Report Reveals 56 Percent of Indian Population Can't Meet Basic Needs; Catholics Pledge to Be Church of the Poor

A new economic report on India revealed a lower poverty rate in the world's second most populous country. At the same time, more than half of the population still cannot meet their basic needs. With that, the Roman Catholic Church in India echoed Pope Francis' call to devote itself to serving the poor and those marginalized by society.

"The Catholic community intends to improve its services to education, making schools and other educational institutions closer to the poor. It also aims to combat the culture of well-being, which leads to 'globalization of indifference,' as Pope Francis defines it," Agenzia Fides reported on Thursday, citing comments by the "Justice and Peace" Commission of the Indian Bishops.

The McKinsey Global Institute report, commissioned by the Indian government and released this month, revealed mixed economic news for the South Asian country. While the official poverty rate has gone down from 45 percent of the population in 1994 to 22 percent in 2012, it was found that 56 percent of the population, or 680 million people, still lack the means to meet essential needs, such as food, energy, housing, drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, education, and social security.

"Our research finds that Indian households, on average, lack access to 46 percent of the basic services they need, and it identifies wide geographic disparities in the availability of social infrastructure," the report notes. It suggests various goals India needs to set to improve those statistics, including accelerating job creation, raising farm productivity, increasing public spending on basic services, and making basic services more effective.

In their response to the report, the Indian bishops pledged that the Catholic Church will be a "Church of the poor" and tackle this "dehumanizing poverty." This pledge echoes the sentiment of Pope Francis in his 2013 "apostolic exhortation," his first major written work as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, where he criticized the current global economic system as "unjust at its root."

"How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" Francis asked. "This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless."

The Vatican leader added that he wants to see a church "which is poor and for the poor," noting that the disadvantaged often reflect the suffering of Christ.

The Catholic bishops in India, where there are an estimated 59 million Christians, also promised to direct special attention toward the weak and the marginalized, especially the Dalits – who are known as "the untouchables" and have faced over 3,000 years of oppression, degradation and discrimination.

"This group falls outside the predominant Indian social hierarchy, which subjects them to enumerated hardships, extreme discrimination and enslavement," a 2012 Christian Post report based on interviews and personal accounts in India noted.

"'Broken,' 'outcast' and 'crushed' are all words that have been used to describe the Dalits. The name connotes a dehumanized state of being, allowing upper caste members to justify despicable actions which include forced prostitution, enslavement and perhaps the most harmful, indifference," the three-part report explained.

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