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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 August 2007, 22:01 GMT 23:01 UK
Can India close the wealth gap?
By Karishma Vaswani
Business correspondent, BBC News, Mumbai

Indian farmer carrying wood
Many of India's poor are being left behind by the speed of change
Sixty years after India was freed from British colonial rule, the country's economy is booming. But will the wealth be shared more equally in the future?

On the eve of independence India's newly elected Prime Minister Jawarlahal Nehru made an impassioned and oft-quoted speech saying India had made a tryst with destiny.

At the time he was talking about India's struggle to gain the right to govern itself and to make its own decisions about its future, be they political or economic.

It was an austere, simple time when idealism was at its height and the distribution of wealth was a priority.

Today, it would seem that India has taken a slightly different route towards its destiny.

'Not enough'

In Mumbai, India's financial capital, symbols of India's economic success are all around - from flashy billboards advertising the latest perfumes to trendy young women dressed in the latest Tommy jeans.

The India of today is vibrant, confident and ambitious - and not afraid to show it.

Rishi Rajani, garment tycoon
I work hard for my money. And I need a reward
Rishi Rajani

Take Rishi Rajani for example. The 30-something garment tycoon based in Mumbai and Denmark is a self-confessed workaholic who also loves the good life.

His latest acquisition is a black Porsche sports car, which he drives through the streets of Mumbai.

In the money capital of India, flaunting your wealth is now fashionable.

Mr Rajani has always dreamed of owning the mean machine, and now his dream is a reality thanks to the success of the economy and his business.

"I work hard, you know, for my money", he says. "And I need a reward. This is my reward.

"But it's not enough. My next goal? A yacht. That's when I'll know I've really made it. I'm already working towards it."

Fast city

This is the stuff dreams are made of.

Fast life, fast city - money in Mumbai cannot be spent or made quickly enough.

And it is this dream that leads millions of migrants to the city every single day.

They come here in packs, having heard legendary tales of Mumbai's streets being paved with gold.

Travelling thousands of miles by train, they leave behind their families, their friends and their desperate lives.

Many end up in the one of the city's numerous slums and struggling to survive by doing odd jobs on the street.

The city they came to conquer, ends up engulfing them.

Demolition job

Saunji Kesarwadi is a potter by profession who lives in a 10x10 foot flat in Dharavi, Asia's biggest slum.

Dharavi in Mumbai
Many of India's poor live within sight of the wealthier people

In this box, he works and supports a family of six who live in the attic.

Barely eking out an existence, he fears being thrown out of his home to make way for development.

"We hear the builders are coming," Mr Kesarwadi says as his two little girls look on.

"But no one has told us anything. They say they'll give us a flat if we sell them this land - but how can all of us leave? This is where my work, my life is. It may not be much but it's all I have."

But while life in the big city often falls short of expectations, thanks to the growth in the country's economy there are new opportunities in some villages.

Rural choice

Some 300 kilometres away from India's technology capital, Bangalore, lies Bellary - an industrial town born out of a sleepy village.

When you first arrive, all you can see is dusty farmland for miles around. But behind the quiet exterior, there is a dramatic change afoot.

Bellary is home to one of India's first rural outsourcing centres, run by Indian steel maker JSW Steel Limited.

The organisation has started two small operations on its Bellary campus, hiring young women from nearby villages to work in their rural processing centres.

Savithri Amma
Girls here used to never go out - but now we can because our position in life has improved financially and socially thanks to our work
Savithri Amma

Here the girls spend their shifts punching in details of American patients' dental records, typing in a language many of them have only recently learned, using a machine many had never seen or heard of before.

Twenty-year-old Savithri Amma has a basic high school diploma. She earns about $80 (40) a month doing this work - the same as one of her peers might earn working as a house-help in Mumbai.

For that money she has to turn up to work every week day by 7am - picked up from her village by a JSW bus at 5am and taken home when her shift ends at 3pm.

"At first, when I started this job, my parents were sceptical," she says shyly.

"Girls here used to never go out - but now we can because our position in life has improved financially and socially thanks to our work here. My father makes a little more than I do every month.

"I'm proud to contribute to the family finances."

Growth promise

In Ms Amma's village, she is looked upon as a role model for many of her peers.

The daily evening prayers at the village temple are a time for her to reflect on her day's work, and give thanks to the ancient Hindu gods for her good fortune.

She has much to be thankful for. Ms Amma is one of the lucky ones, she is someone who did not have to leave home to battle the millions in urban India to survive.

Growth in India's economy has to make its way off the streets of Mumbai and Delhi and into all of India's villages.

Only when it does will it truly be here to stay - and the promise of independence will be met.


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