By Garda Ghista
May 22, 2009 “Information Clearing House” — Hyderabad, India –
Tentdweller in Sacramento, Calif. Far too many in the US fall through the cracks of a Darwinian system that offers few support lines to the “losers”.
In America, more and more people are subjected to the humiliation of losing their job, and then when they cannot pay their mortgage they get a fat wad of papers delivered to their door by the local sheriff telling them in brief to pay up or vacate. And then they have to leave or be thrown out of their own home. And then when no job is forthcoming they cannot even downsize to an apartment. They are forced to go to the lowest level of subsistence. They buy a tent and pitch it near some water, maybe a river or a tap somewhere.
I was becoming more and more appalled living in America in 2008 and up to May 2009 and watching more and more “tent cities” springing up across the country. And then as those tent cities get more and more established, at regular intervals, maybe once a month, the local police invade the area and make a brutal sweep of the premises and drive all those tent people out of their tents and onto the road somewhere. And after the police have gone, the people return to what’s left of their tent and their meager possessions. This is America today. It is “poverty amidst plenty.” That phrase is from the 1929 Great Depression. And in 1929 the police conducted the same sweeps that they are doing today across America. Is it not heartbreaking? Or shall we say, does it not make your heart bleed to see this kind of existence of the people?
And now I am in Hyderabad, India. And if you go along Highway 9 which runs through Hyderabad, what do you see? All along the highway, there are vendors selling this and that like nariyal pani – coconut water – or mangoes or colorful little trinkets. But behind those vendors, in a fifteen foot wide corridor running along the wall, are tents. More tents. And these tents have been there forever. They are not so nice as the American tents. They are made of dark green or black pieces of plastic somehow moulded or stuck together in some shape so as to rise a bit above the ground with one opening. And here is where the people live and sleep and go to the bathroom and take bath – but where do they go to the bathroom and where do they take their bath? And where do they cook and eat? In the daytime they are lying in front of their “tents” or sitting and chatting happily. That’s the amazing part of it. If we visit a tent city in America – the newly created tent city – it is sure we will find severe mental depression. Economist Shrii Prabhat R. Sarkar told us that this new Great Depression will be accompanied by severe mental depression. It is but natural. But in Hyderabad, along Highway 9, I don’t yet see that mental depression. And earlier in the 1990s when I used to visit the slums here or see the women breaking stones with axes in the rock quarries, there was no mental depression. Why? I think it is because this was their life from birth. They never knew any other life. They never expected any other life. They lived with No Expectations.
The number of people living in slums in India has more than doubled in the past two decades and now exceeds the entire population of Britain, the Indian Government has announced. India’s slum-dwelling population had risen from 27.9 million in 1981 to 61.8 million in 2001, when the last census was done, Kumari Selja, the Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, said.
But why should anyone, why should even a single person, be relegated to living in a tent, to living without a bathroom, without running water nearby, to keep themselves clean? Who is to blame that people live in tents? In America I was saying that it is the @*&^%$ bankers and speculators who have robbed the country blind and are hence directly responsible for the tent people. But what about India where tent people have lived for decades if not longer? Who is to blame? Is it the sum total of politicians who ruled all those decades and never gave a @*&^%$ about the tent people? Then what do we tell to those tent people? Should we not tell them that God never meant for them to live under pieces of plastic along the highway? Should we not tell them that it is the moral responsibility of all political leaders to provide them with food, water, shelter, clothes, soap, health care and education? How do we tell these simple, sweet tent people that there is a better way? How would you tell them? I want to tell them this now, but I don’t know how to start. How do we talk to them in a way that is relevant to their lives? Is it our job then to take away their simple acceptance of their plight and inspire them to demand the minimum necessities from their cold, callous government? Is that our job? Is it our job to take away their simplicity and raise their political consciousness and make them outraged at the economic injustice of their lives? For some reason, i cannot bear their plight and neither can I bear that they accept their plight so happily.
It reminds me of what Professor Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank founder, wrote in his autobiography regarding the famine of 1970s in Bangladesh. He would be teaching economic theories to his students inside the classroom, and outside, just at the door, starving men, women and children would just lie down and wait to die. They didn’t fight. They didn’t rebel. They were not even angry with anyone. They accepted everything – even their own vastly premature death.
See how painful also it is to read that 150,000 farmers across India have committed suicide in the past five years to escape the slow and agonizing process of starvation. Easier to die the short agony of poison than the long agony of starvation! But why do they feel no anger? Why don’t they rebel? Is it that they do not know whom to rebel against? That they do not know who is responsible for their tortures and humiliations and finally their starvation? Then again, isn’t it our duty to tell them who is responsible? Isn’t it our duty to inspire them to fight back? Did wealthy people ever distribute their wealth voluntarily to the downtrodden? No. They only distribute when the poor demand it. So why not all of us go and meet the tent people and tell them that they do not need to live like this, that the immoral, indifferent, heartless politicians are responsible, and that they should fight those politicians, remove them from power and bring moralists to power who have hearts full of love for the common people. And whoever has a conscience, whoever loves morality should join them in that fight and guide them and become one with them.
Garda Ghista is a freelance journalist and author of The Gujarat Genocide: A Case Study in Fundamentalist Cleansing and Wife Abuse: Breaking It Down and Breaking Out. She is also Founding President of the World Prout Assembly, a non-profit organization dedicated to transferring economic power from corporations to the common people and to fighting injustice in every sphere of life.