Saturday, 10 May 2014

The Deep Chasm:

Social Sector: For a sector which prides itself in understanding the real issues of real or ‘unprivileged’ aspects of India, they seem to completely lack an understanding of the other side of ‘developing’ India. They are quick to judge when it comes to anything or anyone related to corporate India, mostly on the basis of their ideology or the lack thereof (anti-secular, anti-reservation, sexist, communal, capitalist etc). Somewhere I get the feeling that they do not want to understand either. As per the sector’s ideology, they are morally superior because they are trying to resolve issues affecting the society while the other side is not. Ooops! Did I say superior? No, here everything is about equality. Right?

“Corporate India / Middle class India is apathetic. They do not want to know the social issues or be a part.” Well, I have not seen any real effort at engaging or dialouging with the corporate sector or the middle class by NGOs to make them feel included. The importance of Corporate India or the middle class is being felt only when international aid has dried up and there is a desperate need to raise funds from within the country.
“Capitalism or anything related is evil, it perpetrates discrimination and promotes inequality.” However, this has not stopped anybody from shopping at Marks and Spencer or trying out new gadgets like the tablet or Samsung phones. In case people haven’t realised, these all are products of Capitalism itself! And what many have failed to observe is that freeing up the market in the 90s gave a lot of people, especially from tier II and III cities, many opportunities to step out and fulfill their aspirations. Call it the McDonalds effect but social and economic changes especially for women across the country have been much faster due to it than any social movements.



Corporate Sector: Theirs is a happy bubble of high aspirations and even higher material needs. To them, the answer to most issues, even social, is ‘development’ or economic growth as this year’s Lok Sabha Election has shown. They firmly believe that the ‘Trickle Down Effect’ will reach the remotest corners of our country eventually and root out all problems along with it. All the hard earned monies that we give as tax are anyway going to our poorer cousins in the villages as ‘free’ or subsidized sops and schemes. Why do they need more? A mere mention of inequality or issues faced by communities at the village level or our poorer counterparts in the cities and one is labeled as Marxist, jholachaap, anti-development etc.

NGOs are looked upon suspiciously as all of the above, cogs in the wheel of policy changes, corrupt with either money going in their own pockets or wasting it on unnecessary foreign trips and high salaries. A friend once said when I asked him about philanthropy: “I would rather financially support people I know who need it and know for sure that my money was utilized well rather than donate to an NGO and not know where it went.”          

Ours is a complicated country/society with multiple layers to each problem. Here’s a simple example - Computer literacy is the way to go no doubt and by donating a computer to a school in a village, you feel you are contributing to educating these children. But if the village school does not have expertise to handle a computer or maintain it or if there is hardly any electricity in the village for it to work, will your contribution make any sense? If girls do not get to study, how does it really help in the longer run? Add to this aspects of caste and you will find that in the end, your computer is lying unused in its corner.

Sitting at extreme ends of different ideologies and style of working and looking suspiciously at the other will help nobody. Just as there are corrupt companies, there are corrupt NGOs. Just as there are good companies, there are NGOs and activists doing great work. Just as Capitalism has some good points, Socialism also has some valid aspects. Without effort and dialogue, the existing chasm in thinking and work will never be bridged.

And the village folks will not be the sole sufferers but all of us because like it or not, we and our issues at different levels are all connected.