Disparities around Us—Living Together in Peace and Harmony
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 19 Dec 2016
14 Dec 2016 – What is striking not only for foreigners but also for some observant local people in the so called developing countries including India is the disparity and inequity that is out in the open in major towns. On one hand there are the people driving or rather being driven in their SUVs or other expensive cars, dining at expensive hotels or restaurants that have exorbitantly priced items on their menus and dressed in fashionable and trendy clothes, and on the other one can see poor haggard people mostly men pushing their carts and cycle rickshaws with two or more passengers to make a modest living for themselves and their families living in distant villages.
One can also see rag pickers picking garbage such as plastic bottles or newspapers littered on the streets. Not only they try to clean the city of garbage they also earn a small amount of money to keep hunger at bay. Earlier it was men or boys who picked up the garbage; today one can see even women doing the same activity with small children playing on their garbage carts.
One can mention other types of disparities that are observable. Both the English and local language newspapers carry full page ads promoting expensive apparel and footwear or beauty creams both for women and now also for men. Full page ads displaying Swiss watches and the latest generation of smart phones to attract or should I say ensnare these very rich people. These products are promoted by well known actors and sports persons as brand ambassadors. These brand ambassadors are also seen in the Page 3 photos laughing and enjoying themselves at fashionable events that are now known simply as dos.
Another contrast between the well-to-do and the poor is in terms of the body weight and structure of the mal nourished women and children and the rich who are encouraged by slogans that are transmitted on their smart phones such as “Eat to lose weight!”
The newspapers are also full of the foibles of politicians and the often silly statements they make about what is wrong with society or politics. In contrast, there are gory details of crimes such as murders, rapes, and other brutalities committed or attempts to escape from a high security prison of one or the other criminal. In short, the newspapers and magazines also report on the disparities and inequities of society. They also sometimes write about the morbid conditions of hutments of the poor and how they survive in these inhospitable conditions. There are also reports of the victimization suffered by young women who are lured to come to towns on the promise of house jobs in some rich houses. In that sense these journals and newspapers are faithful to what is happening around us.
However everything is not as dismal as indicated above. Occasionally there is some good news also of some well meaning activists who try to educate and feed the poor children or help the homeless to find some bare minimum of shelter. The so called night shelters are often dirty and overcrowded but for the homeless people there is at least a roof over their heads.
Then some other people are helping the bonded children to escape from their drudgery by opening other avenues for these abused children. “We are giving back their childhood to these poor kids” say the brave persons such as Kailash Satyarthi (who won a Nobel prize along with Malala Yousafzai in 2014 for their pioneering work on suppression of children including bonded child labor).
Disparities and differences are visible in many aspects — not just in vehicular traffic or the physical appearance or dress of the rich and the poor but in many other areas concerning the basic needs of individuals.
One can see vast difference in the availability of education, health care or homes. Children of the rich families going to expensive private schools and the less fortunate children to schools that lack good teachers and other basic amenities The wealthy going to private hospitals, the poor joining long queues in overcrowded public hospitals. The rich in their villas or bungalows, the poor in their shanties and slums tell us vividly who is who.
But in one aspect the poor and the marginalized sections of the people score over their elite neighbors – in terms of their companionship and friendship with others belonging to the same status; they display harmony and camaraderie. They help each other when necessary — a visitor arriving in a poor person’s home unannounced, will be welcomed and served food even if it is late at night.
They also have a healthy attitude to life and are usually optimistic about their future. Even if they are poor or uneducated and living on the margins of society, they have positive aspirations for their children and there is a close bonding between the children and their parents. Their families including grandparents are closely knit and share a sense of oneness and togetherness. They are less isolated and lonely unlike their rich neighbors whose children usually don’t care for their parents once they grow up and become financially independent. Living together harmoniously is not just a desire but a reality for many subalterns.
It is well known today that our environment is polluted and degraded. The rich are consumerist in their attitude and exploit the earth’s resources even if they are not aware of it. The poor consume less for obvious reasons and this helps our physical environment to become less polluted damaged and degraded. Gandhiji used to say that there is enough for people’s needs but not enough for people’s greed. He himself led a simple life and the ashrams where he and his companions lived are a testimony to simplicity and living together.
Gandhi’s life and his message of living together, truth, nonviolence, and not over-exploiting nature are as relevant today as it was in his time. His message is important not only for the poor but also for the rich and the elites of our society. What we need is a pluralistic society where people of different faiths and of differing socio-economic status can live together in peace and harmony. Recognizing the importance of this objective, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 2015 to National Dialogue Quartet “for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia”.
Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, an educationist and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 19 Dec 2016.
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