If his latest book A Fractured Freedom contains “Chronicles of India’s Margins” then author and social worker Harsh Mander can be considered its chronicler. This is his third book after Unheard Voices: Stories of Forgotten Lives and Fear and Forgiveness: The Aftermath of Massacre.
A Fractured Freedom contains a selection of articles from his newspaper columns from 2004 until 2011. “It covers a diverse set of themes and when read together, forms a commentary of the first decade of the 21 century,” explains Harsh, a member of the National Advisory Council of the UPA. He was in the city to talk about his latest book where, he says, he has tried to portray the lives of and issues of marginalised people and their perspective of life.
He tackles issues such as hunger, right to food, homelessness, communal conflicts, dalit discrimination, custodial justice, bonded labour and street children
“You’ll find that it is on minority rights. These are the people I talk about, so they emerge in the course of my work on the field,” points out the former civil servant who spearheads the campaigns Aman Biradari, for secularism, peace and justice; Nyayagrah, for legal justice and reconciliation for the survivors of communal violence; and Dil Se, for street children and homeless people. “It’s what moves me, it’s what my whole life is about and always has been. Through my writing, these people appear as real people like you and me who live their lives with all its aspirations, struggles and dreams.”
Mander adds that he believes in a life of dignity for those suffer injustice and marginalisation.
He ascribes a part of the reason why there is so much marginalisation and injustice in the country to the path of development and economic growth that the country and the world currently follows.
“It is one that excludes more and more people from the opportunities to lead a better, more dignified life. I also feel there is an increasing indifference and marginalisation by the middle class to the inequality and suffering around them. That is really what I am trying to point out to.”
The problem with the growth policy, he argues, is that it is developing “spectacularly” for some while leaving millions behind. “We are told that it is the necessary price of economic growth. When I was growing up, there was a book we used to read called Small Is Beautiful by E. F. Schumacher. That book had a lovely sub-title: ‘Economics As If People Mattered’. And that’s what keeps coming back to me. What is the point of economic growth if people do not matter?”
Mander also finds that this non-involvement of the middle-class in the country’s democratic processes hampering the country’s progress. “I think that our indifference and our silence contribute to the perpetuation of inequality and suffering and that each of us are, therefore, both complicit and responsible for it.” And the solution to this problem, he feels, lies in questioning whether current path of development is really the right one.
“It is the question of whether the path of economic growth that we have chosen is going to actually alter the situation of the most disadvantaged. We need to ask ourselves whether we need to re-think and find another path of growth and development which genuinely includes the disadvantaged. I think we all need to a part of that process.”