Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Liberation Day 2012

Sixty five years of Independence is a long time, and our celebration
is about the survival of the concept of citizenship and freedom. When
freedom came to us, the subcontinent was ravaged by blood and tears,
to the extent that no one spoke about the horrors of partition for
atleast thirty years in personal contexts, because they wanted to
forget. One of my neighbours in Lawrence Road, New Delhi, where we
lived in the early 1980s, was an old woman who said she had lost her
husband for several years, he went missing, and then one day he turned
up. I am reminded of Hannah Arendt's biography where she and her
husband who had been sent to different concentration camps, suddenly
found each other, as they turned a corner in an unknown city, where
they had been dislodged for a while from their respective groups.
So Freedom is a miracle, and every year, we know it will drizzle when
the flag goes up and the rose petals fall, and the Prime Minister
makes his speech. Since he is from the days of partition, his speech is
written in Urdu, because when he turns the pages he goes
from the back to the front, and the calligraphy is clearly visible. How interesting that our lives
are meshed in this multilingualism and this diversity of language and
faith and experience, including the freedom not to believe  in the
divine, should that be one's inclination.
What is truly interesting, for me, is that the people's will survives,
inspite of hunger and poverty and mismanagement. The middle class
knows that it acts as a buffer group between the rich and the poor,
either through imitation of the upper class and it's tastes, or by
philanthropic concerns, which may also draw from ideological
preoccupations which are typically the site of freedom."What the
People Want" maybe at both ends of the spectrum, the right to buy
bling and shop in the malls for synthetics or sequins, or the right to
speak on behalf of the poor. To me, it seems interesting that when the
Prime Minister speaks of the resilience of the Indian economy he
speaks of the investments of the people, and this is not conspicuous
consumption, it is post office and SBI savings, as the socialists have
long shown to be the reason for India's economic resilience.. Inspite
of terrible circumstances of work and life, the people still believe
that they can hope for the future, plan for a wedding, a feast, an
education, or old age security. And the middle class ofcourse has
bought into stocks and shares right across the board, so that the
investments of the capitalists are really the investments of the
salaried and professional classes.
However, Utsa Patnaik, in her book, "The Republic of Hunger" has said,
very emphatically, that the low income of workers, is a repudiation of
the right of people to eat the food that they are used to eating. This
is the real crux of the matter, that the minimum wage and the Rs 28 or
Rs 20 indicator is the bases by which the poor are forced to eat less,
and their body weight is then an index of how much degradation
follows, from the acceptance of this minimum as a socially acceptable
index by the rest of society. This is thus an ideology, where the
hunger of the worker is seen to be an average index of the ability to
offer his or her labour power, for a minimum wage: the right to
survive and to reproduce as it's basic motif. Unless there is a call
to commonsense, rather than falling back on oligarchic indexes of
efficiency in theory, Indians cannot look at their common human
condition as anything but pitiful. This demands that bonus production
by farmers is matched by transparent processes of securing food for
the people. Gandhi's idea of daridra narayan is one of the most humane
of ideas. Let the Indians look to their poorest to know if their
survival predicts our future as a democracy.

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