on March 13, 2000
Sainath's book provides vignettes of soul-destroying poverty and degradation in the poorest states in India. It is an attempt to correct the `event' approach which the majority of the media takes to India's ills, which tends to view India's problems simplistically as singular aberrations, rather than taking a broader `process' approach, which looks to less immediate causes. His writing is angry and passionate, but always clear.
What certainly comes through in Sainath's book is the incredible arrogance of much of the Indian administration. Save a few isolated cases, the examples of the arrogant official class are myriad - the official insistence that they know better than the very natives who had lived in an area for years; the mass sterilisation of perfectly good cattle, already adapted to the environment, in order to make way for a so-called "super cattle", which turns out to be useless; or the mass uprooting of millions of people to make way for useless dams, now brought to the attention of the West through the thankless activism of Arundhati Roy (the author of the God of Small Things). A consistent theme running through Sainath's reporting is a lack of honest and sincere consultation with the very people the `reforms' are supposed to help.
There are hopeful stories too - like the story of women's collectives. Sainath tells of how groups of women have gotten together and formed organised labour, and which do a better, more efficient work than the more `sophisticated' industries and companies. Indeed, industries come across as monopolies only interested in maintaining their corner of the market, and more than willing to resort to nasty tricks in order to maintain their dominance (for instance, creating rival groups to undermine the administration's trust in such organised groups, social ostracism, even physical abuse). Corrupt officials don't help these collectives' chances either - since the collectives' cheaper and more efficient labour threaten the kickbacks the officials get from the industries.
The Indian middle class are also chastised by Sainath. Like their Western counterparts, they require a diet of horror stories to grab their attention. Hence, stories are often reported as ahistorical events, rather than dealing honestly with the process which led to the `event' in question. More than this, the middle classes have become so numbed to the poverty of the majority, that they require exceptional suffering to warrant their time - thus, there are reports of `epidemics' and `droughts' which are often exaggerations or mistruths.
After a while, I felt myself becoming numbed by the stories. There were simply too many tales of woe. This isn't really a complaint about Sainath's reporting, but maybe more of a plea for longer, more detailed stories from him. But this is the nature of his book, which is essentially a compilation of newspaper articles. Although Sainath makes a plea in his book for a view of Indian poverty as process rather than event, sometimes I felt his stories were too short to support the process approach he himself advocates. Still, this should not stop any reader interested in India from reading this book. It is a shocking indictment of the India that should have been.
A standard criticism of works like Sainath's would be that it is merely critical, and doesn't provide any answers. How can one learn from the mistakes of one's predecessors? The impression I got from Sainath was that the best that could be done is more consultation, more historical awareness, more backup studies, more studies of the actual effects of the reform process itself on the environment and the people actually involved, and so on. It's not a particularly innovative conclusion, but it's probably realistic.
on August 15, 1999
This timely and important book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the India that does not make it onto the covers of coffee table books and glossy magazines. Sainath spent years in the poorest districts in India, attempting to understand how people with absolutely nothing by way of resources manage to eke out a living--one story is about men who transport over 900 pounds of coals on their bicycles, walking marathon-length distances every day, to earn the princely sum of 10 Indian Rupees (25 cents) per day.
Sainath is the most irreverent and committed journalist in India today. His stories, written for the Times of India, are full of pathos, but also of optimism--optimism born of his discovery that the poor in India are organizing to fight for their rights, have maintained a sense of dignity, and continue to live their lives against the most difficult odds.
The stories of government mismanagement of funds earmarked for rural uplift are perhaps not surprising, but for many, the stories of the venality of corporations and the tales of institutions like the Army running roughshod over the rights of hundreds of millions of India might just open eyes that were glued shut to the injustices prevalent in the Indian social matrix. The stories of India's 80 million tribal and indigenous people, Adivasis, are heart wrenching and fantastic--such stories cannot be found in mainstream publications.
Sainath has done an enormous and important task here: I recommend this book to everyone.
on April 11, 2005
With the recent hype of globalization and the changes transpiring in India, the myth that poverty has been eradicated, or is at least receding in India has pervaded the media. P Sainath takes this illusion head on and dispels it in this compelling account of the realities of rural poverty in India. Gritty, no-nonsense, Sainath avoids sensationalism and sticks to the facts through well-researched accounts of the living conditions of what is, in truth, a majority of Indians. Over 600 million people still live below the poverty line in India(depending on what source one uses for defining poverty) and Sainath, through years of work in the field, details their plight. He brings to light that hunger is but a single element of poverty--one might meet the minimum caloric intake to be considered "above the poverty line", while in truth living in a state of real poverty. Having had the opportunity to hear him speak live, I can say with the confidence that the book conveys his firebrand approach to the issues; with passion and verve he relates his tales of woe with critical insight and uncompromising integrity.
If this book has a weakness, it is in its repetition of account upon account of despair without offering potential solutions to alleviate the crisis. A great companion book to this excellent work would be Abraham George's "India Untouched: The Forgotten Face of Rural Poverty", which examines the crisis of poverty and offers realistic and pratical solutions that have been implemented.
on October 23, 2013
This is an eye opening and profound book! You would be surprised how local governments in India are using drought money. In each of the books chapters the author tells a story (narrative) that sounds as entertaining as a novel because the author is such an excellent writer--about specific incidents in different prefectures of India where federal drought money was allocated. In each case the money was never spent or utilized in a manner that aided the actual drought survivors or the families of those who had perished.
The topic sounds sad. But the shenanigans that happen, as we see the route the money takes to get to the local people, are almost funny because of the way the author uses his skills with words and his use of the "understatement" to heighten the absurdity of the situation.
This book is very eye opening about the government in India. It almost reminds me of how ineffective the U.S. has been in its attempt to implement funds for natural disaster relief like with Katrina or others.
The book tells so much about the mentality of the people of India, their perseverance and strength and, in the end, their wisdom in dealing with the government.
Excellent read! Informative and, in a absurdist way, humorous.
on October 21, 2006
Mr. Sainath captures the plight, hopes, and loss in rural villages in India. Farmers are committing suicide at an unprecedented rate. People are trying to adjust but hope is lost. As I regularly network with friends in the Telangana, I can honestly say that farmer suicide is a huge issue and a tragedy. Yet we still seem to move resources to the wealthy rather than address the serious issues in rural areas of the world. Even in the US, if we fully understood the tragedy of the destruction of the family farm, we would learn that here too loss leads to suicide. Despair and loss of hope is a horrible thing.
Read this compelling study into a problem happening all over the world. If you get a chance to hear Mr. Sainath speak, make sure you do not miss it. He is fantastic. One of the great investigative reporters in Indian.
on November 17, 2012
"Everybody Loves a Good Drought" is a collection of newspaper articles from the pen of a man Amartya Sen has aptly identified as India's greatest expert on famine. I read this as part of a journalism curriculum and nearly a decade later, I still remember this for its detailed accounts of poverty and the absurd life situations of its victims written in lucid prose, accessible to anyone willing to learn more about the aspects of India few know about [and I am not referring to poverty glamorized by movies such as Slum Dog Millionaire or books such as The White Tiger]. I also had the privilege of listening to Mr.Sainath once and he is as gifted a speaker as he is a writer--he brings with him a profound understanding and empathy through years of painstaking research; if there is one book of non-fiction about India I would recommend, it is this one.
on February 21, 2016
There can never be any doubt over the credibility and exhaustive research done by the legendary journalist, P. Sainath. That said, this is a wonderful work that looks at how India is at the grassroots, and makes a passionate call to the policy makers to understand and appreciate what people really want and to do the needful.
If you really love this work, then compliment it with reading "Poor Economics".