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Pulitzer Center Update January 20, 2009

Round six: Winning essay

Global Maternal Health Essay Contest, Sponsored by The Pulitzer Center and Helium

The Pulitzer Center is partnering with Helium to get your voice heard on important global issues...

In January 2009, the Pulitzer Center again partnered with Helium to produce the sixth round of the Global Issues/Citizen Voices writing contest. The Pulitzer Center provided writing prompts, challenging contestants to craft essays on pressing international issues of the day.

Top winner Anita Lahiri answered the following question:

Where will the greatest points of conflict arise in India's foreseeable future and how should India act to resolve these conflicts?

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Read Anita Lahiri's winning essay below.

India is a country of considerable paradoxes. It is potent yet destitute; populated by pacifists yet war-torn; cloaked in the richest of spiritual philosophies yet fraught with poverty.

India's caste system is a deeply engrained social construct that has been intact for thousands of years. Despite evidence that the caste system is becoming a dying tradition, it has claimed its grip on India, and its effects will continue into the future. Many Indians who are poor by birth continue to exist in a state of destitution. The poor do not have a right to education, which leads to illiteracy, unemployment, disease, and overpopulation. Some children living in rural villages continue to be forced to work in order to help the family survive; thus, the cycle of poverty continues. No nation can truly move forward if such social disparities exist between rich and poor and while at least half of its people lack basic human necessities. Clean water and literacy cannot be privileges in a country that is endeavoring to advance. Poverty is a conflict of the spirit, and India must strive to liberate itself from it in order to progress.

The relationship between Pakistan and India is another primary challenge facing India today. While the tension between the two countries has always been tenuous, with disagreements about religion, political tactics, and territory prevailing, the recent terrorist bombings in Mumbai may cause the strife to escalate. After the bombings, many Indians, including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, have alluded to the suspicion that Pakistan was to blame for the violence. Numerous public comments have been made regarding this notion, and Pakistan's response could be one of which India must be wary. Both countries have made statements regarding their stocks of bombs and missiles; the threat of war lingers in the air.

Women's rights, inflation, environmental woes, and a monsoon-dependent agriculture are further problems that plague India. However, none are as imperative as its battle with poverty, and none are as pressing as its relationship with Pakistan. After all, a nation's people must be both educated and safe if it can conquer the rest of its challenges.

Interestingly, the solutions to India's conflicts of poverty and strained relations with Pakistan can be addressed through related means: by spending money on educational reform rather than on military defense. It is ironic that, in a land that historically and culturally cherishes the Hindu value of ahimsa (non-violence), taxpayer money continues to feed the creation of nuclear gravity bombs. The people of India affectionately refer to Mohandas Gandhi as "Great Soul" because he was a pioneer of peace, and peace has always been India's central value. Mahatma Gandhi taught the world that peaceable and diplomatic dialogue is the only way to ethically manage conflict with another nation. India's government must spend tax dollars on creating schools instead of building bombs, and India's wealthy should continue to raise their voices in support of this. Dialogue must increase between Pakistan and India, and the threat of war must subside. Absolute liberation from India's oppressive social infrastructure is essential to the spiritual, political and financial prosperity of this nation, and building functional schools in the poorest areas is the key to accomplishing this. Formal education allows citizens to learn their rights, to be healthy, use contraception, be literate, and, ultimately, break free from the cycle of poverty. The formation of schools requires a sincere commitment on the part of government agencies, charitable non-profits, educators, and individuals. Furthermore, banks must be willing to offer collateral-free loans to the individuals willing to sacrifice time and money to facilitate this process. We have seen, time and again, that creating more educational systems in areas of poverty is possible, and does make a difference. The Philippines, for example, has exhibited improvement in its educational programs in the last few years as a direct result of the passionate commitment on behalf of all of the aforementioned constituencies. Malawi, Brazil, and Bolivia also appear to be following suit.

India is a vast nation bursting with scientific, technical, philosophical, and artistic achievements. In order to successfully triumph over its quandaries, however, India's monetary, political, and spiritual values must be aligned.

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