Guardian: Amartya Sen: India’s dirty fighter
Half of Indians have no toilet. It’s one of many gigantic failures that have prompted Nobel prize-winning academic Amartya Sen to write a devastating critique of India’s economic boom
he roses are blooming at the window in the immaculately kept gardens of Trinity College, Cambridge and Amartya Sen is comfortably ensconced in a cream armchair facing shelves of his neatly catalogued writings. There are plenty of reasons for satisfaction as he approaches his 80th birthday. Few intellectuals have combined academic respect and comparable influence on global policy. Few have garnered quite such an extensive harvest of accolades: in addition to his Nobel prize and more than 100 honorary degrees, last year he became the first non-US citizen to be awarded the National Medal for the Humanities.
But Sen doesn’t do satisfaction. He does outrage expressed in the most reasonable possible terms. What he wants to know is where more than 600 million Indians go to defecate.
“Half of all Indians have no toilet. In Delhi when you build a new condominium there are lots of planning requirements but none relating to the servants having toilets. It’s a combination of class, caste and gender discrimination. It’s absolutely shocking. Poor people have to use their ingenuity and for women that can mean only being able to relieve themselves after dark with all the safety issues that entails,” says Sen, adding that Bangladesh is much poorer thanIndia and yet only 8% don’t have access to a toilet. “This is India’s defective development.”
Despite all the comfort and prestige of his status in the UK and the US – he teaches at Harvard – he hasn’t forgotten the urgency of the plight of India’s poor, which he first witnessed as a small child in the midst of the Bengal famine of 1943. His new book, An Uncertain Glory, co-written with his long-time colleague Jean Drèze, is a quietly excoriating critique of India’s boom.