NEW YORK – Africa, Haiti and El Salvador are ‘shithole’ countries, according to President Donald Trump. Racism apart, the word conjures up images of extreme poverty – smelly slums, semi-naked beggars on roads, emaciated children, stray dogs wallowing in mile-high garbage in abysmal conditions, people defecating in the open, starvation deaths taken for granted. Question is: what does Trump think of India? Does he have contempt for India too? Think it’s a ‘shithole’ country? Or does he like India and Indians?
Comedian Trevor Noah poked fun at Trump’s nod for Norwegians to emigrate to the US, rather than the ‘shithole’ African countries, saying on his late night show of Norwegians: “People so white they wear moonscreen — that’s how white they are.”
For India, though, the vital question is not so much the likelihood of a light-skinned Kashmiri vs. a dark-skinned Malayalee finding favor with the most powerful man on Earth. It’s why Trump deems countries in Africa, Haiti and El Salvador to be ’shithole’ countries, compared to the US. The answer is as clear as watching a documentary on children dying of starvation in Ethiopia or Somalia vs. to look at mannequins dressed in a $10,000 outfit in a Saks Fifth Avenue Store. Poor people vs. Rich people.
So, don’t blame Indians for squirming, feeling dejected when they read the word ‘Shithole’, which would give unhealthy competition to the word ‘Slumdog’ (Millionaire) any day.
Here’s the truth, in case Trump didn’t know it already: according to the latest global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), in 2017, India’s ranking slid from 94 to 100, out of total of 199 countries from where data was collected.
A mammoth 14.5% of India’s population is undernourished, comprising of 190 million people. In 2007, India at 94/119 was trailing 93 countries. In comparison, South Africa’s rank is 55.
In 2017, India is trailing 99 countries, out of a total of 199 countries on the Global Hunger Index, reported the Quint.
Between 2007 and 2017, China brought down prevalence of hunger to improve its ranking from 47 to 29 among 119 countries. Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka are ranked higher than India. Only Pakistan and Afghanistan at 106 and 107, respectively, are worse off than India. Bangladesh, which trailed nine places behind India at 103 in 2007, is ranked at 88 in 2017. Strife-torn Iraq is ranked at 78, and totalitarian North Korea at 93 out of 119 countries, reported Quint based on the data.
When the MPI was first begun in 2010, Guardian reported that based on the inaugural data, there are more poor people in eight states of India than in the 26 countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
More than 410 million people live in poverty in the Indian states, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, researchers at Oxford University found. The “intensity” of the poverty in parts of India is equal to, if not worse than, that in Africa, the report said.
When Madhya Pradesh, which has a population of 70 million (at that time), was compared with the Democratic Republic of the Congo – the war-racked African state of 62 million inhabitants, the two were found to have near-identical levels of poverty. Overall, South Asia was home to over half (54%) of the global MPI poor population, while 31% live in Sub-Saharan Africa, the study concluded then.
While Bill Gates may have commended the Akshay Kumar starrer ‘Toilet – A Prem Katha’ for the innovative social feature which spread the need for millions of more toilets in India, and improve sanitation, Trump might find that fact disgusting, reach out for wipes after shaking hands with Indians.
India has the highest number of urban dwellers in the world who do not have access to safe and private toilets ─ 157 million people, according to a report in November, 2016, by WaterAid, a sanitation charity based in the UK. India is worse off than the African countries of Nigeria – the largest economy in Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia.
The report pointed out that eight Olympic-sized swimming pools could be filled daily with excrement produced by India’s 41 million urban residents who must defecate in the open.
Trump had reportedly mocked Nigerians earlier, saying if they were to ever come to the US, they would never go back to their ‘huts. For India, he might probably surmise the same, if not worse.
Yet, Trump is an anomaly, a puzzle like a Rubik’s Cube, needs to be decoded daily, if the color alignment is twisted around. His recent comments about India seem to suggest that he has, on the contrary what he feels for some other poor countries, high regard for India.
“Working with countries, whether it’s Russia or China or India, or any of the countries that surround this world and encompass this world, is a very good thing. That’s not a bad thing,” Trump told reporters at a joint White House news conference with Prime Minister, Norway, Erna Solberg, a day before his ‘shithole’ comment hit the ceiling.
If Trump’s a racist, he doesn’t necessarily show it in his hiring policies.
To defend his ‘shithole’ comment, this is what an Indian American working for him, spokesman Raj Shah, had to say: “Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people. Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.”
The fact is also that Trump has hired more Indian Americans in his administration than any previous US administration, which shows he may be an elitist, but stands behind work performance.
Yet, how does one explain the overt tightening of immigration policies targeting skilled Indians in the US, to curb future emigration of Indians to the US by clamping down on chain migration?
Trump is also likely to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Davos later this month, which will see some more bonhomie between the two leaders, after they met twice last year, in Washington, DC, and in Manila at the ASEAN meet. It will be the first Davos trip for both Modi and Trump. A warm hug and embrace is not out of the question, especially if Modi decides to do so.
So, does Trump like India? Or does he like only rich, skilled Indians?
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)