National Geographic : 1988 Dec
Life on the Edge Photographs by RAGHU RAI MAGNUM NATION OF CONTRASTS, India contains both a developed industrial structure and an impoverished majority living traditional lives, seemingly untouched by the 20th cen tury. Its population is the world's second largest (after China's) and still increasing by 2 percent a year, despite an active family-planning program since the 1950s. India refers to itself as the world's largest democracy, and to a large degree that is true. This, plus the nation's cultural diversi ty and remnant caste system, may explain why family planning has been less successful than in China, where the centralized government has more power to enforce its policies. India's efforts also have been hampered by such factors as high rates of illiteracy and infant mortality, low status of women, conflict between castes and religious groups, inconsistent govern ment policy, poor internal com munications, and, of course, poverty. India's performance in feed ing its 800 million people has been considerably better. In the late 1960s, when monsoon fail ures were wreaking havoc with food production, India became a pioneer in the green revolu tion through the introduction of high-yield wheat supported by extensive irrigation and a grow ing fertilizer industry. The na tion became a green revolution showcase self-sufficient in food in most years, largely because of successful increases in the wheat harvest. Yield increases in corn and rice, however, were much more modest, and crops such as lentils and other legumes (important in a society with vegetarian habits or people too poor to buy ani mal protein) were neglected as wheat acreage expanded. People in some regions flourished, others were perhaps worse off. Potential additional increases from green revolution technol ogies are limited, and India's population has grown by several hundred million since they were introduced. Monsoon failures in the 1980s have once again brought food shortages. Today India has no margin of safety in the struggle to feed a population steadily climbing toward a billion. RAGHU RAI was born in the Punjab in 1942. His photographs are regu larly published in major magazines and newspapers around the world. Infant mortality per thousand live births: INDIA 104 KENYA 76 BRAZIL 63 CHINA 44 HUNGARY 19 U.S.A. 10 Remote from 20th-century life, Ranchod Pateland his family live in one of India'smore than half millionruralvillages. Between monsoons they haul theirwater from a distant well across the parched hills of Gujaratstate. Choosingpersuasionover coer cion, the Indiangovernment strug gles mightily to curb a relentless populationgrowth. Even so, Indiais growing by 16 million people a year and will reach one billion by the year 2000. 930 INDIA tl 'l 1'