Tuesday, February 06, 2007

...Being Poor

For most of us, poverty is just numbers... Some numbers that describe people with income less than such-and-such, people with access to so-many calories of nutrition/day, approximate number of people who live and sleep on the footpaths, who do not have land or any assets.... etc.

Numbers are perhaps also our way of dis-infecting the emotions we would need to deal with (within ourselves) from the experiential reality poverty. They shield one from the experience of what it means to be poor, to understand poverty from the poors' point-of view.

Partly, learning from some conversations I have been having with people like these in the pictures (all except one are mine, which I had downloaded from another site/blog; I would like to give credits, but have no references with me), partly trying to consolidate the overall meaning of some postings that I had made on this blog (have linked the URLs in the text), partly by observing how they are treated by others, and partly because I am reading a book called Voices of the Poor, here are a few things I have come to understand:

Being poor, of course, means not having adequate and regular income, often having to sleep empty stomach, shivering during winters, and often not having a home to call one's own... But these are only the visible tip of the iceberg. The day-to-day living experience is far more daunting and demeaning. For instance:

  • being poor means living a life with a sense of powerlessness and anonymity - as if it of no consequence to anyone.... Slum demolitions and 'relocations' rarely make a headline, even though they displace many times more people than Tsunami did!!

  • being poor means having to live with - maybe perhaps get resigned to - a perpetual (24/7/365 in the modern terminology) sense of precariousness of one's livelihood and existence... A single rainy day, a one-day bandh, a new city-beautification scheme, or just a bout of week-long illness is enough to send one's existence ove the edge to the other side...

  • being poor means accepting public humiliation as a part of one's life... Ever seen a person refusing a beggar? Or observed the nature of one's own reaction (internal and/or external) when refusing a beggar?

  • being poor means being denied the basic rights as a citizen - errata: as a human being... Do street vendors or rickshaw-pullers have a right? - or the right to voice their rights?

  • being poor means being denied access to resources, information, credit, technology, markets and opportunities... I can get a car-loan or house-loan for around 8-10-12% on easy installments up to 84-150 months. I can also get a "gold" credit-card from some banks, simply because I travelled by air by producing my boading pass (no credit-rating checks!!)... But if I am a urban or rural poor, trying to incease my livelihood options by buying a rickshaw or seeds for my farmland, I will need to either produce an impossible plethora of documents, or pay higher interest (and EMIs up to max 36 months)...

    And lastly....

  • being poor means being blamed for being poor


    gaddeswarup said...

    Please also look at 'Tristes Tropiques' By Claude Levi Strauss. It has some passages about poverty in India. My vague remembrance is that he says: 'it is the kindof poverty that dehumanizes both have nots and haves'.

    devi said...

    Yes, I agree with you in-toto, statistics/data and percentages masquerade as concern and insulate us from the reality, simply because we do want to see it, experience it or be part of it.
    A common response to some issues I talk about is 'its terrible and depressing, I dont even want to hear it!' ...Maybe its guilt or shame or just lack of concern?

    Ya we have the luxury of negating the very existence of the have-nots and the dispossessed , the magnificent philanthropists who subsidize our lives and comforts .... do we atleast realise that they are our benefactors?

    Barbara Ehrenreich who writes on the American poor mentions in her book 'Nickel and dimed' that the working poor who work for wages less than what they can live on are the biggest philanthropists of our time...

    David J said...

    Great blog. Interesting dialogue, very engaging I hope you inspire some empathy.

    In The Shadows said...

    Slum demolitions and 'relocations' rarely make a headline, even though they displace many times more people than Tsunami did!!

    Do you realize that slums are illegal. Whether rich or poor, its land grabbing, plain and simple. Whether its a rich builder who encroaches, or a poor labourer, its wrong. We cant have two sets of laws for different people, can we? ohh but of course, if we can have muslim personal laws, we sure can have this.

    Do you realize that maximum number of criminals come from the slums. That they are a social security problem? Yeah yeay, I am talking numbers, am desensitized, aint I?

    Recently, a colleague of mine met with an accident when a "poor" kid ran across the road suddenly. She ended up in hospital for a day, and the poor ganged up on her, asking for money, threatening violence (even though it was no fault of hers). It was a plain simple accident, she did not go and hit the kid because the kid was poor. It could have been anyone. But once the adjective "poor" comes into the picture, its a different story altogether... thanks to years of mindless Bollywood brainwashing "rich oppressing poor". Ok, realize this- Understand that apart from the rich and poor, there is a large section of population called middle-class, who is as concerned with making a living as the poor or rich are.

    The same middle class will obviously not be bothered about your activism regarding saving slums, after they are blamed for "being insensitive and selfish".

    >> Or observed the nature of one's own reaction (internal and/or external) when refusing a beggar?

    Lets say, I kind of agree here. I sure do feel bad. Whether I donate or not.

    >>Do street vendors or rickshaw-pullers have a right?

    Sure, why not? In fact, the party that has the most rights keeps cribbing about the lack of them. And ohh,,, its just that the rich can afford better lawyers. Their rights are the same. BTW, have you ever been cheated by a rickshaw wallah?

    >>being poor means being denied access to resources, information, credit, technology, markets and opportunities...

    A lot of it is denied to me too... because I am not rich enough. Should I pick up the gun?

    >> being poor means being blamed for being poor

    If I am poor, I would rather have no or less children, fewer mouths to feed, so that I can send them to school.

    How do we know said...

    I'm sorry, but i also fail to find a wave of sympathy rising within me..

    Whose fault is poverty? The rich man's, who gives them less wages than are due, or the poor man's, who would rather undercut his neighbour for the same work, leading to the possibility of wage cuts by the rich?

    Is it the fault of the NGOs that fail to teach them that the more children they have, the less their chances of giving these children a better future, or the fault of the poor man who refuses to understand that more hands to earn also means more mouths to feed? Whose myopia do we blame?

    The poor - both the rural and the urban poor, are the oil in our civilisation's machinery - without them, the world would come to a halt in a day. But that is not sufficient excuse to be poor and to be exploited - by themselves as much as by the "non-poor".

    Madhukar said...

    @In the shadow & @how do we know!

    thanks for substantiating the last point of the post.

    Re "Do you realize that slums are illegal"... where did you lean this???!!

    actually, you are wrong. Many slums are quite legal... till, they are made illegal overnight.

    lucius said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.