Our middleclass hearts are bleeding. Most of us are outdoing each other in trying to express our shock at what is happening to the poor people of our country. We have all taken to social media to insert our own two-bit trickle of a remark in the flood of sympathetic comments rushing in like tsunami from everywhere.
Everyone wants to say the right thing. To appear politically correct in taking the side of the downtrodden, the symbol of which, currently, is the long lines of labourers, who have crawled out of the country’s woodwork, and in ant-like files trying to get to some destination, which we will never see.
Very much like the queues of ants, whom we suddenly notice as they come into our view, in medias res, as it were, but we don’t really know where they came from nor where they are going. We are reacting to these poor people because they are suddenly out in the open. But were our eyes closed all these years?
Of course, they were. Even though they, the poor, were right under our noses, living their lives of “inequality”. That’s when we should have been shocked. But we have accepted “inequality” as the norm.
Let’s consider. Let’s take a hypothetical but realistic example of what goes on. An editor of a news publication, say, who gets paid five hundred thousand rupees per month for throwing his weight around, pays five hundred rupees to the domestic helper who does the backbreaking work of “jharu, poncha, kapra, bartan”……. sweeping, swabbing, laundry, dishes in his or her house.
In fact, the exploitation doesn’t end there. Like charity, it simply begins at his or her home. He or she then takes his or her exploitation to the workplace, where he or she continues the practice and, depending on the haggling (read: survival) ability of the workers (in this particular case, the subordinate editors, reporters, photographers and others down the hierarchical order), payments of salaries are decided. The product of a Darwinian (yet intentional) struggle.
So when the same editor sheds tears for the injustice meted out to the migrant labourers, one’s thoughts drift from ants to crocodiles.
Why single out media alone for this hypocrisy? Because we are supposed to be society’s conscience keepers. But do we have a clear conscience?
Inequality is embedded into the system. We all take part in it. We pardon it. We perpetrate it. It is unlikely that any of us are willing to give up any of the privileges or luxuries we feel entitled to. Depending on which economic class we belong to, these are our necessities.
Distribution of the world’s wealth is not done according to need or even according to skill or effort. It is done according to privilege, largely unearned privilege — which is inherited or extracted unjustly. Which is why our elected representatives get free tickets to fly home and the people who elected them have to walk the same number of miles on foot.
Their feet bleed.
And so our middleclass hearts bleed.
But the question is, don’t we have blood on our hands too?