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Social Issues

Civilization – ours and theirs


Today I had a terrible conversation with a friend of mine. There was no provocation but still he appeared to be determined to make that point which he discovered, perhaps, after a prolonged thought process. I should apologize to myself  because  I couldn’t raise even a feeble voice of disagreement. His point was so ‘powerful’ that all my ‘intellectual’ strength (which I thought I am building up) was drained off in a matter of seconds. Honestly I did not expect that people still think this way.
No more intro. Let me come to the point. I made an awesome tea this evening, which was enriched by crushed cardamom. The aroma was so energizing that all my laziness could go away in one  sip. While I was pouring the second portion of the tea to my friend’s cup, he said: “Now a days there are no much differences in the living standards of people in India and the US.”
WTF”  –  should have been my immediate response, I know. But since I know the level of social understanding this guy has, I controlled myself and said, “Not really. You can’t generalize so easily.. you know.. may be for a few people it is true.. but..”
“Yes, yes..” he interrupted (which I don’t like), “but at least the cities are offering similar stuff so that one doesn’t feel that difference. You get almost everything there.. “, he said.
“See.. the point is.. it’s not that easy.. at least see the population of the city in a wider sense.. The demography is so different from what you have here and hence.”, I was making an attempt.

And now came the dazing comment. I was stupefied to hear this from a person like him who has at least gone to schools and apparently has above average intelligence.

He said, “Yes, yes..” then followed with the usual way of ‘agree a bit and disagree on the rest’ strategy, “but.. see you consider Bombay. The well settled or posh people who are much civilized are in an equal or sometimes better position when compared to US cities. I agree that the low-class, uncivilized are not so and they are way below but you look at the people who control the city or big business people, you know.. There are those slums, I know, but we can’t help them as they never want to get out of there and make use of the opportunities outside .. moreover they are all criminals”

There he is.. “Low class” , “Uncivilized“. I have been hearing this for long time. I don’t understand why people still think so. What worries me more is that it is not a stand alone case but a very general mindset which the middle and upper middle class of India still holds close to their chest. The roots can be traced back to the feudal history which continues to dominate the Indian minds. And the sad part is that even the “vibrant”,” educated”, or to that matter “civilized” youth of India still enjoy this advantaged position in the class hierarchy and do not spare a single opportunity to demonstrate their “civilization”.

Isn’t this the same “FEEL GOOD FACTOR” , which the urban elites wanted us to believe the  existence of, a few years back? Remember the “India Shining” campaign associated with it? Though history does not repeat itself, here we are witnessing something of that sort. It is also a political lesson that the mindset of urban middle class (and above that) has not changed a lot and the ‘changed’ political scene is not at all a reflection of any change in their view of the society. Instead of trying to make a better social awareness among people about the grave realities of India, the ruling class is in the process of building up walls in their minds. You don’t get to know the reality because they don’t want you to know such things. You sit on the other side and abuse the people on this side for their lack of “culture” and “civilization”.
  The only way out is to demolish this wall of ignorance or at least pierce some holes on the wall so that some light gets in.  This is where the media can play its role. But the mainstream media quite often deviate from its expected constructive role and become the partners-in-crime.The criminal act of suppression information.

One of the most unfortunate reality is that we don’t yet have a consensus on how many people are there below poverty line. Rephrasing the previous statement will make the pathetic state of affairs more clear: No consensus on the definition of Poverty. There are 4 different standards which are under the consideration of government and also there are numerous other benchmarks which researchers and NGOs have formulated in course of time. The government acts clever here by sticking to the Planning Commission version of poverty line and accordingly we have officially  22% of population living below poverty line. Another committee appointed by the Central government found out that 80% are below poverty line. The most recent report (Suresh Tendulkar Committee) says that we have 42% rural poverty and 28% urban poverty and an all India average of 34%.  The significant point to note is the definition of poverty in all these independent studies (constituted by different departments for various purposes). The inclusion – exclusion dynamics is so volatile that raising the poverty line (money needed for a person to live a day) by just Rs 2/-  you can see crores of people getting inside the BPL category. Which means, as many has pointed out, the poverty line is indeed a line of destitution. It is not my intend to either align myself to any of these poverty measurement methodologies or to dig into the details. But my worry is the least coverage the mainstream media gives to this grave situation. 

If the mainstream media, especially the English news channels of India and the intellectual elites, decide to suppress these ambiguities our youth is never going to be serious about it. Even if poverty is to be measured by income (as prescribed by Montek and team) or on scale of calorie intake, no one can deny the fact that there are large number of Indians who are somehow surviving each day and majority of them are in the gray region; more in blackish-gray areas than in the white or whitish-gray.

When such facts and figures are overlooked, no surprise when people say we are SHINING. In the resurgence of ‘patriotism’ and many versions of supremacy theories these kind of ‘feel good’ and ‘shining’ propaganda continues to rule the scene there by eclipsing the plight of the downtrodden. The Indian bourgeoisie still think the kind of development trajectory which we follow can take us into paradise. The only obstruction, they feel, is that group of “uncivilized” and “low-class” people who deserve to be so as they did not “make use of their opportunities”. And since they are “all criminals” we should shoot them !!

Discussion

9 thoughts on “Civilization – ours and theirs

  1. Really..Really..I dont know what to say…u were reflecting my own mind…………

    Posted by Praveen | March 31, 2010, 12:10 pm
  2. Oh how true!!It is this false pride that has landed us in all the mess or atleast most of it!How difficult is to realize that all this ‘india shining’ is just another brand of denial to mask the way we screw up our country!!And I am sure we are all a part of it spamming each others mailboxes with glories of the country that is India instead of wondering why we are where we are and why policy driven disasters shame natural disasters in our country any day!!
    Time for reality check indeed!!

    Posted by Fathima | April 2, 2010, 1:51 pm
  3. Apologies for the late reading.
    Nice flow I must say. It was garnished with some good set of words. Liked that.

    Posted by Ameen | April 13, 2010, 8:13 pm
  4. Since i ws patient nough to read thru, didn wanna leave without a comment…Brace urself..sum strong words headed your way..hope u take criticsims also in the same swing…

    Looking at matters as sensitive as this from a bird’s eye view and culminating in an opinion that the change in mindset of upper class (self claimed) and opportunists can change the lives of people BPL is just too loud a cry to be true. Well, maybe a change in attitude like that can make a difference..but that difference will be limited to filling the minds of the unfortunate…by creating a virtual sense of equality…but will never feed the hungry stomachs…none can be blamed for it…the world is balanced like that…there is poor and thers rich (all people who are not poor)…but the number of rich people helpin the poor cross the line is very less…no matter how aligned the thoughts of both are..

    if there is sumone who can make a change to this situation …then its the policy makers and executers (not the shooting kind 🙂 )…but ther is a catch…with so much diversity in our country in terms of region, culture, political alliance, corruption(ther r various kinds) nd religion…how can a policy be made and upheld that tries to serves the underprivileged. Also, consider the genre of politicians we have..I would classify them as a sect that has tunnel vision when it comes to development (rural expects but urban benefits)…Well, I wouldn’t say its too difficult to understand the way media performs…generally no matter how many problems they have, people like to feel good, so the media is jus supplyin what is demanded…

    But honestly…true leaders (like u) can make a difference…it can change the way people think, but it shud not stop there, they shud ensure that prople change and contribute…we all are aware about the problems of our nation, the facts and the solution…but not many react or contribute..mostly due to lack of inspiration to do so or maybe we jus like to follow…thats wer a true leader and reforms are required..but due to the vastness of the nation, the ripples of change made may not travel long..but every drop counts…so Bijin…unill then lets enjoy our tea (its a weekend here nd this blog ws first thing i saw…now i feel so awake.. :))

    PS: xpectin a reply !

    Posted by Shajith | April 22, 2010, 6:30 am
    • Delighted !!! Happy to see you here, with cup of tea, discussing such matters in true spirit.. Something I love a lot..
      Of course I am open to criticism.

      First of all, the aim or subject of this post was NOT to find out a way out for the under privileged. But about the attitude of the ‘middle class’ towards that section. It was never an attempt to suggest a solution. Because that is too complex a topic which the very limited economics/political science/sociology knowledge I am having is not at all sufficient and I am very well aware of it. When I demand a change in attitude, please don’t confuse it with the sympathy driven charity which has become the fashion now a days. Instead it is the understanding that the poor are poor not because of their fault but every one in the society, directly or indirectly, played a role. So please don’t think it is all about rich helping the poor and there by bridging the divide.

      Policies (with poor in mind) are sometimes made suo moto but most often they are made under pressure from the public. The pressure groups need public support to pressurize the governments to make laws. The public support is accumulated through awareness. When someone underestimate the metrics of BPL he/she does not offer that support since it is never a necessity in their mind. Take the case of that friend of mine, for instance. He is overlooking the fact that even in Mumbai there are millions who are struggling to make both ends meet.
      It’s partly because of ignorance and partly because of the ‘attitude’. These factors when combined make him believe that poverty is not at all a priority. This is precisely what worries me and the subject of this post. It is against undervaluing their culture just because they are poor. It’s against looking at them as if they are uncivilized. It’s against the granular level of social injustice which when aggregated becomes the anti-poor policies.

      Coming to media.. you said:

      media is jus supplyin what is demanded…

      That’s not the end of it. This thing called demand is not static. It is created and cultivated. Who does that? The demand-supply principle can be reduced to the classical chicken and egg problem. It is an iterative process every cycle of which takes your attention away from the uncomfortable things.

      Get another tea… !!!! 🙂

      Posted by Bijin | ബിജിന്‍ | April 22, 2010, 9:17 am

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