Writes Bob Cesca on the Huff Post blog about hor Martin Luther King’s dream is still, well a dream: ‘The violation was known as “vagrancy.” If you were a black man in the South following Reconstruction, and you were unable to show proof of employment on-demand to the police, you could be arrested and delivered into what Douglas Blackmon, author of Slavery by Another Name, called “neo-slavery.” Beginning in the late 19th century through World War II, various Jim Crow laws required that African-Americans carry pay stubs or, if they were lucky, a letter from an employer; some form of evidence proving to a police officer that they had a job.’
He goes to note that recent laws that enable arbitrary stopping and frisking, demand of immigration papers and Voter IDs in some cities and States in the US are just modern versions of the same sort of discriminatory laws used against African Americans earlier.
In India too, the urban poor are often stopped randomly and asked for identity or employment papers. Indeed, there are drives to ensure that employment is not offered without police verification about the citizenship of the employee. Whereas in the US,a defaulter would end up in jail, in Indian cities he doles out bribes to police constables and carries on, further embittered and impoverished.
Colonialism, racism- we never defeated them. They are here in other virulent forms. Class bias, insecurity tantamount to paranoia fuel discrimination perhaps more widespread than ever in human history. Clearly, with resources perceived as limited and a general fear psychosis across the planet as economies limp along, we are not moving toward a society of increased justice and tolerance.
So what must we do about it? How do we teach our children to think beyond the confines of the war all around us? If we don’t, aren’t we signing away the last opportunities to enjoy our beautiful world?
I told Aadyaa a story about a carnivorous plant last night. She was really upset with the idea that a beautiful flower could snap up a butterfly! Stung by the unfairness of this, she struggled as Udai and me tried to explain the concept of survival and the food chain. Overpowering and annihilating another creature for survival is so fundamentally different from doing it for malicious ends. And then, I thought, we believe we are in a race for survival in which there isn’t enough to hate with the ‘other’!
It really isn’t that dismal folks! There is enough to go around if we can be rational and logical about our needs, place the best human values at the core and collaborate to achieve breakthrough solutions to problems.
At work, I’m part of a team working to set up a system for certifying affordable housing projects. The initiative is that of the Ashoka Innovators for the Public and we at mHS are working on the aspects of the rating system that would impact the low-income community.
Anyway, during our discussions, we often come to the point where we wonder if the rating should consider whether the contractor uses ethical and legal practices for treatment and payment meted out to labor working on the project. If they use child labor, for instance, or use sub-standard shelter to house their labor, they should drop lower in the ratings, we think.
Today, on the occasion of Labor Day, The Hindu carried an excellent editorial written by Moushumi Basu on the subject. She spells out clearly the Acts contractors and construction companies violate when they pay lower wages, do not build decent shelter, do not ensure safe conditions for work, etc. Moreover, developers and construction companies who have ridden the wave of India’s GDP growth (and continue to do so despite slower growth) have no business to do this at the cost of the labor that works for them. It is a sad tale of mistreatment of those who have no voice. Besides the legality, where’s the humanity here? Would it really hurt to pass on a tiny bit of your profits towards improving the lives of those that made your projects possible, often risking their lives, migrating far from their homes?
So in our ratings projects, we’re really wondering….how do we factor in the humanity/ethics (or lack of these) of developers into ratings for affordable housing, where profit margins are lower than regular projects, when they fail to factor in regular projects where profit margins are decent?