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Big Stars Shine Spotlight On Impoverished South Asia


A little star power can go a long way, and with some of the world’s biggest music names headlining the Global Citizen Festival India has shone a blazing spotlight on India and South Asia, which are among the world’s most impoverished regions.

The charity held an all-star concert in the Indian financial capital Mumbai on November 19 in a bid to mobilize the nation’s youth, raise awareness, and call on local leaders to improve civic rights and public services.

Together with a host of Indian megastars like A.R. Rahman, Alia Bhatt, and Katrina Kaif, rockers Coldplay, rapper Jay Z, and pop musician Demi Lovato led the concert at Mumbai’s Bandra-Kurla Complex, for an event that Billboard magazine dubbed “easily the biggest music festival in India.”

A total of 80,000 festival goers turned out to rock the house alongside movers and shakers from the political, business, and Bollywood worlds. The pledges and commitments made onstage represent almost $6 billion in investment toward reducing extreme poverty in India, where as many as 21% -- or 276 million people -- live below the poverty line of earning just $1.90 a day, according to data from the World Bank for 2012, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Coldplay's Chris Martin with Indian musician A.R. Rahman
Coldplay's Chris Martin with Indian musician A.R. Rahman

The situation among India’s South Asian neighbors is no better. According to the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, most of the region’s nearly 1.8 billion people are still multi-dimensionally poor, meaning that in addition to low income they face severe deprivations in accessing health care, education, sanitation and other basic services.

Thus the buzz of the run-up to the event caught the attention of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who addressed the festival via live broadcast shortly before Coldplay’s performance. He quoted the Bob Dylan song The Times They Are A Changin’ and praised the country’s youth for their energy, optimism and activism.

"Come mothers and fathers, throughout the land, and don't criticize what you can't understand. Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command. Your old road is rapidly agin'. Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand, for the times they are a-changin’,” he recited.

He said he was confident that a “Swachch Bharat free of all forms of filth” could be realized within a single generation, referring to the name of a government campaign to dramatically improve hygiene and infrastructure nationwide.

November 19 marked World Toilet Day, which aims to highlight the need for better sanitation and safe, private access to toilet facilities. Modi launched the Swachch Bharat Mission (SBM) in 2014 with the goal of eradicating open defecation -- a major contributor to the spread of disease -- in India by 2019. Nearly half of India’s population or some 600 million people still do not have access to toilets.

Drinking Water and Sanitation Secretary Parameswaran Iyer spoke at the Global Citizen Festival India, as well, calling SBM “arguably the biggest mass mobilization and social change campaign in the history of mankind.”

"As India moves toward becoming an economic superpower, it is absolutely critical for us to rise above the practice of open defecation, so that our children can be healthier and achieve their maximum productivity," he said.

Another pledge came from Devendra Fadnavis, the chief minister of India’s Maharashtra state. He made more than $2 billion worth of commitments to construct homes, lead nutrition programs, and build toilets in Maharashtra -- which would affect as many as 20 million people.

Policymakers at the festival made a total of 25 commitments and announcements, which are expected to affect more than 500 million people.

Global Citizen is a worldwide community of people seeking to eradicate poverty. Its participants, known as Global Citizens, take “actions” -- be it campaigning, donating or other volunteering efforts. More than 2 million actions were taken by India’s Global Citizens, which in turn spurred policymakers to make their own commitments.

The star-studded lineup in Mumbai also included Amitabh Bachchan with the Shillong Chamber Choir, Varun Dhawan, Shankar Ehsaan Loy, Ranveer Singh, Arijit Singh, Farhan Akhtar, Shraddha Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha, and Amruta Khanvilkar. Hosts for the evening were Arjun Kapoor, Ayushmann Khurana, Parineeti Chopra, Ritesh Deshmukh, Malaika Arora Khan, and Shah Rukh Khan.

Hugh Evans, CEO of Global Citizen, which has organized an annual festival in New York City since 2012, described last Saturday’s festival as demonstrating “the power of youth taking action together. … And tonight, we saw the results: dozens of commitments that will affect the lives of 500 million people.”

“Tonight marks a moment of great celebration, but it is only the beginning of the journey. The growing movement of more than 8 million Global Citizens around the world will keep campaigning to make sure leaders deliver on these promises and commit to do even more,” he added.

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