Millennium Post

Not at home in the world

Not at home in the world
O global citizens of India! I understand your plea for solidarity in support of Gaza. I also sympathise with your righteous rage that makes you retweet hideous photographs of the massacre maniacally. I have professed to boycott products that somehow or other have ties to Israel and I have also stopped researching for my Holocaust paper out of sheer shame-facedness.

And yet, kindly forgive me for my scepticism and pardon my unjustified suspicion that it takes an international arena and a few videos gone viral on the internet to boost your slumbering conscience to suddenly sit up with a violent start, and then, quite randomly, start rebelling by posting noncommittal status messages. Your bravado runs quite the miracle mile.

Pray, what are you usually up to in days—and there are such days—when there are no such international human rights violations or their videos doing the rounds on the internet? Where is your conscience when thousands get massacred in your own country, when Dalit women are raped and hanged, when minors get violated in schools and your government gets away with planning a Rs 200 crore statue in your godforsaken nation with as many or more squirming in the filth below the poverty line?

Why is your heart so bereft of virtuous pi(e)ty when you leave behind starving children on the roadside in your wake? Where is your sense of historical trauma when you read reports of gun violence in Kashmir and the Northeast? What are your thoughts on reading the latest UN report which states that a third of the 1.2 billion of the world’s poorest live in India—yes, India, your native land, away from the massacre of Gaza or the war in Iraq? Do you raise a quizzical eyebrow at the IDA and the World Bank for spreading such ghastly rumours?—why, your maid sends her children to school and no children are starving on the streets in your area, thanks very much!

For all your global citizenship, that you have paid for at your local internet service provider’s counter, are you so myopic that you no longer sense the dangers close to home? Are you happy that your women are ensconced in the relative safety of your eighth floor luxury apartment and that your children have artificial grass to play football on?

When you return from your expensive tête-à-tête at one of those newly furnished fabulous looking cafés, do you look at the roadside vendor with a guilty eye? Are you aware that each cookie you buy in a shopping mall plunges him deeper towards the dire destiny of destitution? Are you considerate of the fact that the more of your daily vegetables you buy from a chain store, the more farmers shall commit suicide? Are you sentient of the fact that each cinema ticket you buy at a multiplex jeopardises the livelihoods of those working in smaller theatre halls? Are you attentive to the fact that you are gradually, through the inadvertent ill-will of your lifestyle, killing the lifeblood of your city? Of all cities? That you are making the poorest person poorer? That the fact that you pay two thousand for a family dinner at a restaurant and refuse to pay as much to your domestic help for a month’s hard work is really, in a way, a crime worse than any human rights violation you protest about on Facebook? When you send your pre-adolescent bellboy to ‘fetch’ stuff, do you not understand that it is child labour?

Are you enjoying the fact that the international hotel chains are taking over and reshaping the landscape of your city? Are you examining your Wills Lifestyle wardrobe under the scrutinising gaze of a man-about-town, leaving behind those jhola-wearing, khadi-sporting, protest-marching university days? Are you worried that your postmodern boudoir and your custom-made modular kitchen can’t hold enough shelves while remaining blissfully uncaring of the fact that your cook has not gone home to her native village in more than a year. Are you so much at home in the world that you are comfortable neglecting the smaller injustices that the poor in your homeland can ill-afford to suffer?

What can you do? Why, for starters, you can use the public transport instead of burning more fossil fuel. You can switch off your air conditioning for a few hours in your office or at home. You can pay fair wages to your household staff, be respectful to the street vendor, buy your ‘organic’ stuff from the local bazaar instead of promptly opting for a branded retail store. You can change your consumer habits: buy seasonal fruits and vegetables instead of preserved or imported exotic ones, have chai/coffee at your street corner instead of hopping into a freezing coffee shop, entertain your friends at home instead of going out to a mall for a reunion.

You can also avoid malls and take your children to play in chowpattis where poorer kids go play. Instead of spoiling them with video games which shall render them into zombies and couch potatoes, you can take them to an old age home on their birthday. That way, you can stop slow-poisoning an entire economy and desist from starving it to certain death.

If you want to do more, adopt orphans or urchins and provide them with a decent life and education. And meanwhile, you can stop posting on Facebook about the calamitous state of world politics and state perpetrated genocide. Remember, always, that the personal is the political.
Gargi Bhattacharya

Gargi Bhattacharya

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