Christian agency defends Britain’s aid to India

Christian Aid has spoken of the vital role that British aid is playing in India after the country’s finance minister reportedly said it was not needed.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Pranab Mukherjee said India does not require the aid sent by Britain’s Department for International Development (Dfid) and that the amount is a “peanut in our total development exercises [expenditure]”.

The comments were reportedly made during question time in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament.

According to the newspaper, more than £1bn of British taxpayers’ money has been sent to India by Dfid in the last five years and a further £600 million will be spent on aid to India by 2015.

Christian Aid’s senior political adviser Sol Oyuela defended the British government’s continued aid commitment to India, saying that the challenges in the booming country were still “enormous”.

“India alone is home to a third of the world’s poor,” she said.

“Inequalities in society that predate the economic boom mean that there are still a large number who suffer social exclusion, and are therefore unable to access these entitlements.

“India is not unique in failing to solve all its social problems overnight. The challenges are enormous, with child malnutrition running at about 50 per cent in states the size of Britain.

“UK aid to India is targeted at the three poorest states there, focusing the work in areas where poverty is very high.”

Christian Aid said it “fully supports” the “significant” amount of UK aid being targeted at women and girls who are “worst off among the poor”.

It said Dfid was doing valuable work engaging with India’s private sector to hire people from marginalised groups.

Dfid money is supporting Christian Aid’s work in India to help such communities to know their rights and what entitlements they can access.

Among the groups being helped are the dalits, who were at the bottom of the old caste system. In particular, Christian Aid is helping dalits who work as manual scavengers, cleaning human waste from latrines without proper sanitation.

“Although the practice is illegal, it still continues,” said Ms Oyuela.

“One of our partner organisations helps dalit manual scavengers access government resources and find dignified alternative employment, allowing them to break free from the social constraints consigning them to such a role.”

Christian Aid’s country director in India, Anand Kumar, said: “India is dealing with deep-rooted structural causes of poverty such as caste, gender and ethnicity based poverty.

"In spite of the constitution of India prohibiting various forms of discriminatory practices, some of those social and cultural practices still continue exists in one form or the other.

“The role of civil society groups is crucial in helping poor and socially excluded communities gain their rights and entitlements.

“Dfid’s support through its flagship civil society programmes provides critical support to local organisations in addressing these challenges and reducing poverty and discrimination.”