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The Politics of Defining Poverty and Its Alleviation

questioning state strategies through grassroots voices in Kerala

Glyn Williams
Binitha Thampi
D Narayana
Sailaja Nandigama
Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya
2010

Abstract

Any attempt to define poverty, or to produce policy interventions for its alleviation, is necessarily both partial and political. The dominant mode of ‘seeing’ poverty currently adopted by the Indian state is that poverty pertains to households (or individuals), and can be captured by certain indicators whose presence (belonging to a Scheduled community) or absence (such as land ownership) is amenable to social verification. This is to some degree both innovative and progressive, in that it recognises the multi as ‘BPL’ (below poverty line). It is, however, problematic in that it fails to recognise the relational nature of poverty, and also bolsters a set of poverty alleviation strategies that take ‘capacity impaired households’ as naturalised objects for intervention (c.f. Tilly, 2007).

This paper uses evidence from two Districts in Kerala to question this current framing of poverty, and its alleviation through strategies important at the national level (the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and within the State (Kudumbashree, Kerala’s innovative anti programme for dealing with ‘destitute’ households). In doing so it draws on the perspectives of respondents traditionally seen as poor, such as landless labourers and Scheduled communities, and the ‘new’ poor, including farming households affected by the collapse of prices for Kerala’s key cash crops. The argument put forward here is that these programmes are well capacities for intervention, and put in play a particular mode of poverty alleviation which is potentially open to popular scrutiny and participation. What they ignore, however, is a deeper politics of the production of poverty, in which the local state is seen as helpless in the face of ‘market forces’ to address underlying issues around the production of secure livelihoods. ?dimensional nature of poverty, and potentially democratises the process of labelling households?poverty mission, and its Ashraya?attuned to the local state’s own  capacities for intervention, and put in play a particular mode of poverty alleviation which is potentially open to popular scrutiny and participation. What they ignore, however, is a deeper politics of the production of poverty, in which the local state is seen as helpless in the face of ‘market forces’ to address underlying issues around the production of secure livelihoods.

Publication Type(s)

Conference Paper

Ten Years of War Against Poverty Conference Papers

Conference: Ten Years of War Against Poverty

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