I will admit I did not have much knowledge about Harsh Mander and his work until the discussions to host him for a talk started with in the AID Central New Jersey chapter. But after the 1 hour or so talk, I felt I should have known him a long time ago – especially his views on education, health care, empathy & above all humanity.
Below is a summary of the talk given in Princeton University on Oct 27th – I had some notes taken during the speech and this is merely a reconstruction of the same.
Inequality with indifference – 3 words that can describe what’s wrong with India. The struggle for justice is universal because of 3 reasons
- love of freedom
How do you define empathy?
Imagine to be in someone’s else’s shoes and feel for them. But we have limits to our empathy. What we witnessed during the Delhi outrage was a rare moment of public empathy. The homeless people are subjected to relentless violence. To give them a shelter where they could close their eyes and not worry about getting raped. There is no candle light march for the homeless, there is no outrage nor any public protests in support of them.
1992: during the height of militancy, the army called out all the men, went inside the house as an excuse to search for militants and raped the women. About 100 women were gang raped on one single night. But no public outrage. We built walls, barriers around the capacity of empathy.
We don’t regard the other person as as human as us. But by being indifferent are you not complicit in the crimes against women. So the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. It’s hard to tell whether it increased or decreased but we have accepted inequality to a greater extent.
On Middle class
Naom Chomsky said that poverty in India is visible in a very dramatic way, but the middle class has developed an extra ordinary capacity to see and look away. There was a time in history where the wealthy dealt the wealth with restraint –
we have gotten worse since then and have become more flashy over the course of time. Capacities for empathy is at its lowest ebb
- Caste system – determines what you are
- British introduced the class system
- Capitalism taught greed is good and enjoy wealth and don’t be ashamed of it. Middle class combined all 3
Old ways of giving
Sikh: The idea of langar was very old tradition dating back to the 13th century. Collective service for people in need but also do it cheerfully with a human touch. But these days, anyone demonstratively destitute were treated differently. Ideas of fraternity, solidarity, brotherhood that we understood in 13th century, now we are loosing
Hindus: The Hindus feed the homeless: give what they want and when they want to give
Christians: no food charities
Muslims: buy 20/30 Rs tokens in dhabas and give it to the poor so they can buy the food
We haven’t learnt any new way but we have forgotten the old way
Food bill: In short it’s simply a legal obligation of the state to feed the poor. It was alleged that the food security bill will disincentivize work, they will stop working. Do the poor not have any ambitions for themselves or their children – should they continue to be poor. Why do we think they are working only for food and not for their personal ambitions. Because we do not consider them as human as we are.
How can we afford 25 – 30K crores to support the FSB: The revenue forgone as per the recent budget disclosures approximately 5 lakh crores exemption on gold And silver was given.
On corruption in PDS and other similar policies: While it’s true that there is corruption but the coal gate didn’t stop coal mining, the 2G corruption didn’t stop telecom, so why only target the food policies.
On education: In the private schools 25% should be from lesser background. This was criticized saying that this will dilute the merit of the school. Creating inclusive spaces for our children is the best way to address the issues of caste and class. However it’s the business of the business to do business and education today is a very successful business venture.
On Healthcare: 2 million per year die die to avoidable causes but there is no outrage. We accepted it as natural – like the rivers , waters, mountains. Social protection means – take care of each other – health care for all, education for all, food for all. It’s somehow a dangerous idea to take care of each other – reclaim the revolutionary idea. Good society is one which takes are of each other
- On Healthcare: A father tried to drown his daughter who had a medical condition. His poverty drove him to a situation where he had to decide between the health expenditure of his sick daughter or the rest of the family.
- Homeless on cold winter nights: They can’t buy blankets because because they have no place to keep them. So they just rent them out in the evening and more often they have to either pick the last meal or go for the blanket. But the extremely old, disabled always had blankets. When asked, they said, the abled homeless pool all the money and give the blankets to the disabled. And they do it without a thought.
- Gujarat Riots: For every one person who got killed there were 3 others who were saved. 110 people took shelter for 10 days – a small villager. The villager when asked why he did what he did, he responded saying how he could see his village turn into a bloodbath. When you are doing something good, how can you be frightened. When you get educated we don’t know where our confusion comes from.
- A hindu woman was in tears after she gave Rs 5 to a muslim beggar. When asked why she said she would have given 50 Rs and a meal to a beggar but now I can only give 5 rupees. She was devastated not because she lost her house and properties but because of the profound loss to care for others. Everyone moved on from the riots except for the victims