If you are reading this on a laptop, with high-speed internet, in your air-conditioned apartment… you are PRIVILEGED. Think about the migrant labour who is walking along the highway on an empty stomach… because of the lockdown.
Multiple messages like this have been shared on Facebook, twitter and Whatsapp groups over the last 48 hours. The agitated Indians sharing these messages are consultants, start-up founders, journalists, students. They are exhorting the rest of us to donate to various relief initiatives. And that’s a good thing.
But let’s go a little deeper. This is the same India which existed before March 25, when the lockdown officially started. An deeply India divided by the accident of birth and lack of opportunity.
Let’s take the start-up founder who’s going blue in the face today. May I know the profile of her employees? How many Dalits, OBCs, Muslims or even first-generation graduates are in supervisory and managerial positions at the company? ‘Oh, that’s not how we recruit.’ Of course, you don’t.
Every company want the most competent candidate, who can start performing at the earliest. Who has the time to train, to hand-hold and provide mentorship?
The journalist who is aag-baboola over injustice, and rightly so. Surely, he employs a driver and maid, uses the services of a dhobi and vegetable seller. Not to mention Amazon and Swiggy. Have you wondered where these service providers live? Visited one of their jhuggi colonies and taken a ‘bathroom break’ at one of their common toilets?
Every journalist wants a ‘good story’ and this doesn’t qualify. It’s simply stating the obvious, like ‘there is sand in the Sahara desert’.
Then we have the consultant, who wines and dines her American client at a 5-star hotel and pays the bill of Rs 12, 000 (for one dinner with drinks) via American Express platinum credit card. How about building a relationship by inviting the client for a home-cooked Indian meal?. ‘But that would look cheap’.
Every employee wants perks, which for some reason means ‘fancy’, ‘much too expensive’, ‘things I would not pay for myself’. It just makes the pain of being a corporate slave, a little more bearable!
As for our students, unki to baat hi kuch aur hai. Their parents are human ATM machines, who provide for anything they could possibly want. The ‘best’ education (in India or abroad) so they can get the ‘best’ jobs after graduating. As consultants, start-up founders, journalists. ‘My child has worked hard and earned it’.
And here lies the crux of the issue. Each of us is working hard — the student, the start-up, the corporate employee, the journalist, the migrant labour. Some earn more. A LOT LOT more.
Is it only getting what we deserve? Or do we need fundamental changes? Such as:
- Higher minimum wages (eg Rs 5000 more per month to your bai, with weekly off).
- Good quality, low-income urban housing (slum redevelopment that actually delivers).
- Government schools that function (and so well, that your child attends one).
- Garbage-free cities (so we don’t aspire to be Europe, America and Singapore).
- Eradication of tuberculosis (which, alone, kills 3000 Indians a day)
Well, that list can go on. And on. Just reading it an alarm bell goes off in my brain ‘nahin ho sakta hai’. Not in my lifetime, which is the next 30 years.
But then, a small voice whispers, if we can mobilise the administration and civil society to ‘act as one’ and defeat the coronavirus, we can do it again. Poverty too is a virus, an insidious but clearly visible one. If the amount we read and researched about corona could be transferred to understanding and taking decisive action against poverty — imagine the results!
It may require drastic actions, which affect your lifestyle and mine. Is your privileged bum prepared to get off its armchair and do what it takes? For an India which is more equal, more dignified, with more opportunity and mobility, can only be built on blood and sweat, redistribution of income and creation of solid public goods.
And a moral backbone which remains upright, in times good and bad.
Read my latest book ‘We are the Champions’ for the inspiring stories of children from ‘the other India’ who are changemakers in their communities.