Human development and dignity

Human development and dignity

The Human Development Report 2013 of the UNDP was released recently with HDI ranks of different countries. The theme of this year's report is 'Human...

The Human Development Report 2013 of the UNDP was released recently with HDI ranks of different countries. The theme of this year's report is 'Human progress in a diverse world' and appears to have covetous tone towards the rise of the South or developing countries. We are aware that HDI is popularly used now in all debates to indicate the development of a country, and not the GDP because HDI gives a better understanding of human progress achieved in a country than the mere income expressed as GDP. HDI is an aggregate estimate of three indicators of life expectancy, education attainment and income of a country during a year. The UNDP has been publishing the annual reports from 1990, incorporating new and innovative ideas in each report. The Indian subcontinent takes pride in the intellectual inputs contributed by Pakistani and Indian scholars for the popularization of the concept which is universally accepted now. A Andhra University is nostalgic for the vision of Prof Sarveswara Rao who offered a course in 1970s at the Department of Economics and had correspondence with Amartya Sen. The subject based on human capital theory in the West later seemed to have degenerated in the hands of one group of scholars and Nobel laureates (Schultz, Buchanan, Becker and others) who considered education as an investment in man. A The premise has enabled World Bank scholars to reduce education, particularly higher education, to private investment and made countries like India play nominal role. One of the reasons for the present crisis in higher education is this plunge. Yet, it has also enabled scholars like Huq, Sen and others to take it to a different level and produced a civilized concept called human development.A The 2013 HDI has made an important statement that, "no country for which data was available had lower HDI value in 2012 than in 2000". It has added that there is convergence of HDI values across the world. A key message of the report is economic growth alone does not automatically translate into human development progress. Therefore, it is necessary to concentrate on four important issues. 1. Enhancing equality, 2 including the gender dimension, 3.enabling greater voice and publicity of citizen, including youth, and 4. manage the demographic change. The report has demonstrated by data and regression results how inequality holds back HD in many countries. While discussing some individual countries, it is pointed out, "India's performance in accelerating HD, however, is less impressive than its growth performance". Indeed, Bangladesh is doing well compared to India's rate of growth in HDI over a period of time. The report has also presented HDI ranks for different countries over a period of three decades. India is ranked 136 in 2012, a few ranks down between the years.
It is strange to find that the rank of India has been lingering around 131-136 during 1990-2012 with increase in the member-countries over time. Among the BRICS nations, India is the only country that is not even close to any one of them: Brazil 85, Russia 55, China 101 and South Africa 121. The HDI value of India was 0.345 in 1980, raised to 0.410 in 1990 to 0.507 in 2000 and now stands at 0.554. If the ranks are adjusted for inequalities, the value of HDI comes to 0.392, a loss of 29 per cent. What it is like to be a human being, is given in Box 1.3 of the report referring to dimensions of freedom, well- being, deprivations and even cited the classic paper by Philosopher Nagel on, 'the experience of being a bat'. A But, the authors have failed to grapple with philosophical nuances of the essence of man in the context of freedom from fear as an important human value. It is here the authors of the report mentioned about human emancipation from human condition like Auschwitz (Poland), the place where millions of Jews were butchered. I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz in 1981 and noted the savage brutality meted to a community. Did human society learn lessons from such events? Are there similar or broadly related issues; maybe less malicious practices, perpetuated even in contemporary world or in India? Human dignity seems to have something to do with the essence of man. It is not possible here to discuss the metaphysical elucidations of Kant or Indian sages Sankara or Ramanuja to convey that spirit is outside mind and body. Is it consciousness or higher feelings beyond self that bring the essence of man? Or is it simply reduced to the feeling that we are all basically same humans? The West has tried to address this questionand brought the idea of human dignity. In fact, the Frankfurt school scholars like Adorno, Horkheimer and others have published volumes on this question. But the mundane sciences like biomedical and Human Genome project have brought out future issues like how the human species is endangered, a threat to human dignity. A However, the genome project has clarified that the human DNA is 99 per cent common with chimpanzee and only less than 1 percent of genetic information is typical. Therefore, it is the intrinsic worth of human beings, which is inalienable, irrespective of age, sex, religion, color, social group, nation etc, seems to be identical. Then, why is it that there are more poor people in India than in China, Brazil, Cuba or Albania? Are social institutions and practices responsible for this? As part of human dignity paradigm, the HDRs have introduced a concept called Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) to identify how women are discriminated against. Interestingly, it never occurred to our scholars to use the methodology to produce a caste-related development index (CDI). It is still surprising to note that when a paper, first of its kind, was presented in ISEC, Bangalore, and published in ICSSR journal and also in a book in 2000, highlighting the unique contribution of reform movements in the South for gender equality, education and social mobility etc, they were totally ignored in a report of a south Indian State in 2007. This is only an example to show how the dignity and respect for human beings are measured even in academic circles known to be above narrow considerations. Therefore, human dignity would become an important measure of advancements in future, if HDIs converge in a diverse world. A India, being a country with several contradictions, should learn from others and excel in ensuring dignity and fairness.
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