I completed a show recently, and there’s one monologue from one episode that stayed with me. The premise of this was a commentary on the human form, which mainly said, “We want things to LOOK perfect.” This basically means that we like the idea of other people thinking that we’re perfect, than being it. For our society, this is especially true, when it comes to defining who we are. Our households, our ideas, our opinions – all of it is shaped around wanting to LOOK good. Last night, some pictures of slums covered with green sheets in the capital were everywhere on the internet. This was just another exhibit of our obsession to seem perfect.
The issues: A) We think the poor, and how they live, is not good enough for us. B) We do nothing to close the gap, where the rich get richer.
Ahead of the G20 Summit, a number of renovations took place in Delhi. The city was being decked up for the world leaders to witness our growth in all areas. The idea of offering a worthwhile experience to the guests, and showing off what we’re doing right is not wrong. We are a developing country, that is still young – in the sense that we just celebrated our 76th year of independence – of getting control to shape our own nation. This number might seem big, but it isn’t, not for a country. So, India, a developing nation is not perfect, and that’s okay. It’s the ignorance that hurts here.
While there are issues like poverty in India, we literally choose to hide them in this case. We’d rather put curtains over our slums than find ways to offer better housing for different strata. What’s particularly appalling is the treatment, which isn’t new – we are just addressing it now. We think of the daily wage workers, house-helps, or residents of slums as secondary citizens of the nation. For our society, they matter when they are needed; and let’s just face it, they are needed more than anyone else. We require their services because we cannot do them ourselves. This is not because we’re ‘too good’ to do that work, it’s just that we hardly know how to.
However, when it comes to treating them with respect, things like caste and class surely make their way into the discussion. We think we are better, we complain about these slums and areas with housing societies that have little to no facilities. But really, what do we do about that? The daily wage workers and our house helps are hardly paid enough for the work that they do. So, they’re left with no choice but to make home of whatever they can afford. THAT, however, leaves us ashamed. So much so, that we cover these parts of our cities – which is almost like erasing an existence.
The solution to getting rid of slums is to work on better housing facilities for the people who live there. Instead, we always end up displacing them, to ‘manage’ on their own. We take their homes and give them nothing in return. How’s that fair?
There’s a classic not-so-funny joke about the desi household, and how we bring out our expensive cutlery when someone important comes home. You know? The white, glass plates. We do that to look better than we are, sure, but also because we think that the part of our lives where we eat in steel plates, is not good enough. Why? Because the rich, who appear a certain way, are better? This is one problem – our obsession with what the rest of the world thinks of us – this societal pressure of ‘what someone will say’.
The other, bigger problem is how we treat the poor and how power dynamics work in our society. This also shows in our day-to-day treatment towards our househelp, daily wage workers and delivery executives. These people who show up FOR us, to make our lives better; and, what do we do? We serve them in different plates, we pay them just enough to keep them on a hook. We also leave no stone unturned to keep reminding them that we ‘own them’ in some way, when we do not. This comes from the nation that thrives because of its working class citizens.
The irony is, that the same people who live in slums or similar areas, covered in sheets, are the ones who decked up the city. Again, to make US look better. So, whoever thinks that the slum dwellers are the problem, should think again. It’s almost like we don’t deserve them.