Prejudices of the Poor & Extortion

We’ve witnessed umpteen furores whenever the Establishment has come out with flawed figures in relation to poverty. The Establishment has been accused of manipulating the data in order to underplay poverty and to show everyone that their reign at the helm has helped in orchestrating poverty in the negative direction. Today, I am not going to talk about the figures. I know that to some individuals they appear highly faulty and I do agree to a great extent. Today, I intend to talk about the ‘poor’ people of India. All of us are aware of the hardships they face and are wholly supportive of the urgent need to provide them with basic economic necessities and a better standard of living. We can articulate on such matters day in and day out but today I’ve chosen to break away with tradition and jot down a scathing attack on the poor of India. I know that these opinions will invite outrage and opprobrium for me but it’s a writer’s right to pen down his observations and bring to light the hurtful ground reality.

Some poor people think that just because they’re poor they’re very innocent, always right and in a position to demand any insane stuff they desire from the rich. These people happen to be among the most incompetent and ill mannered set of people. You go to any workplace, be it a government office, a corporate headquarter or a school, you’ll find out that the most ill-mannered person of the organization in 90% of the cases will turn out to be the guard who’ll behave with you in the most obnoxious fashion. He is also among the most incompetent set of employees who’ll either be absent from his place of duty or will be found sitting around in a lethargic manner instead of being vigilante. Other employees of the lower cadre, namely peons and sweepers are no less when it comes to incompetence. Firstly, they don’t perform their duties properly and when they’re reprimanded they have the courage to answer back and frown. Punctuality eludes them. “Kaam waali bai’s” happen to epitomize incompetence. They’re quite irregular, late on several occasions and the moment you’ll check them, they’ll start yelling at you and will threaten you of leaving the job since they’re aware of the fact as to how hard it is to get a different housemaid quickly. These ‘poor’ people have become extortionists and they consider overcharging as ‘ethical extortion’. The reason which they’ll give is that, ‘Saheb, mehengai bahut badh gayi hai.’ I think that inflation is for everyone to tackle, the poor aren’t the lone sufferers but they surely suffer the most. A large section of these poor people operating as coolies, rickshaw-pullers, auto-rickshaw drivers and house maids tend to overcharge and fool others. All of us have come across their startling money demands for their so called services at railway stations, auto-stands and also when maids come to our places in search of jobs. Overcharging and attempting to fool innocent people in my opinion is a crime of highest order. I don’t differentiate this behaviour of the poor from the rich. To me it’s similar to corporate greed and bank usury.

These people also suffer from a very casteist and sexist mindset. If you’ll ever go to a slum or an impoverished village then you’ll come across the kind of vice bigotry they suffer from. Boys will be sent to study and play but girls will be made to stay back and work alongside their mothers in the kitchen. Upper-caste poor people behave like ruffians with lower caste poor people and are responsible for pushing them out of their homes and ghettoizing them in one corner of the village. People will say that the poor are not to blame. They conduct themselves in such an unacceptable and regressive manner because they’ve not had access to proper education. To an extent this argument carries weight but I don’t wholly buy into it. I have already been labeled as a ‘pro-establishment’ person but the fact remains and I am least threatened while stating this that it’s not always the government which denies education to such people but they themselves choose to deny education. The money which these people receive from the government for the purpose of educating their children (although quite few but sufficient in comparison to the expenditure bound to be incurred if one is studying in a government school) is utilized to buy television sets and not books. Children are enrolled in schools but they don’t attend schools. The mother takes the girl child along with her to help her out with her work in various households and the boys in most of the cases are absconding. Some obedient ones join their father’s work. But it’s quite evident that some of these people voluntarily deny education. Some will always say that we’re too poor, the government isn’t doing much for us and we’re forced to make our children drop out so that they can start working. This happens but the former occurs more rapidly.

I don’t think so that I need to mention about the number of criminals, drunkards, ruffians, rapists, murderers etc arising from the lower strata of the society. The circumstances in which they live are indeed very challenging but the way they’ve responded to these circumstances is indeed very questionable. They’ve been incompetent, ill-mannered and intolerant. They have resorted to cheating and fooling others in order to fill their pockets and stomach which is absolutely wrong. I have great sympathy for the poor people of this country and I know that a lot of them are remarkably innocent and in need of expeditious help but what I’ve seen so far in my life cannot be shrugged away, hidden or overlooked. The Establishment needs to make more inclusive polices and shouldn’t sleep until and unless these people are rescued from the vicious circle of poverty but the poor also need to mend their ways. I am well aware of the various vices present among the elite but today, I merely wanted to talk about the handicaps of the poor. We don’t need to over-safeguard them nor should we stereotype them as helpless, innocent, hardworking and honest people who are being suppressed by the capitalists and the government. We’ve been witness to suppression from their hands too. It’s quite often mentioned that God gives you what you deserve. This statement shouldn’t be taken lightly and all of us (especially the poor) should introspect. Start from the bottom of the ladder if this is what you’re destined to, work hard, be on time, be subservient and don’t resort to economic blackmailing ie overcharging just because you’re poor. 

Manmohan Breaks His Silence on Koodankulum Nuclear Reactor

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Russian President Vladimir Putin

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Russian President Vladimir Putin

Dr Manmohan Singh is a highly sombre politician who does not wage verbal blitzkriegs against his detractors (unlike his Congress colleagues in the Union Cabinet) but on the issue of the protests being held against the Koodankulum Nuclear Power Station in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, Dr Singh has come out with all guns blazing and has launched an unprecedented verbal tirade against the protestors by accusing them of being funded by American and Scandinavian NGO’s who are not appreciative of India’s growing energy needs and demands.

Dr Singh’s remarks have come at a time when India and the United States are further deepening their ties. Is Manmohan’s argument factually fallible or has he actually spoken out the truth? The comments are sure to raise a political stir in the coming few days but Manmohan’s benevolence towards Russia (The power station at Koodankulum is a Russian creation) might be seen by many policy makers in Washington as malevolence towards the United States. However by means of his outright comments, Manmohan has once again shown everyone that he is the person occupying the driver’s seat and is capable of taking tough decisions.

Affirmative Action

Affirmative action, often dubbed as positive discrimination and referred to as reservations in India are necessary initiatives worthy enough of being lauded if they are not assessed through the prism of political philosophy. In order to understand affirmative action policies we need to trace its origins.

The term ‘affirmative action’ was used for the very first time by late American President John F Kennedy in an executive order. The order was issued to all employers and urged them to undertake affirmative action in order to ensure that no person is discriminated against on the basis of his colour, caste, creed or sex during the appointment process. What began as an attempt to ensure non-discrimination soon began to be construed as a policy with wider implications. I have vocally opposed all such affirmative action policies in the past but yesterday my opinion changed after a comprehensive brainstorming session which forced me to rethink.

Reservations, as we call it in India lead to a mismatch. A person who gets lesser marks or is of slightly low calibre gets a college or a job which doesn’t suit him. His peers are far more efficient than him and over time this person is overshadowed and starts suffering from an inferiority complex. People belonging to reserved categories get such preferential treatment because of their pitiable status or because of past discrimination or historical oppression but the way in which they acquire benefits sponsored by the Government, leads to reverse discrimination and repetition of unfortunate history but this time it’s the other way round because the reserved category people are now in the driving seat and are depriving genuine people of an opportunity which they surely deserve. People who lose out on jobs and seats because of affirmative action policies start hating people belonging to the reserved groups and it leads to their radicalization. Moreover, it also leads to serious undervaluing of the achievements of the people of the reserved group as all their accolades and achievements are brushed aside and assumed to have happened solely because of preferential treatment.

People have alleged that affirmative action policies are enacted to drum up electoral support and they clearly ignore meritocracy. But the bigger side of the story is that how else do you bring out a group from the vicious circle of social and economic backwardness and also give an underrepresented faction its due representation? It can only happen when you educate them and give them job opportunities. Ensure that they are not victimized or discriminated against because of their origin. People say that this can be done by giving them scholarships and fee concessions, the Government does do that but the bottom line is that we can give them these benefits only when they get a chance to study or work and for this the Government is bound to take certain protectionist measures.

Such reserved category people are certainly not in the position to compete with the other established sections of the society and so you create favourable conditions and lesser eligibility criteria’s for them but what needs to be ensured is that a certain benchmark has to be maintained and seats along with jobs should be given only to those who actually deserve it. Affirmative action doesn’t mean that you throwaway educational seats and jobs to people belonging to the reserved category, it means that you give a chance to talented people belonging to the reserved groups and not facilitate the entry of rowdy elements in educational institutes and PSUs.

However, if the Government wants to give reservations to a certain community then it needs to create additional seats and jobs for them instead of reserving a certain percentage of seats for them out of the available ones. For example if the number of seats in a college are 70 and the Government intends to reserve 10% seats for some backward groups then it shouldn’t take away 7 seats out of the available 70, instead it should create 7 additional seats for them and let the existing number of seats (ie 70) be filled via open competition. Similar actions need to be taken while giving such people jobs. What it’ll do is that it’ll ensure that deserving individuals do not suffer because of affirmative action and if they’ll not lose out on seats then the question of open category people beginning to hate reserved category people won’t arise. Affirmative action policies need to be time bound. The Government should enact it for a fixed period of time and it should be re-looked at after the expiry of the given period. Its past performance should then be taken into account to determine its fate. If the policy has made no difference to the group for which it was framed then it should be abolished, if it has worked wonders for them then too it should be scrapped because now this community is capable of competing. The policy should be continued only if it manages to improve the plight of the concerned group marginally and if it is felt that the continuation of this policy would help in improving their situation even more but no affirmative action policy should be enacted without time-bound restrictions.

The Government does need to walk the extra mile to bail out these disadvantaged groups. We must remember that terrorism began because of a dangerous but true feeling which began to arouse among underrepresented and backward groups and that feeling was of getting marginalized. However, affirmative action policies cannot be seen as legitimate if they are enacted during elections to woo a particular section of society. Such policies shouldn’t be used for the purpose of populism but unfortunately they are. I would like to sign off by saying that India isn’t an exception, all countries in the world undertake affirmative action or positive discrimination policies.

Fighting Poverty & Identifying The Poor

There are an ample number of reasons for the failure of the welfare schemes initiated and implemented by the Planning Commission of India for the poor. The first and foremost problem lies with the identification of the poor. The statistics revealed from time to time by the Planning Commission are erroneously flawed and contradict the figures of many other independent outfits conducting surveys to measure poverty. This error comes into play because since a long period of time we’ve been dependent on a uniform definition of poverty. A uniform definition of poverty cannot rightfully point out towards all those who are poor. For correct and clear identification of the poor we need to have multiple definitions of poverty measuring poverty on multiple parameters. The figures obtained should be further classified and they should plainly put all those afflicted by poverty under different categories.

The first one should consist of all those who are living in a totally deprived state referred to as absolute poverty by economists. The second and third, should shell out the names of those who are poor but somehow are able to meet day to day expenses and who are vulnerable to poverty in the near future, respectively. The second problem lies with our bureaucracy. We’ve created a giant sized bureaucracy which incurs astronomical amounts of administrative overheads. 60-70% of the funds allocated get exhausted by the time all the administrative and management expenses are met, the next 10-20% get swallowed courtesy corruption. In such a scenario only 20% of the funds targeted at the people actually reach them. We’ve got to fix our bureaucracy. This handicap can be outdone by simplifying the procedure of implementation of schemes which will not only ensure cost effectiveness but will also lead to timely execution of the work to be done.

Bureaucracy needs to go through overhauling to get itself back on track in order to ensure that we are able to allocate 70% of the total number of funds allocated for the poor. If these small steps are performed as desired then we can surely achieve planned growth and eliminate poverty. We’ve got to stop concentrating on GDP. It just represents trade. The real growth is in desirously rooting out poverty and in improving the quality of life which is categorized by health, happiness and human resource development. Quality of life should always come prior to the standard of life because standard of life is economic in nature and the numbers game associated with it is can be easily manipulated with the help of the amount of money earned by the super rich. In an economy as unequal as ours it takes a far greater amount of pain to enhance the quality of life rather than the standard of life but this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a need to enhance the standard of life.