Poor India

The Lives of Poor

As if the lives of poor in India wasn’t hard enough, The CNN article, “India razes slums, leaves poor homeless” reports that to improve Delhi’s look for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the scant dwellings of hundreds of people were razed to the ground in a matter of minutes — the huts were too close to a major road that needs to be expanded. Of course expansion of roads is required in Delhi to ease the clogged traffic but the inhumanity of  it all was the fact that no relocation or help was offered to the poor residents — many of them had lived there for 10 to 20 years. And to be sure, such an event has been and will be repeated with frightening monotony.

For all of India’s strengths and positives, social consciousness isn’t one: be it the Government or the People at large. There are thousands of well meaning Non-Profit Organizations, and I am most admiring of  the work they do, but in a population of a billion they are but a drop in the Ocean.

So what can be done about a problem that has burgeoned to a point that it envelopes India?

First, we have to under why the problem exists 61 years after India’s Independence?

A daily battle fought on the plains of caste system and poor governance

The poor are and can be treated this way mainly due to the apathy that a creaking system creates among the populace. The day in the life of most Indian city dwellers is a fight for survival from dawn to dusk — catch a jam packed bus or a train to get to work, figure out creative ways to deal with unannounced and severe water and electricity cuts, save money to beat sky-rocketing costs, save money for children’s education in a highly competitive academic environment —  they are most exhausted by the end the day.

The caste system has had a profound impact on all of South Asia and has permeated all form of Society. When not practiced outright, it is practiced in more sublte yet equally harmful manner in the guise of “position in society” or in the form of “respect” extracted purely by virtue of age, profession, economic position or power.  In practice, repeated yet again with frightening monotony in millions of everyday interactions, it provides an excuse for the actions and words for the one on the upper rung and takes away all legitimacy from the one on the lower rung.

To be sure the ideas of class and differential treatment exists in all parts of the world, America being a prime example of rich and powerful having a different set of laws than the others. But it is the deep divide, the sheer wretchedness of existence of the people on the lower rung and the apparent apathy of the rest that sets South Asia apart.

While individual apathy can be understood, the criminal neglect by the government of the poor cannot be.  Actually, it can be “understood” only when one comprehends that government is formed of individuals who are mostly interested in self-preservation and only the infuential influence them. The poor are non-existent for they do not understand the workings of a government in a democracy, they are not organized, they are voiceless, suffering and busy working towards their next morsel. The last thought on their mind is to upset the powerful and anyway, they wouldn’t know how!

Shake Up the System and the People!

There are surely a lot of people who feel bad for the plight of the poor but are at a complete loss as to how to help. There is no structured program that they can participate in. That’s where the Government needs to step up in a major way:

-The Indian Parliament should pass in to law compulsory social work  of 4 hours per week for all adults under 60 yrs of age and in the top 50% bracket  in their local municipality: India’s greatest asset is its human resources so the Government should channel the energy to lift the country. Many other alternative volunteering models can be created but the point is one needs to be created and enforced for all of India.

-The Indian Government needs a dynamic leader to head  the Department of Social Development & Justice. The department should be responsible for developing creative and effective programs, structured and disciplined approach, providing project leadership, setting high standards of accountability and transparency.

– The work should focus on three main areas — construction (low-income housing), sanitation (clean India. Who will not be happy with this?) and education (teach children of the poor).

-Fund all initiatives by improving the taxation system to ensure all people pay their dues. Most small businesses in India fudge their numbers. This will of course require improving and enforcing better business registration, accounting  and sales tracking systems. The manpower required for a large endeavor like this is available —  India has a huge bureaucracy shuffling files who should be put to better use by the Government. The Indian Government can also request donations from Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) who will donate handsomely as long as the Social Justice Department builds credibility and operates transparently.

– Journalists should stop spending all their ink on Bollywood and Cricket, give equal time to social causes and be the trigger for social awakening.

– Bollywood should stop producing sugary romantic movies ad nauseum and find a way to at least devote 10% of its films to social causes. Its star’s, like Amitabh Bachchan, should use their position of great influence to work, work and work for the poor of India: they have the power to assemble millions in minutes and have them do whatever they want them to do. Why not use such awesome power for good? Nirpal Dhaliwal makes a similar point though rather more acerbically in his blog at the Guardian website.

Obama’s  Inaugural speech, had this passage, “As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment — a moment that will define a generation — it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all. “

The Indian Government, Media and Bollywood should do exactly that — exhort all Indians to embody the spirit of service.

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One Response

  1. Thanks TTT for your comments on my blog. I’ve visited India and Bangladesh and I’ve been intensely interested in these countries every since. I’d just like to give you a different perspective. Maybe it’s the individual rather than the government that should take the responsibility for the road out of poverty and to financial freedom. As an African-American in the U.S. I can empathize and identify with the problems of social and financial mobility attributed to things like caste and racial discrimination. However, there is ONE big different between America’s legacy of slavery and the defunct but very much functional caste system in India – In America at least our racists wrote hope of liberty into the very fabric of foundation. So even though many of our founding fathers owned slaves, many of them didn’t and understood freedom as a right for all human beings. Without that understanding you’d be hard press to change what long-lasting discrimination does to the people being discriminated against. It’s our clinging to that freedom in America’s Constitution that allows African-American’s to envision a future out of the ghetto. Even gang members dream about becoming NBA ball players. And many have reached this dream. Do the people living in India’s slums ever dream that they will get out of them? If not, you have to first instill that in the individual their right to achieve freedom before inspiring them to make their way to freedom. For this reason, I believe in the power of the individual over government to free people from poverty and discrimination.

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