Sita (name changed) walked in yesterday when my house was full of guests. She swayed in with confidence and disappeared into the kitchen. My guests turned to me and asked “who is that lady?” They were astonished when I said she was our maid servant. She carries a cell phone (with different caller tunes each week), dresses unlike a service providers of her ilk, oozes confidence externally. Her children go to a private school, attends tuition classes, study reasonably well. She moved to a larger hutment two years back. She has a bank account and some savings in post office. She also has an insurance policy.
She is also a “Balika Vadhu”- that is married much before she saw her 18th year. This is in Mumbai and not Rajasthan Surely, these kind of things happen in backward States (BIMARU States), with under educated males lording over more uneducated population. No. I found to my dismay and that of my wife, that even in Mumbai arranged marriages at teenage is not uncommon. Another instance I saw was of reasonably good looking school going girl, who was suddenly married off even before reaching matriculation. The change post marriage was saddening. A confident girl had become cowed down, frightened and bewildered woman- post a last minute miscarriage.
I am not sure what I state above is the exception or rule as in both the cases the persons were related to each other. But what is clear is that what is shown in a very beautifully bedecked manner in the TV Serial Balika Vadhu telecast in Channel “Colors”, is not some remote event fictionalised for the entertainment of city folks. It is a reality whose impact is seen and felt- latently or otherwise by all of us.
Why do such things happen? Don’t we all witness growing opportunity around us due to continuous economic growth- simultaneously with grinding poverty. I believe that at least some portion of the poverty is due to missed opportunities. Let us take some examples.
First is literacy and education. Most states have some minimal schooling facility to give basic literacy. To reach beyond that, the economically and socially backward segment of the population needs initiative and efforts. This initiative is often missing. Female education is the backbone of any society. This is often missing. The difference in several human index parameters between Kerala and Uttar Pradesh could be due to this factor.
I divide skills into physical and mental skills. It needs more efforts to earn living using physical skills. Moreover, to scale up the ladder, constant improvement of skills is required. My favourite example is carpenter. The skill needed in this profession is apparent. The wages paid for a skilled ‘karigar’ is known to all. But many of us would prefer to be unemployed rather than do such a work. This brings home the point that vocational education is important as education emphasising numerical and literary skills are not meant for all.
Next, the spreading urban lifestyle dictates the need for new types of service providers. Working couple do not have time to cook food. In urban locations it is common for a service provider to come two times a day and cook basic food needed for the family. The rate is based on number of Chapatis and corresponding vegetables and dal to be prepared.
Am I pointing out isolated instances which can at best help only a small portion of the Below Poverty Line population? Perhaps it may be so. But I still believe that there are enough opportunities in India (as compared to a developed country) if mental inhibitions existing at various levels are removed.
Then why do people take a comparative level of poverty for granted. My theory is that India has always been a poor country. The politicians and others have created a myth that India was a land of milk and honey plundered by invaders and lastly by the British. The poverty of a farmer is glorified. The loss of dignity and suffering a subsistence farmer or a person with similar economic status is rarely mentioned correspondingly.
Next, Indians are lazy and easily contented. What are our working hours as compared to USA ? The offices in USA start at dawn. Most persons are in office there by 8 am or 8.30 am. The courts in USA start at 9 am. Most routine tasks get done in the expected way. Everything works as per a pre-determined plan. Our life is like the sporadic victories of our cricket team. One victory is enough to quench our thirst for a long time and forgive consecutive defeats.
How many reports have we seen about corruption in private sector? Are people aware that corruption exists in private sector in the same manner as in Government? So it is not that Government employees are corrupt, it is that corruption is in Indian blood- some are corruption positive and some negative.
So why do we see so much poverty? Why does at least some portion of the economically weaker segment of the society spent money on alcoholic drinks (Sita’s husband is, in my view, an alcoholic and earns less than Sita due to this additiction) and put in those efforts in improving skills? Why do we still read reports of oppression of Dalits in newspapers? I saw a report today which states that health workers do not touch Dalits. School children belonging to non Dalits have separate marked plates for food. If these are the issues which some portion of our population is concerned, then we deserve to see this poverty and misery.
Will it change? Hard to say… Today’s world allows only survival of fittest. So would India grow or Pakistan grow? Obviously India as Pakistan is mired in issues irrelevant to their well being. Would India grow faster than China? Well, that deserves another blog.