Poverty is ‘in’, if one were to put it crudely, though it sounds a lot more decent when compared to commonplace terms like poverty porn and slum tourism. NGOs, tour operators and above all politicians are all exploiting this huge chunk of the population.
As a vote bank, the poor form a sizeable chunk and it is ever increasing in size – larger than the caste and community based ones. This is because poverty has no caste or community and the rich in every community and caste exploit the poor – even of their own castes. The rich-poor divide is widening at an alarming rate, with little hope of the chasm ever being bridged or even narrowed.
So what is new about all this, you ask?
The disturbing pattern that is emerging, is what is new. One does not have to be a sociologist or social scientist to see the phenomenon — the mutual distrust and contempt between those at either end of the social spectrum. I read an interesting article on the impact of this divide on the health of both the segments. One para in particular caught my attention because it was in line with my own observation.
“For the poor, more inequality means more anger at what they don’t have and more cognitive load from the worry about how to keep up….For the wealthy, it’s more fear about the menace of the have-nots and more effort put into walling themselves off from them…..”
‘Walling themselves’ is an apt phrase because it is all about insulating oneself from the poor. The rich need their services, make no mistake, but they are careful to keep them in their places because they can’t allow the poor to lord it over them. God forbid! And so, in their effort to prove who the boss is, they give them food, clothes and money and pride themselves on their benevolence. In short, they do in micro form what the government does on a macro scale – give freebies and expect their unflinching loyalty or drudgery in return.
Like the Dalits of yore who were banished to the outskirts of the village, the poor are banished to slum clusters and so long as their dwellings (slums) are out of sight, and not spoiling the landscape, it is fine with the rest.
This is borne out by a survey conducted by one of the national dailies. The poor themselves are loath to relinquish their miserable dwellings, because of the freebies they get and for the lack of viable means to pull themselves out of them. Government after successive government promises them better living conditions while simultaneously regularising these shanties, well aware that they are helping a thriving land mafia, crime and squalor inside them. (Read post here)
Despite slum tourism, poverty porn and all the freebies and subsidies that they get, the poor rightly resent their diminished status in society due to the miserable existence they are forced to lead. The younger generation especially is getting exposed to the glitz and glamour of high living and want it all in a hurry. They are consumed by jealousy and rage at those they think have it all. They illogically hold those who are better off than them responsible for their state, and take the freebies and concessions as their right. This is where their entitlement starts – as their demands keep growing and rage against the society rising in proportion.
At the other end of the spectrum, the taxpayers (haves) resent the fact that their hard earned money is funding the freebies the poor enjoy, holding them in contempt. Hence they feel justified in exploiting those in the lowest level of the social spectrum and try to indirectly recover some of the money spent on them.
‘Who stops them from getting an education? Everything is free for them, including midday meals’ So why do they drop out from schools?’ the ‘upper castes’ ask.
Look at it from the point of view of the poor: Who would want to go to a government school, that is often run down and seedy, and where the teachers come at their convenience — when the children of the apartment block near their slums go to a posh school in AC buses? The clearly shortsighted and much hyped RTE (Right to Education) was doomed to fail before it even took off, for it worked against the poor.
For one, parents like the lady mentioned above, wouldn’t dream of their Sunnys and Buntys rubbing shoulders with kids from the slums, never mind that they are keen to learn and are intelligent to boot. And, for another, how could the underprivileged children come to terms with things like their classmates whizzing past in AC school buses, while being dropped to school by their father on his ancient bicycle or scooter; school trips to foreign countries, which they could ill afford and snacks in the swanky school canteens? Forget the latest smartphones and gadgets that their rich classmates used! Or for that matter, how could she interact with a classmate who treated her as an inferior because her mother worked in their house? Remember, there is hardly any dignity of labour in our country?
The social and financial status have spawned a new caste system where the four Ps – Power, Popularity, Political clout and Paisa, are the measures of one’s social standing. This is the most potent and dangerous combination that overrides any caste system that we have known, as it cuts across castes, communities and religions.
In fact, it even includes all those overtly ‘liberal’ and leftists, who while spouting Marx and rooting for social justice, ride in their swanky chauffeur-driven cars, live in huge mansions and sport designer clothes. And of course, they have a battery of maids, cooks, drivers, the gardener – the works.
In the decades after Independence millions of SC/ST have come up the educational and social ladder.
If everyone who has come up either through caste-based reservation or by sheer merit had even tried to elevate the educational and social status of one person from his or her caste, we wouldn’t have any more oppressed castes today, nor would we need caste-based reservation.
The poor are at the bottom of this new caste system, and by poor I mean the poor of all castes and communities. In this system a rich SC is at the top end and a poor Brahmin is at the bottom. Poverty after all has no caste!
Unlike the conventional caste system which has only four divisions, there are many more in the new one. These are determined by the number of Ps one has. The address, the size and number of your house/car, the brands you wear, your ‘culture’– all are added parameters.
It might sound good to say, ‘My driver is a post-graduate,’ he is still not good enough to get a seat in the drawing room along with the others regardless of his caste. How can a mere driver, even if he is a graduate, be treated as an equal? Conversely, if he happens to own a fleet of cars and has lot of property, he would become ‘respectable’ and a man of ‘worth,’ to share the table with his client. No matter if he is unlettered and never mind his caste or community!
That is the 4Ps in action!
At the end of it all, there is the sobering thought that poverty not just dehumanizes, but also erodes the self-respect of the poor. They are our fellow citizens, not just service-providers and vote banks. Don’t they deserve a fair and decent chance to come out of their poverty?
It is high time that sops that are aimed to keep them poor are stopped and proper measures put in place to help them lead dignified lives. For starters, reservation based on economic condition of the person should be urgently implemented instead creating new castes and increasing quotas for existing ones – just to get votes and win elections.
Homepage image courtesy:www.outlookindia.com