) to fifty percent....Furthermore, under Alauddin’s system all the land occupied by the rich and the poor “was brought under assessment at the uniform rate of fifty per cent”. ....In short, a substantial portion of the produce was taken away by the government as taxes and the people were left with the bare minimum for sustenance. For the Sultan had “directed that only so much should be left to his subjects (raiyyat) as would maintain them from year to year… without admitting of their storing up or having articles in excess.” ... Maulana Shamsuddin Turk, a divine from Egypt, was happy to learn that Alauddin had made the wretchedness and misery of the Hindus so great and had reduced them to such a despicable condition “that the Hindu women and children went out begging at the doors of the Musalmans.” ....While summing up the achievements of Alauddin Khalji, the contemporary chronicler Barani mentions, with due emphasis, that by the last decade of his reign the submission and obedience of the Hindus had become an established fact. Such a submission on the part of the Hindus “has neither been seen before nor will be witnessed hereafter.”
    • Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7, quoting Moreland, Agrarian System of Moslem India, p. 32 fn., Barani
  • An important order in the reign of Aurangzeb describes the Jagirdars as demanding in theory only half but in practice actually more than the total yield. Describing the conditions of the latter part of the seventeenth century Mughal empire, Dr. Tara Chand writes: “The desire of the State was to extract the economic rent, so that nothing but bare subsistence. remained for the peasant.” Aurangzeb’s instructions were that “there shall be left for everyone who cultivates his land as much as he requires for his own support till the next crop be reaped and that of his family and for seed. This much shall be left to him, what remains is land tax, and shall go to the public treasury.”
    • Tara Chand, History of Freedom Movement in India, I, p. 121. quoted from Lal, K. S. (1992). The legacy of Muslim rule in India. New Delhi: Aditya Prakashan. Chapter 7
  • Aurangzeb did this for two reasons: first, because by this time his treasures had begun to shrink owing to expenditure on his campaigns ; secondly, to force the Hindus to become Mahomedans. Many who were unable to pay turned Mahomedans, to obtain relief from the insults of the collectors. ... [Aurangzeb] was of the opinion that he had found in this tax an excellent means of succeeding in converting them, besides thereby replenishing his treasuries greatly...
    • About the Jizya during Aurangzeb's reign. Niccolao Manucci. Quoted from Lal, K. S. (1990). Indian muslims: Who are they.
  • (The) plebian sort is so poor that the greatest part of them go naked.
    • Salbank in Moreland, India at he Death of Akbar. quoted in Lal, K. S. (2001). Historical essays. New Delhi: Radha.(II.80)
  • The Hindu was taxed to the extent of half the produce of his land, and had to pay duties on all his buffaloes, goats, and other milk-cattle. The taxes were to be levied equally on rich and poor, at so much per acre, so much per animal. Any collectors or officers taking bribes were summarily dismissed and heavily punished with sticks, pincers, the rack, imprisonment and chains. The new rules were strictly carried out, so that one revenue officer would string together 20 Hindu notables and enforce payment by blows. No gold or silver, not even the betelnut, so cheering and stimulative to pleasure, was to be seen in a Hindu house, and the wives of the impoverished native officials were reduced to taking service in Muslim families. Revenue officers came to be regarded as more deadly than the plague; and to be a government clerk was disgrace worse than death, in so much that no Hindu would marry his daughter to such a man. ... [These edicts] were so strictly carried out that the chaukidars and khuts and muqad-dims were not able to ride on horseback, to find weapon, to wear fine clothes, or to indulge in betel. . .... No Hindu could hold up his head. ..... Blows, confinement in the stocks, imprisonment and chains were all employed to enforce payment. "
    • Stanley Lane-Poole : Medieval India, quoted from B.R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or The Partition of India (1946)
  • Guru Nanak proceeds to describe how the oppressors shaved off the maidens, their ‘heads with braided hair, with vermillion marks in the parting’; how ‘their throats were choked with dust’; how they were cast out of their palatial homes, unable now to sit even in the neighbourhood of their homes; how those who had come to the homes of their husbands in palanquins, decorated with ivory, who lived in the lap of luxury, had been tied with ropes around their necks; how their pearl strings had been shattered; how the very beauty that was their jewel had now become their enemy – ordered to dishonour them, the soldiers had carried them off. ‘Since Babar’s rule has been proclaimed,’ Guru Nanak wrote, ‘even the princes have no food to eat.’
    • Guru Granth Sahib, quoted from Shourie, Arun (2014). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud. Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India : HarperCollins Publishers.
  • The Sultan requested the wise men to supply some rules and regulations for grinding down the Hindus, and for depriving them of that wealth and property which fosters disaffection and rebellion. ... The people were brought to such a state of obedience that one revenue officer would string twenty khiits, mukaddims, or chaudharis together by the neck, and enforce payment by blows. No Hindu could hold up his head, and in their houses no sign of gold or silver, tonkas or jitals, or of any superfluity was to be seen. These things, which nourish insubordination and rebellion, were no longer to be found. Driven by destitution, the wives of the khuls and mukaddims went and served for hire in the houses of the Musulmans.... The Hindu was to be so reduced as to be left un- able to keep a horse to ride on, to carry arms, to wear fine clothes, or to enjoy any of the luxuries of life. .... I have, therefore, taken my measures, and have made my subjects obedient, so that at my command they are ready to creep into holes like mice. Now you tell me that it is all in accordance with law that the Hindus should be reduced to the most abject obedience.I am an unlettered man, but I have seen a great deal; be assured then that the Hindus will never become submissive and obedient till they are reduced to poverty. I have, therefore, given orders that just sufficient shall be left to them from year to year, of corn, milk, and curds, but that they shall not be allowed to accumulate hoards and property."
    • Tarikh-i Firoz Shahi, of Ziauddin Barani in Elliot and Dowson, Vol. III : Elliot and Dowson, History of India as told by its own Historians, 8 Volumes, Allahabad Reprint, 1964. p. 182 ff.
  • The resultant effect of [Alauddins] policy was that the people in the villages suffered from extreme financial hardship. The poverty of Indians was noticed in the later period by foreigners.
    • The position of Hindus under the Delhi Sultanate, 1206-1526 by Kanhaiya Lall Srivastava, quoted in Elst, Koenraad (2014). Decolonizing the Hindu mind: Ideological development of Hindu revivalism. New Delhi: Rupa. p. 390

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