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Change

Change is something so many of us would like to see, in the world and in our lives.    We're always trying to do it - usually from tomorrow.  Tomorrow, we tell ourselves, we'll turn over a new leaf.  Start that diet, that course, that course, the new course of action which will improve our lives for the better and put us on the path to a new tomorrow. Alas, without the deep down awareness and the will to really change for the better, the changes seldom come about.

It's the same with society, or the greater community.  Everyone agrees that it would be great if there was equality of opportunity for everyone, in jobs and education.  We want to see the inequality of the sexes put right and justice for all.  Yes, the desire is there for change.  But why doesn't all this desire translate into positive change for the better?  Because the truth is that most people pay lip service to ideals but they don't have the true commitment to it.

In south Asia, where I live an expatriate life married into the local community, I notice that while even the laws of the country where I live profess commitment to the values of equality, that commitment doesn't seem to translate into reality as much as it should.

There are some who say that education should be more widespread and that this would change society for the better.  I don't disagree with this.  Education is a human right and the commitment to education for all  in south Asia should be launched on a war footing.  But I have heard words of wisdom from the mouths of people who are not that well educated here and words of nonsense from people who are educated to doctorate level.  So education is clearly not enough to bring about change.  Let me explain.

Meera is a washerwoman.  Her husband is a washerman.  They make a living washing and ironing the clothes of people in the area where they live.  They have four sons.  All their sons are employed somewhere.  All the sons went to school up to eighth or tenth class.  Some of the boys help their parents in the family business and one is working in a garage. Meera has a brain like a computer and keeps track of the money owed by all the customers - completely in her head!  She never writes down anything yet every account is kept, to the last rupee.  Meera and her husband have thought their children the value of hard work and thrift and if there is one low income family who will climb out of the poverty trap, it is this one.  Although the parents are not much educated, they are on the right track all right.

Shovita is a teacher.    Her husband is a management professional.  Their  two sons are like other modern teenagers.  They enjoy computers and go to tennis lessons and are studying at one of the foremost schools of their city.  Shovita enjoys her job and family life and her perfectly run household is the envy of all her friends.  Looking at them, you would say that this is an educated family.

But look a little closer.  Something is certainly wrong.  What is it?  Neither Shovita, nor her husband and sons wash their own dishes, cook their own food nor  sweep their own floors.  All the manual work in the family is done by Chotu, a child servant.  He comes from a village where Shovita's husband's family has some roots.  The cooking in the house is done by an elderly woman  whom the family calls Amma.  This means mother and is an address of respect.  Amma lives nearby and has served this family for years.   She works for a fraction of her real worth and is only too glad to get her money.  As Shovita says herself, why should she kill herself in the kitchen when Amma will very gladly to the work for half nothing?

So thanks to Chotu and Amma, Shovita's family live a rich life indeed.  They don't mistreat their servants of course.  They're nice people.  But Shovita's sons live a life of study, computers, tennis lessons and MTV.  They have their own bedrooms and drive around on scooters.  Chotu's life is full of back breaking work from dawn to dusk.  He seldom gets time off.  He has to eat left over food and wears the cast-off clothing of Shovita's sons.  His bed is a fold way camp-bed.  He sleeps in the porch.  His meagre salary is sent to his father in the village.

Shovita's family considers itself modern, educated and forward looking.  Rubbish.  Their comfortable lifestyle depends on keeping the poor poor.  If the poor get equal opportunities for education and work, who will wash the dishes, cook the food and scrub the floors?

No, Shovita's family is not like that wicked lady doctor who recently hit the headlines in Lucknow for cruelly beating a ten year old child servant.  But they have a long way to go before they can claim to be free of the taint of exploitation and abuse of the poor. A very long way.

Change for the better in our personal lives and societies  will only come about when we - individually and collectively - feel that deep down awareness in their spirits and a hunger and thirst for  change, change for the better.  Then no power in the world will be able will be able to resist the changes that will certainly occur.

This post originally appeared on my blog Write Away.

Comments

  1. People who can afford servants are often selfish and lazy.

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  2. of course there is a social inequality esp in india..but what could we do..? the rich ladyz family z not exploiting the kid.. it's his parents who are responsible for sending him to this job..n child labour is a harsh reality, and every one has some or the other excuse for it!!!

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  3. India has a long way to go before the kind of equality that you yearn for comes through. Many parts of India outside the Hindi belt have much better record on this score than does the BIMARU states. There is so much of feudalism and unemployment in your part of the country that when cheap labour is available people will take advantage of that. Why not? In our part of the country, getting and retaining a servant is increasingly difficult and where it does work, the cost is quite high except for high income families, usually Double Income ones like the Shovita family. My son Ranjan had mind blowing offers to stay behind and work for British companies in Britain, but chose to come back because he disliked the washing up and ironing and other domestic chores that he had to do himself. I don't blame him. He is blessed to live in India and while he can, let him have it his way.

    The other aspect of equality is the cast equations. Here again, the equations are vastly different in other parts of the country. My two domestics are both Dalits. They even cook food or bring from their homes. Can this happen in the UP? Similar is the case with my sister in Chennai.

    India is a quilt and there are different levels of development and cultural changes that have taken place due to historical reasons. I am sure that change will come to your part of the country as well at some point of time in the future.

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  4. I try to be mindful when I am buying anything. My husband objects to the idea having someone else clean up after us or garden for us. although if he didn't we would be willing to pay a fair wage to whoever we employed. It is sad when people get so detached from society that the forget that we are all equal in the end.

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  5. Coming from the southern U.S., my family has a history of being slaveowners up til the Civil War--I have been fortunate to inherit letters written during this era and they reveal a curious relationship. I hope to share some of this as soon as my injured hand heals enough for me to not type with one hand!
    This is a powerful post, Maria! I pray for these children who have no "voice" of their own, and for those who oppress them.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wish we lived close enough to get together for a cup of tea and talk. You've brought up a very good question as Ive seen perfectly "nice" people seem to have no compunction about having servants do all the work for "next to nothing" like you say. I cannot understand it!

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  7. Not just a thought-provoking and interesting post (as usual) but interesting comments too.

    (Have also just had a good catch up - thank you!)

    ReplyDelete

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