“This cannot be your birthday treat! The meal cost us only 94 Dirhams!” We exclaimed dismayed by the fact that our friend’s birthday treat did not cost him more, even after having a sumptuous three course meal in the famed Jumierah Beach Walk. Just then a bus full of laborers went past us. No one noticed. Well, why would anyone pay attention to a bus that transports people from their camps to place of work (which is a construction site of a big hotel) when you have a parade of BMW, Audi and Ferraris going by?
The bus came to a halt just near our table (we were dining outside) and I got a glimpse of people inside. Nothing spectacular, no romanticizing of poverty here, it was a bus full of hardworking, underpaid men. But what disrupted the magnetic field of affluence that prevailed was not their presence but the millions of questions their eyes threw astray while they gawked at the well attired men, those dainty ladies and those spectacular structures which their brethren built and which they never will get to enter.
Though we say so much about bahujan hitai bahujai sukhai, let us stop the political rhetoric and lay down certain facts clear. Poverty has to exist in one form or another. It is a macroeconomic truth that prosperity shall be only when poverty is. The world as we have built today will keep running only as long as there is inequality, the moment equality is established, the commerce and business, the trade and activity shall cease. So will growth and prosperity.
George Orwell has illustrated in his 1984 the same fact so vividly. There have always been throughout human history and shall always be three classes, the elite, the middle class and the proletariat. All the revolutions of the masses succeeded in replacing the elite with a new group from the middle, which then promptly restructured the set up into three classes again. That’s what the communists, the socialists, the democrats have done in the name of establishing equality – they have aped the autocrats in their own way. The power, wealth, authority shall lie in the hands of the (s)elected few. This pattern repeats in a micro & macro cosmic way. The world as we have built it now can never become equal, as we have built it on people’s inabilities not on their abilities.
So coming back to our laborer friends in the bus, are they condemned to the buses, camps & construction sites? The answer is yes, as per our current social set up! When we have a government (all countries included) which lays down guidelines to maintain the status quo, what else can we expect. The communists say that everything belongs to everyone and hence the state owns everything and a few people in power end up enjoying it. The capitalists say that each has to earn as per his ability and make no ado about people amassing wealth, in fact it goes a step further by bailing out corporate (which had taken risks ruthlessly and behaved irresponsibly) with the money of the public. Fundamentally these socioeconomic systems are the same, an ideal communistic society where each produces to his ability and consumes as per his need will be perfectly capitalistic! Drill down deeper and it shall make sense.
One may say that we have to climb up on the shoulders of our comrades to reach the heights and it is our duty to bear the weight, like what we do on a Janmashtami Human Tower (to break the dahi handi – uriyadi in tamil) – but people who are little bright can realize that in reality the person who climbs, stays there! We the bearers keep bearing! Ridiculous is it not? But this model prospers because we have a strong state backing which has a strong commercial backing. So do away with the state, let anarchy set in and equality shall find its way through. In fact I wonder if we need equality at all! All we need is a fair way of establishing inequality, a set up which is fluid enough to let people rise like molecules that are heated up. The cooler one will go down and once they get heated up they rise again, eventually spreading warmth all over.
When we see sense in not letting other determine what we (as an individual) do, we think that it is essential that someone dictate what the society should do! Why do we lack the fundamental belief that we as a group can govern ourselves without a structure, hierarchy or a leader? This, I presume is what Gandhi would have had in his mind when he advocated direct democracy for India. Every village for its own self - well he knew that Ram Rajya was not possible without Gram Rajya.
Think if we had a say in what our society did:
· Would our land be given away to huge mining corporations?
· Would we let grains rot in one end and people starve at the other end of the same supply chain?
· Would we buy soft drinks worth 10 Paise for 10 Rupees?
· Would we buy bottled water and not demand that our water be managed well and be given free?
· Would we let car loans be cheaper than education loans?
The problems are not just Indian; I quote Indian examples as charity begins at home.
When Anna Hazare says ‘as a civilian he is above the parliament’, he is right! We are all, but unless we the people awaken we will just keep changing the elite group with another one and forget that we are it. Tat Tvamasi. As early men we were stateless and were able to establish civilizations and inventions that defined evolution. The day we established the state, we have curtailed evolution – all the degradation (of natural resources, environment) stands as living proofs. I am not blaming the state for this as this is the result of our inability to stop when these happened. Humanity was once ruled by priests and then came the kings, now it’s the turn of the businessmen tomorrow it shall be the proletariat. But unless we shun elitism and do away with the inequality that we have carefully built and nourished, we shall never be any different.
Let us remain hopeful, after all hope did not come out of Pandora’s Box without a purpose!