Monday, September 3, 2012

An illuminating chat with Tulsa

Tulsa is the energetic and articulate young woman who enables me to blog at leisure because she sweeps, mops and dusts my home, all the time sharing her joy in her children, the misery and suffering inflicted upon her by her alcoholic husband, and the challenges of living in a tin roofed room that floods when it rains, and is the 4 member family's living-cum-bed room-cum-kitchen. She rarely complains, electing instead to look at life as a journey to be undertaken with as much dignity and integrity as she can command, notwithstanding the huge challenges. A migrant from Madhya Pradesh, she lives in one of the multi storeyed buildings that dot the rural habitations of Gurgaon, and are home to thousands like her who pay handsome amounts to the native inhabitants for the ramshackle  accommodation that they have built expressly for this purpose. She does not have a bank account, no medical insurance or pension account, not even a gas connection despite having lived and worked for many, many years in a city. She is educating her children, but she herself is completely illiterate.  The Parliament, democracy, Municipal Corporation, laws, rights and responsibilities of citizens ----- all these are concepts completely alien to her.

A couple of weeks ago, she did not report for work at her usual hour, nor did she call ---- yes, she has a cell phone! The next day, she was full of the tiring and disappointing journey she had undertaken. At 5 AM, she said, the landlord had asked all the tenants ---men and women living lives just like hers --- to board a bus that took them on a 7 hour journey to an ashram. There, they sat in the sun for the best part of the day, listening to the discourse of a religious leader. Some light snacks were distributed, there weren't adequate arrangements for drinking water, the children got restless and had to be sushed again and again, and then they boarded the bus back home. Where did you go, Tulsa, who was the guru, I asked. She had only some hazy notions. Some place in UP, she said, and the religious leader was a woman, she had something to do with Sikhism. On being prodded, she revealed that the only reason she and her family had joined the massive gathering at the ahsram was that it was an opportunity to do something different, to be some place else, to break out of the deadening routine that is their lot ----and no expenditure was involved.

There are crores of men and women like Tulsa, and crores in circumstances far worse. They live from day to day, are more or less reconciled to merely subsisting since their avenues of advancement are so severely limited, and have no expectation of the government because they have grown up in a state of deprivation ---- physical, social, economic ---- without any State organ stepping forward to help. What is tragic for the nation, and for their own selves, is that they are the ones who vote in large numbers, and bring to power all manner of corrupt, conscience-bereft, power hungry men and women who not only perpetuate the status quo but prevent good people from entering the political process. They vote for pecuniary consideration, they vote for caste/community/religion/language affinities, they vote because the sarpanch directs them to, they vote because the patriarch requires them to ---- but they do not vote with the expectation that the candidate/ party which will come to power will bring permanent, systemic improvements in their lives, and therefore, they do not vote into power men and women who can deliver them and the nation from poverty, oppression, and  injustice. They mostly do not understand how that can happen, they have not seen it happen, and therefore, they have little or no expectation that it will happen. There are honourable exceptions, of course but these are too few in number to have a meaningful impact.

So, if the nation is to break out of the stranglehold of the parasitical political "leaders" whose burden it now carries, we must either motivate and persuade the educated middle class to participate in the political process in massive numbers, or educate the dis empowered/under privileged millions. Its hard to say which task is more daunting, because the middle class is in a comfort induced torpor that the recent corruption scams have barely managed to dent, and the people/organisations engaged in/willing to raise awareness among the impoverished are too few to adequately meet the challenge.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Madam,

    Of the 2 options pointed out by you, I think it is the latter which has a higher chance of succeeding. In fact, over the last 2 decades or so, the disempowered masses are more aware when compared with number of middle-class Indians who have entered politics to bring about a positive change. Yes, it is a daunting task but given the record of Indian Middle Class in nation-building, I think if the system needs to be radically changed, it has to be done by the unwashed masses in whose name the middle class benefeciaries have garnered benefits disporportionate to their numbers.

    This is not to suggest that there will be a violent revolution or there needs to be one. Pavan Varma makes some interesting points in his book "The Great Indian Middle Class".