How interesting that our lives are meshed in this multilingualism and this diversity of language and faith and experience, including the freedom not to believe in the divine, should that be one's inclination.
What is truly interesting, for me, is that the people's will survives, in spite of hunger, poverty and mismanagement. The middle class knows that it acts as a buffer group between the rich and the poor, either through imitation of the upper class and its tastes, or by philanthropic concerns, which may also draw from ideological preoccupations which are typically the site of freedom.
"What the People Want" maybe at both ends of the spectrum, the right to buy bling and shop in the malls for synthetics or sequins, or the right to speak on behalf of the poor. To me, it seems interesting when the Prime Minister speaks of the resilience of the Indian economy, he speaks of the investments of the people, and this is not conspicuous consumption, it is post office and SBI savings, as the socialists have long shown to be the reason for India's economic resilience.
In spite of terrible circumstances of work and life, people still believe that they can hope for the future, plan for a wedding, a feast, an education, or old age security. And the middle class of course has bought into stocks and shares right across the board, so that the investments of the capitalists are really the investments of the salaried and professional classes.
However, Utsa Patnaik, in her book, The Landscape of Hunger has said, very emphatically that the low income of workers, is a repudiation of the right of people to eat the food that they are used to eating. This is the real crux of the matter, that the minimum wage and the Rs 28 or Rs 20 indicator is the base by which the poor are forced to eat less, and their body weight is then an index of how much degradation follows, from the acceptance of this minimum as a socially acceptable index by the rest of society.
This is thus an ideology, where the hunger of the worker is seen to be an average index of the ability to offer his or her labour power, for a minimum wage: the right to survive and to reproduce as its basic motif.
Unless there is a call to common sense, rather than falling back on oligarchic indexes of efficiency in theory, Indians cannot look at their common human condition as anything but pitiful. This demands that bonus production by farmers is matched by transparent processes of securing food for the people.
Gandhi's idea of daridra narayan is one of the most humane ideas. Let the Indians look to their poorest to know if their survival predicts our future as a democracy.
About the Contributor: Susan Visvanathan is Professor of Sociology at JNU. She is the author of The Christians of Kerala (1993), Friendship, Interiority and Mysticism (2007), The Children of Nature: The Life and Legacy of Ramana Maharshi (2010) and Reading Marx, Weber and Durkheim Today (2012). She is the editor of Structure and Transformation: Theory and Society in India (2002)
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