Bangladesh recently secured its first-ever series win over India. Like previous such occasions, India’s defeat in the three match series broke many hearts, left cricket pundits divided, and raised question marks about Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s captaincy.
India and Bangladesh have now played 32 One Day Internationals together. India has won 26 of them, while Bangladesh has won just 5. In the minds of a lot of Indians who follow cricket, Bangladesh is a poor, densely-populated Bengali-speaking Muslim country which India helped liberate. This perception is reinforced by their minnow status in world cricket. Many have noticed, however, that Bangladesh’s cricketing performance has been improving over the years. Bangladesh defeated England in the World Cup earlier this year, and then made minced meat of the Pakistan’s team, defeating them 3-0.
The graph below shows the proportion of matches won by India and Bangladesh in a year. Contrary to popular opinion, Bangladesh has been steadily improving its performance, and in some years, has done better than India.
But cricket is not the only sport that Bangladesh has been catching up in. In the serious game of saving the lives of infants from disease and death, Bangladesh has been outperforming India for more than 15 years.
Bangladesh’s current Infant Mortality Rate, at 33 infant deaths per 1000 live births, is less than India. Both countries have seen a decline in their IMR, but Bangladesh, which used to be worse than India at saving lives until 1997, has improved its strike rate of saving lives faster than India since then.
This has been possible because saving lives and reducing disease have received greater attention in Bangladesh. For instance, the use of Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) to prevent deaths from cholera and diarrhea was pioneered in Bangladesh. Similarly, the rapid decline of open defecation in Bangladesh has made the disease environment much better, resulting in lower prevalence of disease causing germs, and thus, lesser deaths.
As fecal germs are sent back to the pavilion in underground pits below toilets, Bangladeshis are able to score more years in their lives.
Open defecation in Bangladesh was lower than India in all the years for which data is available. Open defecation in Bangladesh has also declined faster in the country. According to data compiled by WHO and UNICEF’s Joint Monitoring Programme, just 2.5% of Bangladeshis don’t own a toilet. Compare that to India, where 48.3% of the population does not own a toilet. Kids in Bangladesh, when they play outdoors, are not exposed to as many germs as they are in germ-heaven India.
Another way to save babies from dying is by immunizing them against infectious diseases. Bangladesh performs better in this arena as well, delivering shots early and when needed. Two graphs below show the proportion of children aged 12-23 months immunized against Diphtheria, Pertussis, and Tetanus (DPT), and measles. In both the graphs, Bangladesh which was lagging behind on its immunization coverage of the two vaccines went past India in the late 80s. Since then, Bangladesh has been continuously improving.
The World Bank’s World Development Indicators show a flat line for India’s immunisation indicators after 2008. This is because no data on immunisation coverage has been released. Unlike the Indian government, which neither monitors nor reports immunisation coverage promptly, Bangladesh has been carrying out regular Demographic and Health surveys, which have helped monitor the country’s progress in immunisation and identify areas that need more attention. Recently leaked data on India’s immunisation coverage only seeks to confirm that immunisation coverage has in fact stagnated in India.
These development achievements of Bangladesh were first highlighted prominently by economists Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, in their book An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions. They also pointed out that Bangladesh was doing much better than India at gender indicators.
The following graph shows the ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary education. Bangladesh, similar to other development indicators started behind India but later surpassed India and maintains its lead. In India, the ratio of girls to boys in education is favourable to boys, but in Bangladesh, it is favorable to girls. Girls beat boys, and Bangladesh beats India.
A result of this improvement in the lives of women in Bangladesh has been that their choices have expanded, and fertility rates have declined. Many Indians have a misconception that the fertility rate among Muslims is bound to be high. Bangladesh, which has a majority Muslim population, has had a lower fertility rate than India for the past 15 years. The following graph shows an over-time comparison of the total fertility rate between the two countries.
These improvements in Bangladesh have been happening despite the fact that Bangladesh is much poorer than India.
The graph above shows per capita GDP, in international PPP dollars, in India and Bangladesh over the years. India’s GDP graph rises steeply, which means it has enjoyed faster growth than Bangladesh. Despite being poorer, Bangladesh has a lower infant mortality rate, much less open defecation, higher immunisation, and better gender indicators than India. Brand endorsements that help players make money do not a good cricketing team make, and as these graphs show, higher GDP growth does not always lead to a better quality of life for a nation’s citizens.
If we were as obsessed with our healthcare, we would probably have a nation of healthier citizens today. Most newspapers reserve at least four pages every day for sports coverage, most of which is cricket. People take time off work to cheer their team which spends at least a quarter of the year playing. Bad performance leads to calls for resignation of team captains, but bad performance on health or gender indicators has not led to the demand for resignations of Indian bureaucrats or politicians.
So perhaps, as citizens, we need to pay as much attention to health, gender, and education as we pay to cricket. You know who the captain of India’s cricket team is. Do you know who India’s sanitation, health, or rural development ministers and secretaries are, and what they have been up to?
Aashish Gupta and Nikhil Srivastav are researchers with the Research Institute for Compassionate Economics.