The Coomaraswamy Book Prize honors a distinguished work of scholarship in South Asian studies that promises to define or redefine the understanding of whole subject areas. This roundtable brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to discuss the 2019 Coomaraswamy prize-winning book: Anirudh Krishna’s The Broken Ladder: The Paradox and Potential of India’s One Billion (Cambridge University Press, 2017). Based on over twenty years of research in rural and urban India, Broken Ladder closely examines why and how India’s poor find themselves stuck in the same place despite successes in certain areas like health and education and despite India’s overall positive growth rate. Krishna terms this predicament “the broken ladders of opportunity.”
While most economists assume that economic behavior does not differ widely from culture to culture, Krishna’s research emerges from a great deal of specific data from India, and shows impressive methodological breadth. His persuasive analysis of being stuck is brought to life through engaging stories about people he has known over his many years of working in India. The book gives life to numbers and provokes us to think creatively to address an urgent human problem. This roundtable on Broken Ladder will yield lively and insightful discussions that will benefit researchers and practitioners seeking solutions to the persistent challenges of poverty and inequality in all parts of South Asia and beyond.
Chair Elora Shehabuddin will introduce the book and the presenters. Poulomi Chakrabarti will draw upon her work at the intersection of the political economy of development and identity politics to consider the relationships between various forms of identity-based exclusion and the “broken ladder” effect. Lamia Karim will consider how NGO agendas articulate with state-based approaches to poverty reduction, and provide a comparative perspective that considers these questions in Bangladesh as well as India. Ashwani Kumar will bring to the discussion his long-term experience with social welfare implementation in India to consider how to move forward in addressing the problems that The Broken Ladder identifies. The session will conclude with the author Anirudh Krishna’s response to each commentator, leaving ample time for a larger discussion with the audience.