Watch ‘India at a Crossroads,’ a GPS special, this Sunday at 10 a.m. & 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Corinne Woods, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Corinne Woods is director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign, a U.N. campaign unit set up in 2002 to support the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. The full MY World statistics can be accessed here. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
This year has been a turbulent one for Indian politicians faced with a newly vocal, newly energized electorate.
The rape and subsequent death of a 23-year-old student at the end of 2012 has forced the issue of sexual discrimination and harassment to center stage, and last month the government saw huge losses at state elections as voters used the ballot to protest over corruption and incompetency. The United Progressive Alliance government is going to have to respond to these issues fast if it is to keep its grip on the country at next year’s general election, and the voters are leaving the politicians in no doubt as to what they expect on these key issues.
But what about the other issues that they really care about? What if these, too, could be heard and addressed so that policies recognized what the voters really talked about at home rather than what the media reported on the television, in newspapers and on the internet?
It’s a potentially dangerous game, trying to read the minds of the electorate. Reacting to the storm and not listening to the undercurrent. But it can be done.
A United Nations-led initiative, MY World, is trying just that – right now. It’s listening to the voice of the people in an attempt to make sure the new Post-2015 Development Agenda, which will take over from the Millennium Development Goals, addresses what the poorest, most disadvantaged people on our planet really want – not just what the wonks putting it in place think they need.
It’s an ambitious task, but MY World has already talked to more than one million people (more than one quarter of them Indian), asking them which of 16 issues, ranging from good governance to reliable energy at home, people feel most affect their lives. These findings can now be compared and contrasted with people of all ages, race, gender and backgrounds from all over the world to paint a vivid picture of the lives people want.
The top six issues in India include, as they do across the world, a desire for honest and responsive government, a good education, access to jobs and healthcare. But noticeably, Indians are much more concerned with equality between men and women than in other parts of the developing world. This is tied in with a disproportionately high number of young Indians in the 16 to 30 age group who list protection against crime and violence as one of their top priorities. This, possibly as a direct result of the bus gang-rape incident, has become a huge issue for Indian youth.
These responses strongly reflect what has already been heard this year – a need for honest and accountable government (as promised by the Aam Aadmi Party, victors in Delhi’s elections this month), and for equality for women, which has been seen in the emergence of women brave enough to complain about sexual harassment in the workplace.
But there is also a desire for access to jobs and education (again, the voice of the young) and access to safe, affordable food. It is striking that when the MY World data is looked at as a whole, the overriding message is that people, wherever they live, want access to the same basic human rights: health, education and employment, overseen by an honest and responsive government.
This is what the Indian people have been telling their government this year, and this is what will need to be addressed if India’s ruling coalition is to have any chance of success when the country heads to the polls next year.