Almost all of us intuitively know that there are two Indias—an upbeat, incredible India, and a harsher, invisible India.
This visible, incredible India, invariably focuses on big cities, while the rest of India remains unseen.
Many in incredible India are aware of invisible India’s challenges and do their mite to help. But there are also many in privileged India who could perhaps be a little more mindful and helpful in solving invisible India’s problems.
The Tale of Two Indias
People from invisible India frequently migrate to the big cities of India, in search of better opportunities and to escape the struggle to survive in rural India.
I am from a healthcare background. In healthcare studies, we are seeing many articles that talk about health inequalities and social inequalities in the nation.
In every field except telecommunication, there is a stark difference in the quality of life between the incredible and invisible India.
The telecommunication industry has managed to reach rural areas in India. Now there is access to the internet via their phones. But in other aspects, things are deplorable.
While road and rail connectivity is improving, economic and social aspects are lagging behind. Basics that we take for granted in visible India are simply not there in invisible India.
The Nation Within Our Nation
As healthcare professionals, we as a family have spent about two decades in rural India. While we worked at the Nepal-Bihar border, we were able to provide secondary and basic tertiary care for patients who came to our hospital
If there was a need to refer to a higher centre, the nearest city we could take the patients to was Patna, which was about 200 kilometres away. But in many situations the care there was unreliable. So we would have to send these patients who needed a higher level of care to Lucknow which was 500-plus kilometres away
Private healthcare is so prevalent in visible India as they cater to the upper socio-economic class who have access to insurance. But government insurance schemes which the rural poor have do not attract private healthcare providers due to economic reasons and so they are absent in invisible India.
In a certain set of villages, we carried out a verbal autopsy to understand the cause of death. We found that the mortality rates in these villages were much higher than the state average.
There is a nation within our nation, where data is unreliable and often inaccurate. Since 40 per cent of India is urban, data is driven by cities, not by rural areas. So even at the academic level, accurate understanding of data is limited.
Social divisions, caste, or religious divisions are much stronger in invisible India. Work opportunities are determined by caste and religious divisions, which are not as prevalent in cities. There is also immense gender disparity.
Urban India has a utopian expectation of what rural India should look, feel, and be like. This is often driven by their own perceptions, not by an understanding of the ground reality.
The Preservation and Protection of India’s Youth
Incredible India often does not fathom the state of youth and education in invisible India.
In most villages and towns, there are schools up to 10th or 12th grade. However, beyond that, coaching facilities for competitive exams are inaccessible to the youth of rural India. So students are unable to compete in these entrance exams to advance their opportunities.
Looking at it differently, from a demographic perspective, 45 per cent of India is below the age of thirty-five. So, the preservation and protection of the youth is the most urgent need.
Rural youth are struggling. Militancy is on the rise because the youth does not know what to do with their life.
Since telecommunication has reached the masses, rural youth is aspirational. It is influenced by the media. They can see the divide between the visible and invisible India but they are bogged down by unfulfilled aspirations.
Fatherlessness in Invisible India
In many rural homes, the father figure migrates to a bigger village, town, or city in search of work. So homes are run by women.
The economic divide is creating a fatherless generation. Sons leave home to join their fathers for better economic opportunities. Sometimes breakthroughs happen.
Working in mental health, we have seen a substantial shift. Two decades ago we saw women attempting suicide soon after marriage—on account of dowry-related harassment.
Over time, the number of people attempting to commit suicide has tripled. But there is also an increase in the number of young men attempting suicide—sometimes for simple reasons like they were not able to buy a phone. This is merely the tip of the iceberg.
It is the manifestation of a deeper social challenge they are facing. With the lack of a father figure, the lack of appropriate support systems, and the media promoting unmatchable aspirations, the rural youth are distressed.
The Need for Upward Mobility
Another urgent need is upward mobility. There is a dearth of skill-building and educational opportunities for rural youth.
The poorest of the poor struggle to reach the reservation for college.
There is an agrarian failure, where the upper caste is the land owner, so the farmer is merely a labourer.
In urban India, there is scope for some protest and speaking up. However, the division in invisible India is more pronounced. There is no way for someone in the lower class to revolt or question the system.
There is a sense of helplessness among the youth. Bonded labour and child trafficking become the norm by default.
Since caste determines identity, there is a feeling that nothing can be done to escape it. Being from a tribe, or belonging to scheduled castes/scheduled tribes does not guarantee opportunity.
As a result, the youth feel they have no escape, no faith, and no way to get out.
Appreciating Invisible India
The resilience of people in rural India is greater than that of more privileged people in modern India.
Earthquakes, floods, and, droughts come and go but life goes on in these parts of the country. They pick up and carry on. Visible India, which has better resources, finds it harder to be hopeful and joyful in more comfortable circumstances.
Despite limited resources, they have more contentment because life is not as complex. While they are concerned with basic needs, we are easily driven by greed.
We can be too caught up in ourselves but they have the ability to find joy in life despite adverse circumstances.
We need to be mindful of our dependence on invisible India. There is a huge swathe of people in India who remain invisible to us, whom we depend on.
They build our cities, construct our homes, grow our food, and keep the country ticking. If it decides to stop its work, cities will collapse.
The Longing of Invisible India
We must recognise they are created in the image of God, with a longing for community. In the conversations I have had with people in rural India, they just want to be accepted as they are and for us to journey with them.
Many times they are challenged by the power distance between us and them.
Our knowledge, technology, and healthcare expertise communicate a saviour mentality which they can sense. People in rural India do not want fixers who relate to them with a saviour complex, but companions who can journey with them.
In their natural, hierarchical way of thinking, they look up to people coming from places like Delhi. When you sit with them and simply talk to them, they cannot fathom it. They just want someone to be their friend.
The Gospel in Invisible India
While invisible India is migrating to modern India, the gospel is compelling some in urban India to serve people in rural areas.
In Bihar, some groups have done extensive work with the Musahar (Rat eaters) tribe. The Musahar tribe consists of landless labourers who are uneducated, illiterate, and, have no opportunities.
A group has worked among them and provided them with non-formal education.
There has been multi-level intervention to pull them out of a cycle of oppression, resulting in some finding freedom from despair.
In 1996, in a remote part of Jharkhand, during one of the clinics, I noticed that majority of the community were Christians. But the oldest member of the tribe was fourty-five years old. Many were dying of kala-azar(black fever), TB, Malaria and other preventable illnesses.
Though their lives had been changed their health had not improved. But now, 25 years later, there is a hospital and a massive community health program initiated by two noted Indian, Christian non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
Now older people are alive and thriving. Primary health systems have changed. Alcoholism has dropped and the tribe lives peacefully with their neighbours. There are nurses, from that tribal community and 1 boy is studying for MBBS.
Another organisation has spent 40 years with the tribes in this region, witnessing the power of the good news to change lives and bring wholeness.
Through the patient labour of servant-hearted people, lives are being transformed in rural India. But there is much work to do.
May the Lord who sees all things send more labourers to do his work in the places no one can see.