Thoughts from P Sainath’s (rural affairs editor of The Hindu) lecture are still fresh in my mind; I was making my way through the pandemonium that is Delhi traffic. I had a box of chocolates in my hand, to which I was oblivious until the moment a little girl came up to me and started begging for alms. The stark contrast between my life and hers struck me then. Struck me HARD. THIS is inequality, while I sit in a lavish air conditioned car and this girl is languishing in the heat. Here I am with a box full of chocolates that she could never hope of holding.
Mr. Sainath did not disagree with the phrase ‘India shining’ that people tend to throw around these days, especially our politicians. Of course, it is shining he had said but for a very small proportion of the Indian population, only for people like you and me. He had argued that those in the Planning Commission claim that a person earning 28.65 rupees a day in urban areas and 22.42 rupees a day in rural areas is not poor, that in 25 rupees he can clothe, feed and educate his family every day. That some of what these very people in power spend in a fortnight can sustain the poor by this very logic for over 80 years. And yet it is proudly proclaimed that poverty has gone down to 22%. Mr. Sainath drew a very simple analogy: If today the pass marks are reduced from 40 to 10, the number of failures would drastically go down mathematically, but would that show any REAL decrease?
India is a country home to 4 % of the world’s billionaires and yet is ranked 136 (arranged in increasing order) in the world Human Development Index out of 187 countries and 15 (arranged in decreasing order) in the Global Hunger Index. Despite that, revenue forgone in the budget is highest in the form of corporate tax waive offs and only increases every year, almost as if policy makers choose to turn a deaf ear to the fact that over 200000 farmers have committed suicides over the last 10 years. That women are not even considered to be farmers, but a farmer’s wife and hence their deaths go unrecorded.
With all this lingering on in my mind, clinging to me like a blanket of shame at our insensitivity when a nearby car shut the window against the little girl, I gave my box of chocolates to her. The economist in me said, yes the Marginal Utility of that box of chocolates is much higher to her but you aren’t really changing anything by giving a girl some chocolates, in fact you are discouraging her from working. You are indirectly adding to unemployment at the cost of chocolates which may not even go into her stomach but will probably be snatched away by whoever has forced her into this. A quieter but firm voice whispered, “You can stop being logical for once, your economic principles do not define your compassion, your empathy.”
She waved to me as my car drove out of the red light; P Sainath’s advice rang in my ears: we can choose to remain cocooned in our air conditioned lives or chose to be active agents of change for the major proportion of our 1.2 billion strong population because “There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” Victor Hugo couldn’t have uttered truer words and P Sainath couldn’t have used them at a more opportune time – because today the youth of this country ARE becoming increasingly aware and the time has come for us to act upon this inequality blaring in our faces.
– Columnist, Hello Dilli