Book Review: ‘Unequal’ by Swati Narayan

Unequal: Illuminating India's Social Landscape, Bridging Inequities for a Hopeful Future


Book Title: Unequal: Why India Lags Behind Its Neighbours
Author: Swati Narayan
Publisher: Context
Number of Pages: 368
ISBN: 978-9357769983
Date Published: Nov. 27, 2023
Price: INR 545

Unequal by Swati Narayan Book Cover

Book Review

Swati Narayan, an esteemed academic and activist, brings forth a compelling analysis in her latest work, “Unequal,” published under the Context imprint of Westland Books. In this groundbreaking comparison, Narayan delves into India’s social development indicators about its South Asian neighbours, debunking the notion of India as a superpower by exposing the multifaceted inequalities of caste, class, and gender that impede its progress.

In her book “Unequal: Why India Lags Behind Its Neighbours,” professor and activist Swati Narayan claims that India is plagued by “systemic and, at times, barbaric inequalities.” During five-year research in four nations—India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal—Narayan discovered that even poorer neighbours outperformed some Indian states on a variety of social variables such as health, education, nutrition, and sanitation.

The narrative unfolds through Narayan’s meticulous ground-level research and travels, offering insights drawn from a unique survey conducted across India (Bihar), Bangladesh, and Nepal. Additionally, the book takes a deep dive into the success stories of Sri Lanka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. The author adeptly weaves together evidence on healthcare, education, nutrition, and sanitation, providing a panoramic view of the social landscape.

Narayan’s comparative study reveals the surprising reality that India lags behind its ostensibly less affluent neighbours in crucial development indicators. Drawing inspiration from the successes of states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the author not only identifies the root causes of India’s lag but also offers pragmatic solutions. The book advocates for a governmental commitment to social welfare investments as a means to bridge social inequities and uplift the marginalised.

The immersive examination of India’s social history and that of its neighbouring countries serves as a guide to understanding the state of services and social reform in the region. Narayan’s insights go beyond data and statistics, incorporating human stories that add depth and empathy to the analysis. The book is particularly commendable for its readability, seamlessly blending narration, vivid travel writing, heartwarming photos, and easily digestible facts and figures.

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Each chapter leaves a lasting impact, showcasing the thoughtful consideration invested by both the author and the publication team. “Unequal” emerges as an eye-opening, thought-provoking, and groundbreaking contribution to the discourse on social development and inequality. It not only sheds light on the stark realities of India’s challenges but also offers a beacon of hope for a transformative future. The book is highly recommended for readers seeking a comprehensive and accessible exploration of the complexities surrounding India’s social development.

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