Harish Khare’s editorial in The Hindu titled This perverse rage against the poor today really struck a chord. He writes about the inherent class bias in a situation when the media blames the falling Sensex on the passing of the Food Security Bill, he writes about the irrationality of the rage against the poor and the belief that the poor are weighing the nation down when in fact India needs to distance itself from the needy and focus on economic development. I am aware that many people I know would regard Khare’s views as biased ‘Congressi’, ‘pseudo-secular’ rants, but I do think they merit some introspection.
An irresponsible media has made it easier still for an already isolated middle class and elite population to shrug off concerns about equity and inclusiveness. Yesterday, I was struck by a few conversations with fellow teachers as well as students as I was teaching a research seminar at SPA (School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi) of which I am an alumnus.
As one teacher worked with his group, advocating the democratic use of common resources in the context of sustainability, another called him a socialist and exclaimed, “But capitalism works, doesn’t it?”. The students looked on, quite confused and even alarmed about the sudden turn of debate away from architecture and design to politics!
A short while later, as my group hotly debated the place of the urban poor in slums in a futuristic ‘smart’ city, one of them lamented in the most heartfelt manner: “Why is everything in India always a problem with no solutions, except idealistic impossible ones?”
The conversation went something like this: You can start with any development related issue in India and the discussion would boil to your belief system- whether it agrees with what the nation’s Constitution started out with, a socialist welfare State, placing our collective political believe firmly left off center. Or whether it veers to the right or further left. In the 67 years of being independent, India has naturally meandered along, testing this belief system, challenging it, twisting it, etc. Young people across the country, however, are unable to contribute meaningfully to national growth, frustrated by inefficiencies of the State and driven to cynicism by the apparent unwillingness of the political and bureaucratic class to really put their weight behind this belief system. The pursuit of material goals solely for personal gain, the perception of oneself as the productive worker and nothing more, not only makes the citizen feel useful but also absolved her of the responsibility of doing more, and even thinking more!
My students are highly idealistic. I can see it in their eyes. The need to dream and believe in a better collective future. I also see the skepticism and much of the angst is about resolving these two conflicting emotions and figuring out how they could play a role. I still feel the same. So do many of us. We refuse to let our dreams die, but are steadily reminded of the futility of these idealistic notions.
If idealism were to die, then what would be living for?
I, for one, would find it quite hard. And so I persevere. To instill in young people an empathy towards those who did not get a head-start in life like we did, is a starting point. To address the rage we feel about the world around us, to deconstruct its origins and emerge with a better understanding of how to address it, is another step in the right direction. To remind ourselves everyday that we have a right to dream and no one can take that from us. And to train ourselves to listen to the other point of view, for even those who speak in a very different voice may in fact be saying the same thing!