Behind the Beautiful Forevers

by Katherine Boo

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Why hasn't globalization lifted the Annawadi people out of poverty in "Behind the Beautiful Forevers"?

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Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a beautifully written piece about slum life in Mumbai. As the author notes, India has recorded steady economic growth in the recent years, but on a sad note, the poorest and most vulnerable individuals have received shamefully little of the benefits that come along with a thriving economy. One main factor is to blame for this horrible trend; that is, runaway corruption. In a bid to prove the involvement of corruption in creating a juxtaposed and profound inequality among the people, the author has reviewed close to three thousand public records, acquired from multiple government agencies including, but not limited to, public hospitals, police stations, courts, mortuaries, and electoral offices. Upon reviewing these records, Boo arrives at a chilling verdict; corruption is widespread, obstructing provision of services in schools, police stations, hospitals, and so forth. Doctors interfere with hospital records to avoid being blamed for the horrid death of a woman. Police officers beat up a child without considering that a healthy body is needed to secure a daily livelihood. A leader takes pictures of poor children working hard in school with the purported intention of getting them government funds, only for the school to get closed down shortly afterward.

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The people of the Annawadi area of Mumbai grow up in drastic poverty. They have a thorough understanding of the Indian social system; most people, the author claims, also have faith in innate and learned skills that can help them cope and advance.

One widespread social feature is clientelism, in which people give jobs and provide services to only those with whom they have personal connections. In this primarily Hindu area, the old established caste patterns largely remain in place. This makes it difficult to get beyond the bottom rung of the advancement ladder.

Closely related is corruption, in which business and civic leaders take bribes for facilitating development. Particular neighborhoods, service providers, and even labor unions will be contracted only if they pay. The poor, even if they manage to start a business, cannot compete.

Another factor is neglect and lack of social programs. Increased industrialization brings more pollution and related waste. The state devotes few resources to mitigating these effects, so poor neighborhoods are left without potable water or sewer systems.

A desire for education is also thwarted by the low number and quality of public schools and the expense of, and competition to enter, private schools. For tech-heavy jobs in globalized concerns, people without education are basically shut out.

The environmental hazards in their living conditions also render the poor and marginalized more vulnerable to illness. This in turn adds to high infant mortality and neonatal illness, malnutrition, persistence of communicable diseases, and lower life expectancy. Low government investment in health and poor oversight over multinational companies' harmful practices, such as water pollution and toxic waste dumping, disproportionately harm the poorest of the poor.

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Boo's work details how globalization can be easily subverted by efforts of corruption in order to ensure that the people most in need do not receive much in way of its benefits.  The individuals in Boo's work do not possess much in way of political power or economic power.  In order for globalization to work, it has to have a profound "trickle down" effect.  This is a system in which there are so many opportunities for individuals to subvert the system, a point in which Boo makes:

Instead, powerless individuals blamed other powerless individuals for what they lacked. Sometimes they tried to destroy one another. Sometimes, like Fatima, they destroyed themselves in the process.

The rising cost of living, the profundity of wealth for some and the dearth of it for others, as well as the corruption that enables this system to continue is what Boo attributes in terms of individuals blaming one another.  It is here where Boo is able to make clear that globalization might not be able to fully address or help individuals who are the most dire need of its help.

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