Peepli is MPI poor

The 20th anniversary edition of Human Development Report (HDR) will feature a novel way of measuring poverty, Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), developed by Oxford Poverty and Human Development initiative. It had a sensational debut in India when it inferred that, ”There are more poor people in eight states of India than in the 26 countries of sub-Saharan Africa”. India is ranked 74th (out of 104 countries) with MPI of 0.337.

MPI uses a mathematical structure proposed in Alkire, Foster (2007,2009) which contains hard to crack statistical/mathematical nuts like nxd matrix, weighted row vectors, dual cutoff etc and I guess it will be the most skipped section in that paper. My attempt here is to explain the MPI calculation using the new movie Peepli Live and its main protagonist Natha.

Peepli Live, Hindi movie that hit theatres on 13-Aug-2010 is produced and marketed by Aamir Khan; written and directed by relatively unknown TV journalist Anusha Rizvi and acted by handpicked theatre artists. A comical satire on farmers’ suicide is set on a fictitious village Peepli of Mukhya Pradesh state. In a dusty rural backdrop, Natha, a small time farmer who is about to lose his land due to unpaid loan and his abysmal conditions, forms the centre theme of the movie. The plot and characters from the movie is naively used as the data set to enunciate calculation of MPI.

What is Multi dimensional Poverty Index (MPI)?

The MPI is an index of acute multidimensional poverty. It reflects deprivations in very rudimentary services and core human functioning for people across 104 countries. Although deeply constrained by data limitations, the MPI reveals a different pattern of poverty than income poverty, as it illuminates a different set of deprivations. The MPI has three dimensions: health, education, and standard of living. These are measured using ten indicators. Poor households are identified and an aggregate measure constructed using the methodology proposed by Alkire and Foster (2007, 2009). Each dimension is equally weighted; each indicator within a dimension is also equally weighted.

Dimensions and Indicators

Cut off and weightage

A household is considered deprived in its dimension/indicator if it meets the cut off criteria given in the table below.

Natha: Is he Multi dimensionally poor?

Achievement vector of Natha’s household.

Deprivation Vector of Natha will look like

Deprivation = Weightage from table above if they meet the cutoff criteria otherwise 0.

Deprivation count of Natha = 0.69 (Sum of deprivations from above vector)

MDI cutoff for poor is 0.3. So Natha can be considered extremely MPI poor.

Peepli’s MPI

Now let’s calculate the MPI for Peepli village. For that I am using a representative data set using the characters from the movie whose data can be derived.

Weighted matrix of deprivation of Peepli is

Deprivation = Weightage from table above if they meet the cutoff criteria otherwise 0.

Sum the deprivation weightage of each person from above achievement vector. Deprivations of non poor are ignored. So substitute zero if the person is non-poor based on the cut off 0.3. MPI is mean of weighted deprivations of all persons who have been identified as poor. So it is 2.117/6 = .557

MPI of Peepli = .557

Interesting facts derivable from MPI of Peepli

  1. According to the government official in the movie, Natha is not under BPL or unemployed or a person without house. Technically not poor enough for Indian government and its measures to enroll him into any schemes. But he is extremely MPI poor.
  2. After Lal Bahadur and Television gifts from Papu bhaiya, Nathu’s house hold is no longer deprived of indicators Electricity, Water and Assets. But it will simply reduce his MPI to 0.5 which is still extremely poor.
  3. Hori Mahato with MPI of 1 can be considered absolute poor.
  4. After Hori Mahato’s (MPI of 1) death MPI of Peepli would have come down to 0.2234. What it means is improvement in the condition of most deprived will decrease MPI significantly.
  5. If you deprive the shop keeper of electricity, the MPI of Peepli will increase by 12%. If a poor individual becomes deprived in an additional dimension, the MPI will increase.
  6. Incidence of MPI = Number of poor people/Total number is 50%. But the intensity of MPI is 70% (MPI/Incidence of MPI). Clear indications of rich-poor divide in Peepli. For comparison India’s incidence of MPI is 55% and intensity of MPI is 53%.
  7. Deprivations of non poor, like lack of education of Shankar Bhaiya etc are not aggregated for MPI calculation of Peepli.
  8. If Food security bill is implemented properly in Peepli, then we can remove the Nutrition deprivation. The MPI of Peepli will become 0.29; almost 50% improvement.
  9. As General rule of thumb a household is MPI poor if deprived in: (a) any 2 health/education indicators or (b) all 6 standard of living indicators or (c) 1 health/education indicator plus 3 standard of living indicators.

So Peepli’s MPI can be improved significantly by providing basic needs that every political party promises every election; electricity, water and food.


In the end it is mere academics when we represent the poor quantitatively as MPI 0.67 or purely artistic when we portray the poor figuratively as Natha; unless we follow it up with actions.