At the dawn of the New Millennium there was a big talk about reaching the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and amongst other goals is to eradicate poverty, illiteracy, to provide basic amenities and health care to all and the People were made to believe that all the problems would be solved and equilibrium is maintained. The same was thunderously resounded in the Abode of Clouds, the State of Meghalaya. The ground reality is that no goal will be achieved, except for those minimum numbers who dare to play the “hungama” and the “tamasha” facilitated by the system and the “aam admi” will remain in suffering unless an alternate “hungama” is raised and the system is challenged.
P Sainath’s eloquent and articulate presentation on Tacitus’s records about the burning of Rome and the events that ensued is strikingly sharp and challenging. The analysis on Tacitus’ records lies not only on the savagery of the Emperor but also on the cruelty of Nero’s Guest who remained silent. The present situation in our State and society is no different, where the “aam admi” are burnt alive daily by abject poverty, inequality, diseases of all kinds and exploitation of all forms et al while the common man is being choked to death by our “don-akor” and “don-burom” attitude which has consciously or unconsciously made many of us to become indifferent and at worst to sell our conscience at Nero’s banquet.
Moreover, living in a tax-free and subsidized State and depending on freebies and grants-in-aid even the best of mortals hardly comprehend the workings of the Stock-Exchange. But a farmer feels the shiver down his/her spine when the price of “u phan” (Potato) or “kubi” (gabbage) is strangled at Iewduh. Every day, the 66% BPL families in the State have to bear the pangs caused by the liberalized economy and a single mother who is slogging 24×7 to feed a handful of mouths is anxious about the soaring price of an onion which makes her cry even from a distance. The common man understands clearly well and is shaken by the intimidating numbers of the NIFTY and SENSEX more than the number of the Beast (666) which he/she reads in the Book of Revelations. Our women are frightened by the statistics that every four or five minutes a woman is either raped or molested, by the rise in domestic violence and the abuses meted out to domestic workers etc.
Coming now to Inequality which is the subject matter for debate and discussion, this is not merely a socio-economic and political issue but it has resulted in psychological problems as well and the ramifications are wide. History taught us that Saints and Sages, to whom all sorts of miraculous works are ascribed, had to deal with such psychological issues affected by the socio-economic and political Inequality. While the stage is set for Viola Davis’s movie “The Help” to romp home two or three Oscars after having won the Screen Actors Guild Awards, but sadly and blatantly in the 21st Century societies still embrace inequality in their homes by being indifferent to the dignity of labor, lack of respect and protection for maids or helpers in the family, is a grave sign of rising inequality. They (domestic workers) being an unorganized lot and placed at the lowest rung of social ladders are being exploited for the work they do which other people do not do.
Amidst the daily “pujas” and “mantras” being offered to the God (s) of Growth, Inequality is growing sharply across the Universe and one of the historical events which is happening at the moment not in the Studios of Media Houses nor in Parliament Buildings nor in the Ramps of Beauty Pageants and Reality Shows, but in the Streets, University Campuses and City Squares, is the Occupy Movement and unlike the war against Terror, the Occupy Movement receives overwhelming support from the masses even without a full media coverage. The Occupy Movement is challenging Inequality at its very root, the Financial Markets which have for several decades run amok and caused untold miseries in the lives of millions. Even the Arab Spring did not only target the Dictators, rather the Arab Uprising has been the greatest challenge against Inequality. The 99% slogan is reverberating across the Atlantic, where Students are marching in thousands to protest against the fee and tuition hike along side their parents, workers, vendors etc who are challenging the Government’s reduction on social spending and are demanding better pay, better working conditions, protection, security of jobs, lands and homes. Alas! None of us here care about all this. People are ready to pay any amount for health and education to private players without asking the Government for any regulation so that a common man can also live in dignity. Besides, no one is ready to take a dig into the income disparity and working conditions in these Private Institutions (like Health, Education and other Service Providers). How obedient and subservient we are to this God of Growth?
Inequality leads to injustices and denial of basic rights to the people. Therefore the struggle against Inequality becomes a struggle for Truth and Justice. There is nothing judgemental about Truth and Justice rather these two important pillars of Society are transformative, redemptive and creative in character. Inequality can be challenged within Democracy itself and during the debates in the Constituent Assembly, BR Ambedkar had championed for a social democracy. According to him, even the Fundamental Rights given to the citizens are of no use to the have-nots in the absence of social and economic equality.
If Democracy is a system where the common man has a say in Politics and Governance, then Inequality and Injustice can be aptly responded by the Voice of the People. A farmer in a small village who would pray to Nature God before planting a seed or ploughing his paddy and consumes only the produce of his sweat knows what Truth and Justice is all about. A domestic worker whose hands would remain under water all day until they get wrinkled and pale understands better what it means to fight for Justice. Teachers who are sitting daily in a dusty and noisy class room for six to eight hours understand better about work culture and ethics. Government servants who are being kicked like a football for their probity can tell us more on the much-talked Good Governance. A laborer who crawls like a rat and exposes himself daily to toxic elements in coal mines can tell us how much it takes to stand up for Equality. A vendor in the street can tell us how painful it is to be burnt out in the sun and the amount of discomfort when drenched by rains and how much it takes to bear them. Young people who see no light at the end of the tunnel can carefully script the future themselves. Yes We Can. All these voices will be heard one day and an alternate space has to be provided for the People to share their pain, pangs and stories and these Voices should be guided towards reclaiming power and redeeming our polity. Oh! People tell us how to challenge Inequality.
Sooner than we thought the dead and cold silence of winter will be gone and the Voice of the people will spring up. A Voice that challenges Inequality and Injustice, but We the People will have to walk hundreds of miles to make our Voices heard. Oh! People take courage from those who had literally walked along with Gandhi to “Dandi” and from those Civil Rights protesters who had chosen to boycott buses and walked a long distance to their places of work. Finally, Truth, Justice and Equality are marching on, how long? It is not going to take long.