Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Sale! Humans Discounted

In a society uncontrollably propelled by rampant consumerism, accumulation, and search for deals, it appears that in a country like ours, humans are a commodity that are most overproduced and therefore most under valued .i.e. they are easily available discount priced or even on clearance sale - 90% off! Buy one get five free! The cost of a human, from within the lesser fortunate strata, goes for much less than the cost to feed that person well, let alone support a family, maintain health, or educate, aspire, dream for future - and it is most convenient to keep them that way.

This issue became spotlit for me thus. I was related an incident about an electrician making a home visit in the 46 degree heat of Delhi, this summer, to find a trivial problem that he fixed immediately. The cost of this round trip, his expertise in identifying and solving a problem was Rs.30. A similar trip in Kolkatta would earn him Rs.10 - if he was lucky, and the client generously inclined. I know that a ride on hand pulled rickshaws in Kolkatta, for about a km, can only earn a paltry Rs.5. Or a maid in most metros earns as little as Rs. 300 for cleaning a home, washing dishes, clothes - per month. The same family might spend substantially more over a single meal, or purchasing an useless item in a shop. So what has become of the Indian middle class? Who are we, what do we want, and at what cost?

It appears to me that an interesting way to define a lower cutoff to our burgeoning middle class, would be that group of people that hire paid labor to deal with chores of their daily living - and an increasing set is getting ready to not wash their own dirty laundry! We are fortunate that there still exists this bottomless pit of the needy, starving, exploitables who can, for just the price of their survival in hovels, on scraps of our compostables, live in slavery and do our want. So really, what do we want?? What do we really really want? Is there a picture, longer term goal, a dream of happiness? collective happiness? Is there a vision that guides this middle class? that only I am not getting? And mostly, why is it, that whatever we want, we are most ready to first sacrifice other human needs, human interests, human rights?

Partly, surely, the answer is that we have distanced ourselves from the exploited class - the others. I remember being reprimanded " speak well to them and you'll not get them to listen to you! Treat them decently and you are spoiling them for the rest of us." The exploiters and the exploited have become two completely distinct groups - the human,defined as ' capable of exploiting', versus, de-human, sub-human, un-human. The question to ask now is, what have we gained by this distancing? and for how long can this separation be sustained? We shudder in dread at stories of armed resistance movements that are spreading across the country, hide behind corrupt, vile, abusive and evil actions legitimized by anti-terrorism acts, shrug at large scale and illegal displacements and access to livelihoods for any number of communities across nation, and skip over even smallest mentions of civil liberties and human rights that our governments refuse to guarantee. Who are we that disregard human interest for our sloth and human rights for extra cash in our coffers? Who are we and what do we have to teach our kids!!

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