My dad received a call at 9pm from someone who was working under him a long time back. The call was an eye opener for me in many ways.
The guy on the other side of the call was asking my dad money for tuition fee for his daughter. At first I thought that it must be for college. But to our surprise, the guy was asking to pay for tuition of 2nd grade.
Imagine that for a second, a guy is calling around his seniors, colleagues to help him so that he can pay for his daughter’s education and that too for 2nd grade. Imagine the pain and desperation of that person who had to gather so much courage to ask somebody, who he knows not personally but as a colleague for money.
It takes a lot of courage to come out and ask somebody’s help especially money. Then add to that the humiliation he would have to suffer on receiving NO from the other end. He is staking his self esteem to educate his children.
This really gets you thinking about a world where middle class world is tensed about the battery of their phone, where to eat this weekend or to take an Ola or an Uber. While the rich are busy buying out governments for enriching their coffers and ensuring that their next 10 generations will live happily on "rent".
Contrast this to the teeming billions across the world who live hand to mouth, not sure about whether they would be able to earn enough to get food on the table, forget about buying a new pair of clothes which are considered luxury.
Most of us at most of the time live in sheer ignorance of the plight and suffering of the bottom 99%. While at other times when we do notice their condition we chose to look the other way or blame them for their problems.
Quotes like "poor are responsible for their own making" makes one feel liberated from our own guilt.
The issue at hand is not one of Malthusian dystopia where we lack resources to accommodate the population. It’s quite the opposite. It’s about the distribution of these resources among everybody.
“Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor” — Thomas Jefferson
Everyday millions of tons of food is thrown out by supermarkets and restraunts while on the other hand millions of people sleep hungry. It seems quite clear that the problem is of efficient allocation of available resources rather than the resources themselves.
Nobody is quite interested in wellbeing of the poor. They don’t pay taxes, they don’t fund election campaigns, they don’t deposit money in the bank and most of all they don’t know their rights to go to trial for violation of their civil, economic, and political rights.
While Marx’s proletarian revolution seems a distant possibility, the evidences from Thomas Piketty’s Capital in 21st century paints a quite grim picture of the world with rising inequalities and unequal distribution of wealth across class within nation and among nations themselves.
“The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.”-Karl Marx
Coming back to the incident at hand. Education is so vital today that it should be a basic and universal human right. When Japan introduced compulsory national education during Meiji Restoration (1868 onwards) it heralded an Era of modernisation, industrialisation and increasing income quite unknown to the world at that time. Similar feat was repeated by China after the end of its Civil War in 1949.
21st century which is allegedly an Asian century, quite simply won’t pan out to be if the basic premise of a democratic state - education, health care - remain unsolved in India.
Looking at this from another angle, while religions of the whole world promote the idea of welfare of the poor, giving, and charity - religion in 21st century is all about making the rich feel good about their successes. Even the priests are corrupt.
If you notice major temples around the globe, you will notice that their vaults are filled with donations, gold, even hard cash. All this money seemingly comes as donation by people to bribe the God into granting their wishes.
Logic would dictate that a priest would follow his religions dictats to use this stream of uninterrupted incoming wealth for welfare of the poor. But, bar a few, most of this wealth lies unused, some appropriated by the high priest whole the rest lies buried with new vaults coming into existence each decade to make room for the new wealth.
While we must not expect anything from temples, but if a huge chunk of global wealth lies dormant, it lies outside the economic system and hence does not multiple as other forms of saving and investment does. This creates another issue of less money with the state for social welfare.
Another issue which is coming into highlight due to USA pulling out of Paris deal is the one of unequal burden and brunt of climate change on poor countries and more importantly the poor. While the rich of the world can buy air fresheners or move to healthier space.
The poor can’t move anywhere and have to work outside. Hence they bear the full brunt of pollution, UV rays, radiation etc.
When rich countries don’t take responsibilities for the mess they have created and say that they are being treated unfairly, it highlights their hypocrisy, to say the least.
Morality and responsibility seem to have taken a backseat in today’s world where nobody is willing to accept the refugees of war which the rich have created and nobody is wiling to pay the price of climate resilience.
As in Charles Dickens novels, if nothing happens soon enough to tackle these issues we will soon see street air filled with smog limiting visibility to a minimum and fresh air a prized resource.
So what can be done about this?
Morality seems to have an inverse correlation with the amount of money you make. When talking about refugee acceptance rate, African developing countries like Ethiopia are leading the way.
Similarly when you visit a tertiary care hospital, you would meet people with insurmountable pain of themselves of their family members. From this pain comes an understanding of pain of others, of morality, of ethics, of helping others and much more. Never would you notice a case of stealing in a hospital. It’s as safe as a bank.
What the above two examples show is that to understand with poor you have to feel their pain or atleast try to feel their pain.
Hence what we need is another enlightenment, but this time on morality and on hyper drive. We need governments to increase welfare spending, curriculum in schools and colleges to teach morality, progressive income taxes, much higher taxes on capital gains (through which rich make most of their income), and above all else we need to give the world a human touch.
As Nelson Mandela said
“We must work together to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth, opportunity, and power in our society.”