About the writer
Shweta handles social media and marketing at JOYN. She is passionate about art and working for justice and equality to counter the widespread prejudice against people on the basis of caste and class. Shweta is lively and has a great sense of humor and is able to stay organized only with great difficulty.
India is a land of disparities and diversity and this is a well-known fact. It stands especially true in case of the lifestyles that people here lead and access to facilities that they enjoy. There is the range of ‘affluence’ here that starts from a nascent first-generation individual who has managed to get some education and good work that pays him/her well and is now starting to be able to afford things. It goes up to the multi-millionaires who have everything of anything they may need, want or desire. The other segment of ‘poverty’ ranges from people who are able to make ends meet and live by fulfilling minimal needs and wants down to people who have absolutely nothing. I am not exaggerating. They REALLY DO have absolutely nothing.
Stereotypes and Hearsay
These economic segments have minimal interactions with one another and as a result, I often notice that what they know about the other segments is based more on perception and hearsay than facts. I learnt about the lives of children and people living in slums when I actually worked with them. And even when I worked with slum children for about a year, I came face to face with the reality of their living situation only once when I went into the slum to attend an anniversary party of one of the women who worked with us.
I like to believe that in terms of social and economic classifications, I am fluid. I don’t belong to the specific traits of any economic/social group and have hoped to remain an outsider to all of these, looking on- sometimes with amusement and at other times with despair- at this entire diaspora.
A few teenage girls who begged on the street and had grown rather fond of me had once told me in that protective sort of way that I should not follow the ways of the rich and ‘modern’ women who study and get jobs because their community knows the truth that women cannot handle much beyond housework and child care. They said that this is reason why so many women go mad and talk in the presence of men and move away from elders.
The affluent ones generalize extensively about the economic have-nots. The phrase “these people are like this” has probably been used in all languages, dialects and forms existing in the Indian subcontinent. They are assumed to be filthy, which is why they must be given anything to eat in separate utensils. They may not really be dishonest, but why tempt them by being careless and leaving things around. They can digest the previous day’s leftovers that the affluent consider unfit to eat. They beg because they are lazy and don’t want to work. They don’t bathe for the same reason.
Development and Discontentment
When I hear about India’s development and intended stride into the superpower arena, I feel disconcerted. How are we even a developing nation? If chunks of a person’s body are fit while the rest of it is decaying, would we call that person healthy? There are chunks of our country that are blazing forward in terms of “development”- certain geographic areas and a few segments of people- but a large part of us is still unacceptably unkempt. It is not easy being an Indian who is unable to dismiss these gaping questions with the standard ‘this is how things are’ response.
When Work is Redemptive
Working at a business like JOYN that has a purpose beyond profits is redemptive. To be able to go to work with people who think and believe as you do and feel similar pain at the situation gives healing. Sometimes it feels like we are too small a force to take on the monster.
At such times, I like to focus on the larger, global community we have: the businesses that are in this industry for the same reasons who are popularly labeled ‘competitors’, the retail stores that promote and sell our products and the stories behind them and the people who buy them, love them, talk about them with others and send special messages and photos every now and then to cheer us on.
And then I see that we are growing. JOYN is growing and that means the number of stores that sell our products, is growing, which in turn is only possible if ethical consumerism is growing. And at the end of it all, the beauty of a diaspora remains that while there will be tragic realities, there will always be a dedicated bunch of those who are working to change for the better.