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Tuesday, July 6, 2010


We don’t always realize how lucky we are.

This is the thought that flashed across my mind as I sat listening to P. Sainath’s talk on poverty and exploitation last night.

P. Sainath- the rural affairs editor of The Hindu, and the famous author of “Everybody loves a good drought,” who has travelled widely and reported extensively on impoverished and deprived sections of the Indian society.

He spoke of the ‘rotating hunger’ among Rajasthani tribes where family members take turns to eat to their hearts’ content while the others virtually starve so that the ones who eat their fill can go out and work the next day. The following day, the members who have to go out and earn for the next meal would again eat satisfactorily while the others would eat the minimum amount possible. This is how they struggle against hunger and shortage of food.
“People can’t eat more than there is,” said P.Sainath.

He narrated another incidence where Nepali rickshaw pullers from Mussouri would pull rickshaws 30-40 kilometres away and not being able to afford the bus-fare back home would walk from nearby Uttar Pradesh for 8-9 days.

He spoke of septuagenarians breaking stones in 40+ degree Celsius heat because they could not afford the most menial meal due to meager pension and food inflation.

He spoke of widows having a tough time getting employment in construction sites at their own in-laws’ society because of ostracization.

“The least-nourished people have to do the toughest labour,” he said, citing an example where 12-13 year old girls draped themselves up in extra large sarees so that they would appear older than their age and get work requiring them to dig deep craters in heat so scorching that water had to be poured on the dry, hard, parched earth before digging if they had to make any head way.
“Think, how atrociously cruel it is,” he said.

“And girls are more emaciated than boys because mothers in Indian society feed the boys first and better,” he pointed out. A case he gave was of a certain locality where people were falling sick after consuming crabs from a tank. It turned out that chemical waste from certain factories were seeping into the tank and the crabs which absorbed it became poisonous. But interestingly, only the young males were getting sick. Why? Because the female-folk in the families were not given the chance to partake of the nourishing delicacy.

Come back to Bhutan.

The so-called land of Gross National Happiness.

Maybe we don’t see the shocking levels of poverty and deprivation as in India and elsewhere.

But that does not mean poverty is non-existent in the country.

Think farmers. Think labourers. Think menial workers. Think people who have to survive on the minimum wage rate.

Then think yourself.

Ever appreciated the fact that you are well fed, well clothed, educated and living a life millions around the world would only dream of?
And, this is not altruism, but ever paused a while to really FEEL the suffering of someone deprived and suffering from want, even of the most basic amenities?

Agreed, we can’t save the whole world, but ever given yourself the task of at least FEELING the burden of someone else in need? Because, it is from what you really feel that action and humility arises. Not a condescending, gloating feeling of superiority but real empathy which allows them better dignity than pity or sympathy. The understanding that they are also human, in howsoever degrading a situation they may live.

P.Sainath said something which really touched me.

Every once in a while, “just to remind himself” what constitutes human dignity and how our fellow human beings all around are suffering, he goes to “break stones” too.

“Try it,” he challenged, “and you will write the story differently.”

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