Posted on 14-03-2010
Filed Under (PARADOX) by Shombit

The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

Karl Marx wrote, “Religion is the opium of the masses.” My personal experience from being born into a poor family is that acceptance of poverty is also an opium in our highly tolerant Indian culture. “Amra gorib lok” (we are poor people, in Bengali) is what I heard over and over again in my neighbourhood at childhood, we should not dream too much as that would paralyse us. It was like a religion to act like poor people. Having a watch in your hand, wearing Bata shoes or sunglasses was a sign of the bourgeoisie. In my locality if any of us had one of these 3 things, it was a discussion point. The acceptance of poverty has left large numbers of our population below subsistence level. My obsessive thought is about how the poor can break the shackles of poverty with dignity to shine in life and change the world.

Poverty is regarded as a kind of defeat in Western society. Those with not enough, work very hard to get rich. In contrast, it’s very difficult for scarcity mindset Indians to emerge from it. The affluent support the persistence of poverty through charity works or NGOs for their upliftment, but how much such activities can change the plight of the poor is questionable. “The inevitable consequence of poverty is dependence,” said the English poet Samuel Johnson. Its human inclination to exercise control over people, so keeping the poor dependent is a ploy to feel powerful. The real mission for tomorrow’s India should be to activate the economically weak so they are no longer dependent. The only help they need is to learn how to earn and how to enjoy life. Otherwise this huge visible difference in inequality will continue to grow.

I had to take a breakthrough step to release myself from poverty. My parents’ stringent discipline when we were the under-privileged banned me from Hindi films, possibly to avoid my adopting Bollywood fantasies. I remember stealthily accompanying school friends at age 14 to ‘Around the world with 8 dollars’ at Lakshmi Cinema, Kanchrapara, my native town. These last bench school friends showed me many prohibited areas. When followers of my father, a well known proletariat leader, sometimes caught me, my grandmother had to save me from severe punishment. I was witness to pitiable situations like wage workers of Kanchrapara railway workshop getting totally drunk on pay day, returning home and beating up their wives. One of these drunk ‘uncles’ would regularly say, “why come sou.” We would laugh, imitate him, but nobody could figure out its meaning. When our village-folk got drunk, they’d spontaneously speak incomprehensible English. This remained a mysterious memory for me until, arriving in France, I discovered ‘soul’ means drunken. So ‘uncle’s’ drunken speech superseded English to get into French even without his knowledge! Subconsciously though, I’ve never since enjoyed Hindi films and don’t drink alcohol inspite of having worked for several alcohol companies. I do see popular Hindi films today but only for half an hour to observe and understand public enthusiasm of the masses in the cinema hall.

In early life I was poor both in India and France. Here’s the difference. In keeping with India’s caste-ridden structure, poverty becomes another social layer. Poor people are afraid to take opportunities. I remember my mental shivers when my rich fellow students at the Government Art College in Kolkata insisted I accompany them to the air conditioned American Library that was freely open to all. In contrast, when I found my first employment as a sweeper in a lithography print studio near Paris, the owner would introduce me as a fellow artist to all the famous artists who got their lithography prints done there. In my experience, the acknowledgement of equality is the biggest driver for personal ambition and performance. It proves that when you don’t want to compromise with poverty you can radically change your situation and see your life differently. It’s definitely possible for other poor people to also take opportunities not only me.

Let’s look at how industrial auto mechanisation machines can help to remove poverty. Inventions through auto mechanisation have changed the poor classes in the Western world. Six hundred years ago Leonardo da Vinci unbelievably made mechanical inventions ahead of his time. His principles of flying machines, bridge building, functioning of the human anatomy have changed the way we operate in modern times. Yet he had to secretly hide his ingenious inventions as they went against religious dictates then. Feudal lords, in association with religious authorities, totally opposed development that would deprive their usage of human labour to slave-drive the interests of the aristocracy.

Historically, economic growth has led to poverty reduction. Britain’s Industrial Revolution spread to Europe, led to overall development, and eliminated mass poverty. In 1820, 75% of humanity lived on less than a dollar a day; in 2001, only about 20% did so. The World Bank says three quarters of the world’s poor live in the countryside, so poverty fighting should begin there. Two weeks ago I had written that practical invention of machines is required to fortify livelihood efforts of people like 2-acre farmers and porters, and that affordable, effective commercial transportation is required. I was hearted by a reader response that people are working on such innovations in India. But how can they be converted for mass scale usage with sustaining quality for the poor to get off the dependence ride?

From human labour to mechanization has been a significant shift that society had to accept. With deeper injection of democracy in political systems, the mechanical aspect is gaining ground in reducing human effort. It has since transformed to auto mechanism and now landed in digital auto mechanism, fuelling a productivity chain that’s prompting the masses to work, earn money and then spend.

There is no religious barrier today, fundamentals of invention exist in the world. Courage is all the poor need to change their mental acceptance of ‘slavery.’ An inventive assembler can digi-auto-mechanise devices relevant to our country’s need to empower under-privileged people. Developing digital technology alone will not take us anywhere in reducing the poverty line. Digi-auto-mechanised machines in different working class layers are the most crucial devices India needs to give a lift to the masses at large.



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