Creating Conversation Through Inequality Townhall

By Avinash Kumar and Amit Sengupta

“All countries in the world have inequalities of various kinds. India, however, has a unique cocktail of lethal divisions and disparities. Few countries have to contend with such extreme inequalities in so many dimensions, including large economic inequalities as well as major disparities of caste, class and gender.” – Jean Dreze, Amartya Sen, An Uncertain Glory.

India is a country riddle with social inequality. The top 5 percent households possess 38 percent of the country’s total assets, while the bottom 60 percent own merely 13 percent. According to World Bank, 32.7 percent of Indians live below the poverty line, despite the country’s enormous growth in income. Muslims, dalits and tribals continue to suffer from discrimination, and endure substantially worse health and education standards.

But perhaps the most pressing inequality is that between men and women. Almost one in every two women in India experience violence in their daily life. Women own less than ten percent of land in India. And they remain hopelessly under-represented in key institutions like the parliament, the judiciary and the police force.

Close the Gap is Oxfam India’s new campaign for equality. It challenges vital aspects of inequality in some key areas, such as gender, property rights for women, income, education, the right to food security, and budgetary allocations for marginalised groups. The campaign launched on March this year, began by focusing on gender inequality, asking the general public the ways in which they would ‘close the gap’ between men and women.

“It is a three-year campaign that is focused on bridging the yawning divide between the rich and the poor, and between rural Bharat and urban India. It aims to challenge inequality and press both society and government to radically change the way they treat marginalized groups, including tribals, women, Muslims and dalits,” observed Nisha Agrawal, CEO, Oxfam India. Over a three year period, the project aims to create a vibrant public conversation, engage with them and seek their solutions towards reducing these disparities. Most of these critical issues such as women in small-scale agriculture, health and education; food justice; and gender justice are fundamental to Oxfam’s broader programmatic interventions.

To build conversations, Oxfam India adapted a multi-platform campaign. To reach tens of thousands of people staying across the rural areas we used community radio stations; while to connect with the urban youth and Gen-Y we had creative installations and conversations in public malls and marketplaces. We also connected with the larger public that exists across the social media landscape through an online approach such as website, facebook and twitter.

We had set up two phone lines which were promoted through community radio and signages in bus shelters, billboards, cafes, and radio cabs. These creative visualizations were also used to direct callers to the website. Our community radio technology partner Gram Vaani operated the phone lines using their existing infrastructure in New Delhi. A total of 50,000 callers got in touch with us through the phone lines.

Participants came from varied and diverse backgrounds. Men and women respondents came from states such as Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Assam Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and New Delhi. An array of suggestions poured in from the participants about how to bridge the divide between men and women, but on some issues like ending violence against women, majority of the people spoke with one voice.

We are also doing an exciting event called Oxfam Inequality Townhall on 24 October in New Delhi. This is an unique, one-of-its kind social event wherein we are inviting opinions and suggestions from across the country through various platforms such as social media, online opinion polls as well as regional community radio stations to seek voices of people living in the villages. Inequality Townhall will be steered around launch of our Policy Brief on Inequality and a live interactive panel discussion on Inequality in India.

The Inequality Townhall will host some prominent Indians who will discuss and seek solutions around some broad areas of inequality such as income inequality, rural and urban, religion and caste. Let us all catch up with this exciting Inequality Townhall.

You can post your suggestions, throw questions to the panelists, share your opinions on inequality and how we should bridge the gap by tweeting on Oxfam India’s twitter profile and posting on its Facebook account.Please do use the hashtag #ctgindia and #inequality while you post your thoughts.

I am really looking forward to it. Are you?

This article is co-authored by Avinash Kumar and Amit Sengupta. Avinash Kumar is Director, Policy, Research and Campaigns, Oxfam India. Amit Sengupta is programme coordinator – public facing campaigns for Oxfam India. He tweets as @aidlabs


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